The current death system can sometimes be incredibly punishing.
For example, if you make one mistake and fall into lava, you can lose hours and hours and hours of progress. If your items don't get instantly destroyed when you die, they disappear after being loaded for 5 minutes, which is just as punishing. If you can't find where you died, they're very likely gone forever. If you do get your items back, you still lose almost all of your experience.
I can't find any other games that can be this punishing.
I know it makes sense for items to be instantly destroyed when touched by lava or fire, and I know it makes sense for players to drop their items when they die, but if everything made sense, nothing would be fun. I know the threat of losing lots of progress increases combat intensity, but the current system is way past that effect's maximum.
Instead of this system, players could lose a few (6?) levels and some durability on tools and armor (nothing should break).
To make it harder, maybe you'd have to fight a zombie or skeleton (or some new monster) wearing your armor and using your weapons. Otherwise, the items should appear in a chest (or some new container), or should have a much longer despawn timer and immunity to destruction by cactus, fire, and lava. If you died to the void, the monster, chest, or items should be placed on a solid block nearby.
To keep the time pressure, the amount of XP you lose can be dependent on how long it took you to find your stuff.
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