Minecraft Mod Examination: Millenaire
While this has never stopped them from having a certain charm, Minecraft's normal villages have always been seen as something of a joke. They are populated by ridiculous-looking villagers who are completely pacifistic, but are still hunted by zombies, which means most towns become depopulated within a few nights unless the player defends them. Furthermore terrain generation often creates buildings that sit on top or pillars or are buried halfway underground, preventing the villager from leaving their homes unless the player rebuilds the town themselves. Villages are also nameless, and there is no connection between any two towns, whether through trade or war. Beyond this, the towns are not even particularly useful, as anything that can be found or purchased in a village can be discovered elsewhere, and many of the default trades were so horribly expensive that it was often preferable to do so. While there are several mods that improve on villages, they tend to do so by either adding to the possible structures that can be generated in each town, or by completely replacing the villagers with more useful and interesting potential servants. And while these changes do indeed help make towns more useful and interesting,but they still have all of the same issues with terrain generation, the trading is still horribly limited, and the only way one town will interact with another is if you somehow merge them together. But while no mod completely fixes the problems with the normal villages, there is Millenaire, an older mod that creates completely new villages in which all of these problems have been mostly solved.
Instead of using the original Minecraft villages, Millenaire creates entirely new towns based on one of five eleventh-century cultures, that of the Japanese, Byzantine, Mayan, Norman, and Hindi civilizations. These towns all have their parent-culture's architectural style and language, and at first most players will not be able to understand what anyone in a civilization beyond the English-speaking shopkeepers are saying. But before long the player will "learn" the language, and the game will start automatically translating for the player.
And it is a good thing it does so, because there is a fair amount of dialog in Millenaire. The villagers are quite chatty, and will greet the player when they see them. They will also talk to each other, and unlike the villagers in normal Minecraft you can listen in on and understand these conversations. And most villagers will talk to themselves while doing chores, such as woodcutting or mining. While all of the dialog is fairly simplistic and you will encounter a lot of repeated lines, it is still no worse than the random conversations from something like Oblivion, and adds a lot to the individuality of each culture.
But more importantly, once you understand a language you can start taking quests from the villagers. Most of these are short mini-quests, such as delivering a sword to a town's mayor or finding a better axe for a Mayan lumberjack, with only a few even requiring you to leave town. But those tiny quests are not the only type; the Mayan, Hindi, and Norman cultures each have one main quest-line that can be accessed after becoming popular enough with a village, and each of these has about ten parts and can take several hours to complete. These main quests explore into what the Minecraft world is and why peoples from those cultures have arrived there, and while they are intentionally still out of place, these mods do help make the cultures seem to fit into the overall Minecraft universe.
While the quests help Millenaire fit in, it is the artificial intelligence that brings it to life. Miners will go to their mines and dig throughout the day, and while they never manage to delve too deep, it is still a nice effect. Similarly, lumberjacks will chop down trees, replant the saplings, and deliver their wood to the town hall. Guards patrol the more developed towns, keeping order and watching out for bandit raids. You can even see children wandering about, talking with other kids, and occasionally being chewed out by their parents. And come nightfall all of the townsfolk will travel back to their homes and go to sleep, though often enough they do this on the floor or on top of a chest instead of in an actual bed.
But what really helps the town so impressive is that they collect resources and build new houses just like the player does. Most towns start out quite small, with a town hall, a house or two, and one or two resource generating structures such as a lumberyard or farm. But if the player is willing to sell them what resources they cannot produce, or if they village is friendly with other towns who could do the same, the townsfolk will start building new structures on the edge of the settlement. The villagers will chop down any trees in the way, flatten the land out, and then build the structure, all in real-time. These structures then aid the village and the player in multiple ways, such as creating a fishery that the player can purchase food from, or an inn so that you will always have a bed in town. There are also mines, barracks, smithies, and a lot more, most of which are useful in some way or other.
And the buildings within the village are not the only ones added by Millenaire, there are plenty of structures that are out alone in the wilderness. Most factions have several types of independent buildings belonging to them, such as lone farms or lumberyards that the player can visit and purchase goods from. Not all of those structures have survived being left alone in the wilderness, so there are a large number of ruined buildings to find, loot, and possibly tear down for materials to sell back to their faction. There are also a lot of quest-related buildings which can only generate in newly explored areas after parts of the main quest are unlocked, and a very impressive Easter-egg type building that is larger than most towns. But the most important structures to watch out for are the various bandit holds. Not only are these dangerous to get near, but you cannot leave them alone either. If unattended, the bandits will occasionally raid nearby villages, taking whatever they can and killing the player or anyone else who gets in their way.
But while bandits are dangerous, it is the player and other factions that are the most dangerous for the various towns. Each settlement has its own reputation, and this effects its dealings with all other villages within a large radius. If they like each other a lot, towns will trade with each other, boosting the prosperity of both villages. But if any two settlements become enemies there is a random chance they will send raiding parties to steal from the town and do what damage they can. You can chose to tag along, or raid a town alone, and if all adult townspeople are slain you can rob the chests, possibly coming out with a huge amount of free materials. Any villagers that are slain will respawn after a while if the player does not destroy the town with a special wand, but it can still cause issues with the progress of that town and how useful it will be for a good long while.
Which would be a shame, because villages can become a major asset for the player if they are built up enough. The most basic option all towns have even at the start is the ability to trade with the town hall for some basic resources, which are bought and sold with denier, a currency that comes in bronze, silver, and gold varieties and works in towns of all cultures. While most towns will not have much for sale at first, before long the new shops will open up, and more resources will start being stockpiled in the town hall. This means that if you can manage to build up a town sufficiently, you can start focusing on collecting only certain desired goods personally and let the townsfolk handle the farming, mining, and/or harvesting of lumber. That money can also be used to purchase the services of various helpful villagers such as lumberjacks and soldiers, to purchase some of the new civilization-specific items, or used to have a house built for you if a town likes you enough. If your opinion is seen as valuable the village elder will listen to your advice on how the town should react to the other nearby villages, allowing you to make spread world peace or start wars with a little effort. And if a civilization absolutely adores you they might proclaim you their leader, which means you can start building your very own fully-functional village wherever you wish and with any structures you desire.
There are also a large number of in-game configuration options that are worth looking at when starting a new world. You can easily change various generation-settings, such as how close or far apart towns and buildings are generated from each other,how close buildings within towns should be to each other, and whether paths should be built by the villagers, though these changes will need to be done before the first town is discovered to have their full effect. But even if you have already found a village there are a number of useful options to tweak to your liking. If you want to increase or decrease the number of children in a city, you can. Or you could allow towns to build over a larger area, allowing for more buildings to be constructed. Perhaps you want to disable village relations, or increase the distance within which two villages can interact with each other. All of these are adjustable without needing to leave the game, though care must be taken as some of these settings can push Minecraft beyond what it can properly handle.
And while Millenaire is a great mod, troubles arising from overworking the configuration options will not be the only problems a player will face. Two of the cultures, the Japanese and the Byzantines, lack main quests, and only the Normans and Hindi have the largest types of towns. The size of the villages can also be a problem for some players, towns can generate a fair amount of lag, and those with less powerful computers might have issues with their frame rate. The buildings also tend to slice through nearby hills and trees when generated, which prevents buildings from being buried, but can make for some rather weird-looking terrain. Millenaire also has a number of bugs related to it, and while most glitches can be solved by reloading your world, it is highly suggested to back up your save from time to time. While the mod is compatible with most mods, there are still times where it will cause minor conflicts.
So if you feel Minecraft needs a bit more civilization added to it, there is no more complete choice than Millenaire. It is still the most fully-featured NPC mod out that does not require a custom map, and adds in quests, villages, bandits, and a lot more, all without damaging Minecrafts original balance. It is one of the oldest mods still being worked on, and deserves a spot in the mod folder of anyone who enjoys role-play or exploration.