Minecraft Mod Examination: Natura
Mod developers have been adding new areas to Minecraft's world for a long time, but there are surprisingly few that try to improve on the locations that already exist. And most mods that do change the pre-existing zones are major overhauls that attempt to adjust how the world itself generates, make various types of structures appear throughout the land, or add new monsters to the game's bestiary. While these changes can be great, they rarely actually fill in any of the gaps in the original areas' gameplay systems, such as the lack of variety in each zone's trees and other plants, the extreme emphasis on hunting for food at the beginning of the game, and the rather noticeable lack of content in the Nether. To solve those issues one needs Natura, a mod built around adding to Minecraft's world wherever it feels lacking.
Natura's most obvious change is that it adds seventeen new plants to Minecraft's Overworld, and almost all of these are somewhat rare trees that one can encounter while travelling through certain biomes. There is a huge variety to the new trees, with some such as the redwood towering over the plains, and others like willow and hopseed trees brushing their leaves against the ground. That extreme variety extends to the colors of their planks, and players may have fun attempting to find a good home for some of the more unusual-colored types of lumber such as tigerwood and amaranth. Many of these wood types have unique varieties of doors, bookshelves, and crafting tables, allowing players many more options for how they decorate their homes.
But at the start of the game it's not the new types of wood that players will want, it's the berries. Four varieties of berry bushes generate in clumps throughout the wilderness, and players can use the right-mouse button to harvest their little fruits without damaging the plant. Eating them will only restore about five percent of the player's hunger bar, but large amounts of berries can be eaten quickly, and if one has collected three of the different types they can combine them in a wooden bowl to create berry medley. The bushes can also be broken apart and the pieces replanted, which will slow down production for quite a while, but allows for berry farms and hedges to be constructed.
While berries are great for those just starting out, players wanting to permanently solve their hunger problems will likely be better served with the new barley crop. Barley is similar to the original game's wheat in that it can be used in the same ways to produce bread, but it grows somewhat faster, drops more seeds on average, and neither it nor its seeds can be used to breed or lure animals. The plant can naturally grow in random bunches of around ten to twenty, and barley seeds can be collected from fully-grown barley or randomly found in grass.
Adding more food to the world is great, but sometimes the most important feature of a crop is not its yield or how quickly the player can access it, but where the plant actually grows. New saguaro cacti have been added to desert biomes, allowing those who love the heat to have some kind of naturally generating food source. Like the type of cacti included in the original game, the saguaro can be cooked in a furnace to produce green dye, or placed in an area to harm anything that touches it. However, these cacti also can grow fruits during rough weather, and those fruits can either be eaten to restore a decent amount of hunger, or planted to grow another saguaro cactus. Sadly, the fruits one can gather in the wilderness are unlikely to be enough to sustain a desert dweller through the earliest stages of a playthrough, but once a large farm is constructed they provide more than enough food to keep a player healthy throughout the rest of the game.
The final new Overworld crop added by Natura is cotton. Unlike many crops, cotton is not a food source; instead each piece can be combined in small amounts to make string or wool, meaning that players are no longer forced to kill spiders and shear sheep to access these important materials. Cotton seeds can be planted side by side in fields just like most crops, but unlike wheat and barley it does not need to be broken down to gather the cotton. Instead, one can simply click on a fully-grown plant to pluck off any pieces of cotton without damaging the crop.
As great as Natura's changes the Overworld are, its the mod's additions to the Nether that are truly worthy of praise. Four new and rare types of trees have been added, giving those attempting to live in the underworld a source of wood that does not have to imported from their homeland. In addition, there are four new berry bushes that give players access to food that grows naturally in the Nether. A few new mushroom types have also been added, adding a few more colors to the red and black of the Nether and offering yet another source of food. But players should be cautious, as all of these plants have been affected by the unique conditions inherent to their dark world, and have developed magical aspects such as the ability to explode when cut or apply both beneficial and negative side-effects when eaten.
And it is not just the Nether's flora that has been overhauled, there are quite a number of new animals scattered through the caves. Explorers will need to watch for two offshoots of Minecraft's spiders and creepers, both of which have developed a nasty new trick to go with their unpleasant surroundings. And those wishing to settle should keep an eye out for the new imps, small, pig-like creatures that can drop fire-resistant leather and whose meat is only slightly toxic. These three new creatures may not sound like much, but they are interesting to deal with, and their addition almost doubles the number of beings living in the Nether.
But not all of the Nether's changes are related to new forms of life, there are also a few new items that players can construct to make the idea of living in the underworld a serious possibility. There are new versions of some of the game's items, such as furnaces, hoppers, railways, and levers, that can be constructed out of entirely Nether-based materials. Furthermore, if the player can find one of the rare ghostwood trees, they can create an obelisk, which, unlike beds, will not explode and will allow them to respawn inside the Nether. Additionally, some of the new types of wood can be used to construct powerful tools that have the same speed and almost the same strength as those created from diamonds. All of these together still do not make the Nether an easy place to survive in, but they do make living in the underworld a serious possibility.
Alone, none of these changes are that impressive, but when taken together, Natura does more than almost any mod to enhance on Minecraft's original gameplay. The multiple new types of food help sustain players in the early parts of the game or in less hospitable biomes, and the new types of trees add a little extra color the game's world. The addition of crops, farm animals, tools, wood, and even a new way to set the player's spawn combine to transform the Nether from an inhospitable and slightly boring place, into a highly unwelcoming, but livable pit that one can actually survive in. Natura may not make massive changes to Minecraft's world, but every item it adds fits in well, is useful, and feels like it should have been part of the game all along.
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