Game Rant goes hands-on with the newly announced Battle Mode for Minecraft, which adds deathmatch gameplay into the mix for console gamers.

Today, Microsoft has unveiled the all-new Minecraft Battle mode, a mini game add-on exclusive to the console editions of Minecraft. The brand new feature pits eight players in a winner-takes-all deathmatch scenario, finally letting fans embrace their more destructive desires without the consequence that typically comes with killing others in Minecraft.

We went hands-on with Minecraft Battle in a private demo, and came out both battle-worn and very happy with what we saw from the console-exclusive mini game.

As we jumped into Minecraft Battle for our first foray into pixelated chaos, we found ourselves spawning in a rough circle with seven other would-be champions. We couldn’t move yet, as the round had yet to begin. As the in-game counter ticked down to zero, we got a distinct Hunger Games vibe from our surroundings: all eight of the players were facing inwards toward the exact center of the map, which featured a bundle of chests containing randomized loot: poison, food, bows, enchanted armor. Since this was all new, nobody quite knew what they were going to get, but everyone assumed they had to get there first.

As the ticker finally reached zero, our character dashed forward – figuratively, as dashing is disabled in this mode – and flung himself at the nearest chest, with the other players doing the same. To our horror, we saw the chest inventory was quickly disappearing – a player beside us had reached the same chest and was pilfering our supplies. We grabbed a bow and some arrows, then secluded ourselves away from the map’s middle area. The game gives a brief invulnerability period as players gather weapons and go hide, and this amount of ‘invulnerability time’ can be adjusted by the match’s host prior to a game. Now, it was time for Minecraft Battle to truly begin.

Minecraft Battle Mode Maps

We found ourselves in a a lava-filled map, hopping along some blocks on a dangerous trail that just kept going up. Although there were several other players in the game, the map is large enough that they were all concealed for the time being, though kill notifications revealed not everyone had found a weapon in time. As we continued to hop along this trail in search of an extra hidden chest, it occurs to us that we’ve been scaling the gigantic spine of a map-long dragon skeleton in a huge underground cavern, and we can see skull of the beast curled up against a rockface ahead.

The map designs, as we would discover, are both creative and full of hidden things to find. Players can’t damage the pre-set maps in Battle Mode, which allows the map creators to lock players into a certain area. Battle Mode will release with three free maps upon launch, with supplementary content available in additional $2.99 map packs for those who crave additional arenas. From our playtime, we saw that 4J Studios has crafted maps with a range of themes, from pirate bays with dispenser-based cannons to Mayan step-pyramids in the middle of the jungle.

Veteran Minecraft players will be no stranger to the combat mechanics of Battle Mode – players will be knocked back by all manner of arrows, swords, and even fishing rods, depending on what rivals happen to find. Enchanted items are a rare bonus, and there’s often plenty of poisons, potions, and food for healing. The matchmaker can also adjust hunger speeds, which will force players to hunt for chests if they have no food in their inventory. Chests also regenerate randomized content after a set time, and sparkle to indicate when they’ve restocked. This adds a great element of strategy to the game, as the central cluster of chests will always be a high-value area for those willing to risk stepping out into the open.

Minecraft Battle Gameplay

We meet our demise quickly, and the afterlife presents itself to the player in the form of a winged creature: deceased players can spectate via invulnerable bats, flying around the map and squeaking away at the tap of a button. These squeaks can be used to call attention to where a live player is and lets spectators continue to impact the game. We had a surprising amount of fun trying to swarm around players to draw enemies to them. Once a round does conclude, players are taken to an in-game lobby, which is actually a quaint block-based village with several logical puzzles for gamers to solve. It’s a nice touch.

What we like most about this ambitious move from 4J Studios is the potential that it brings to Minecraft as a whole. Much like we discussed with Rocket League setting itself up as an expandable platform, the introduction of mini games for Minecraft console editions will allow the developers to get creative and expand upon the principles of the block-based game, injecting content that might not otherwise belong in the sandbox-style title. One company representative has already confirmed to us that the studio plans to add more mini games into the fold based on community interaction, and we can’t wait to see what fresh content comes as a result of the new creative platform the studio has set up.

As the rounds start to come and go, we found ourselves looking forward to playing more of the game mode with friends. Building together is one aspect that no Minecraft fan is a stranger to, but less common is the chance to duke it out against your friends without consequence. The maps offer plenty of diverse locales and creative level design, and the mad scramble for randomized chests ensures that matches never start off on even footing. Based on our time, it appears Minecraft Battle will be a fantastic addition to the franchise, and there is little doubt that the new game mode will attract plenty of fans on consoles, and perhaps a little jealousy from those playing from computers, too.

Minecraft: Battle will release as a free update to the main game for Xbox One, PS4, and Wii U at a later date.