Minecraft has just been updated to Beta 1.8 — heralding the arrival of the much-anticipated Adventure Update. But how much has changed, and how does it affect the beloved dig-build-explore mechanics of the blocky sandbox game?
I generated a new world to find out, and immediately spawned in the shadow of an enormous mountain. The terrain-generation algorithm has been dramatically overhauled to make the world less patchy. Minecraft’s world is already divided up into “biomes” — like forest, swamp, desert, hills, etc. Those biomes are now considerably larger, so passing through a desert will make it very difficult to find food or shelter.
I hollowed out a half-cave in the side of a mountain to use as a bolthole. There happened to be some coal inside, so I was able to build a few torches for the walls — which now give off a distinctive orange glow that lends your dwelling a warm, cozy feel. I spent the night as everyone spends their first night in Minecraft — huddling in a corner, praying that the horrific noises outside would stop.
When the sun rose, I confidently took a step out of my front door. Hissssssssssssssss BOOM. A Creeper got me — some things haven’t changed one bit. After respawning and reconstructing the entire front of my house, I ventured out a little further. Behind my mountain fortress was a vast desert, with nothing but cactus and a few scraggly bushes as far as the eye could see.
Next to the health bar at the bottom of the screen is a new hunger bar. This slowly reduces over time, and when it drops to the bottom, you’ll steadily take damage until you eat something. When it’s full, however, you automatically heal over time, and the benefits of health regeneration vastly outweigh the inconvenience of having to carry a stack of food around with you. I caught and killed a few pigs and chickens, and cooked the meat.
There’s an experience bar too, which currently does nothing. As you kill monsters, little green orbs will drop to the ground. As you pick them up they will fill up the bar, but Minecraft’s creators haven’t yet worked out exactly how they want to implement a levelling system, so for the time being it’s purely cosmetic.
Exploring a little further, I found a village with a smithy, a churchlike building, a well and a farm. In a future update, these will be populated with NPCs, but right now they just sit there like ghost towns. Deep underground you’ll also find abandoned mineshafts, and — very occasionally — a stronghold filled with libraries, prisons, hallways and storage rooms.
Most impressive is the addition of ravines. Deep underground, and very occasionally on the surface, you’ll come across a deep scar in the landscape with ledges that you can walk along. The ocean, too, is now deeper and darker, giving the game’s squid more of a home to call their own, but also permitting the construction of vast underwater cities.
Another useful feature that’s been added is the ability to sprint. By double-tapping the forward button, you’ll gain increased movement speed in exchange for faster depletion of your hunger bar. Unfortunately it shifts your field of view slightly, and it’s a little too easy to activate in combat, making the process a bit nauseating after a while.
Knocking a zombie back off a cliff or into a pool of lava is enormously satisfying.
Happily, combat doesn’t last quite as long as it used to, thanks to the addition of critical hits and knockback. If you hit a monster while you’re moving downward, then you’ll do double-damage and sparkles will appear. Hitting a monster while sprinting will knock him back. The addition of both mechanics makes fights far more interesting and tactical, rather than just hammering the attack button. Knocking a zombie back off a cliff or into a pool of lava is enormously satisfying.
Speaking of monsters, one of the headline additions in the Adventure Update is the Endermen, which are perhaps the most unsettling creatures ever to appear in a videogame (if you can think of a better one, leave a comment below).
The Endermen has a long, spindly body, and spends its time quietly moving blocks around the world, one at a time. It’s mostly passive, but if you look directly at one, its head turns to face you and its huge purple eyes stare directly into your soul. It’ll continue staring you down until you look away, at which point it runs extremely quickly toward you, teleporting to get past obstacles. Minecraft creator Markus “Notch” Persson deliberately designed it to cause fear, but not frustration or fatigue, and he’s done an incredible job.
After retreating back to my hidey-hole for a second night, a thunderstorm began to break in the skies above. I built a window to watch the rain fall over the desert, and observe the Endermen from afar, but after a few spiders crawled up the walls and into my home, I bricked it up again and sat in a corner, listening to the rain beat down outside.
Minecraft is still one of the most affecting games around, on any platform. In the space of an hour’s play, I lost count of the number of times I jumped, swore loudly or just stopped to gaze, mouth-agape, at an incredible view while the game’s beautiful soundtrack twinkled away in the background. It’s even developed its creepy rumors and mysteries.
If you haven’t had the pleasure of giving it a try yourself, there are few better ways to spend $21.95. Head on over to Minecraft.net and buy a code. You’ll be glad you did.