When Microsoft announced Minecraft's Better Together update, fans cheered. Minecraft feels built for cross-network play. It's the world's biggest family game, an experience designed with collaborative play in mind, and now truly open to everyone regardless of device (except PlayStation).
At least, that's how it seemed. Sadly, the edition which has arrived on console is not quite what fans had envisioned.
Microsoft never did a great job of communicating the fact its Better Together Update is not actually an update for console owners. It's a completely different game – one which is almost identical to Minecraft's previous Pocket Edition for mobiles.
This change has already occurred on Xbox One, with the old Minecraft: Xbox One Edition replaced in the console's store with a separate game client, just named “Minecraft”. Likewise, in the near future, Minecraft: Nintendo Switch Edition will also be left behind. Upgrading is free, but far from painless.
Minecraft is Minecraft, right? Well, not really. Minecraft console developer 4J Studios has, for more than half a decade, built a version of Minecraft which feels great when played with a console controller. (Microsoft's new version of Minecraft no longer lists 4J in the game's opening splash screens.)
The new version of Minecraft has ditched the console version's user interface completely. Your inventory and crafting are now organised using a different UI – shown above – from the mobile version of the game designed for a touchscreen, or for a mouse and keyboard.
Microsoft has a Minecraft feedback site set up to track user-requested fixes. Reinstating a console-style UI, at least as an option for Minecraft on console, is one of the highest requests out of more than 5800 ideas.
“This is the major reason that keeps me from moving away from Xbox One Edition,” one fan wrote. “I cannot stand the current BTU UI using a controller.”
“When playing on the Xbox, the Play Together UI is a large step backwards from what we have in the console edition, both in terms of layout and responsiveness,” another added.
“I'm honestly just gonna play regular Xbox One edition until they fix this, the new UI on Xbox is far, far worse and alienating to Xbox players,” a third fan agreed.
Other top requests include fixes for other casualties of Microsoft's decision to base the new Minecraft on the game's Pocket Edition: redstone and coordinates.
Redstone (Minecraft's equivalent of electrical wiring) has different systems on different platforms. The old console version was different to the Pocket Edition version – so imported worlds from Minecraft: Xbox One Edition now need redstone to be rewired to work.
Coordinates – being able to see your exact position on the game's map – also worked differently, depending on platform. Knowing your position is a vital part of meeting up with other players, and correctly constructing large building projects.
On console, players have always been able to see their position on an X/Y/Z axis by holding any map item. On Pocket Edition, you could not do this. So, since this new version of Minecraft is based on the Pocket Edition, console players have been left without this option. (Microsoft has recently relented to allow coordinate viewing as a cheat – but enabling cheats will disable achievements and other stat tracking).
And then there's the in-game store. Minecraft's store is front and center when you load the game, the option to buy a world the first you need to scroll past before being able to dismiss the game's latest patch notes.
It is intrusive – and for the first time, console players are being offered packs from third-party sources. This new version of Minecraft has only been available for a couple of weeks, and the shop already feels bloated.
Finally, there are the bugs. I've found it incredibly difficult to transfer my world over from the previous Xbox One version of the game. I've tried this a couple of times, with mixed success. It's a slow process, but that's fine – give your world 15 minutes or so and it should be downloaded and converted to play instantly from now on.
“Should be” is the key here, however. I had to try three times on my home console before it actually worked and didn't time out. I tried twice here in the office and both times failed, the last time hard crashing the whole console. Each time, I was waiting to play for more than half an hour in total. Not a great start. When my world did finally load, I couldn't eat.
To put it bluntly, this new version of Minecraft is not the one I'm used to playing. I asked Microsoft about the issues raised here and from the thousands of fans on the Minecraft feedback website, but have not yet received a response.
Microsoft ran a beta for the Better Together Update before it rolled the game to everyone. I played it during this time and quickly went back to the previous Xbox One Edition – which I'm still playing on now, even though I know it will no longer be updated. I assumed Microsoft wouldn't launch the Better Together Update until it had thought through Minecraft's issues and made it friendlier for console owners. Sadly, perhaps due to the headline-grabbing nature of its truly remarkable cross-network play, it has launched with these issues intact.
Playing with fans across platforms undoubtedly still feels like the future for Minecraft – but right now on console, the option feels like it does not outweigh the Better Together version's other issues.