Branching cities and floating pirate ships make Minecraft fresh again

Drifted away from Minecraft? It's time to take a rocket-powered flight back.

The first thing I saw when I logged into Minecraft after a year’s absence was my friend dressed in a chicken costume flying through the air with magic purple wings on his back, the unmistakable fizz of fireworks propelling him forward. Naturally, I was hooked at once.

The wings-fireworks combo was introduced toward the end of last year, and like most of Minecraft's updates these days, it passed me by. After playing the game religiously for its first few years I now dip in and out occasionally, and every time I expect to be confused by new additions, fall back into old routines, and then give up after a week. 

But the wings have changed everything. They cut travel time across the world, so you can zip between your bases in no time at all. They’re also great for exploring—if you need to find a particular biome, just choose a direction, strap on your wings and take flight.

The wings and rockets let you explore another huge addition that arrived toward the end of last year: End Cities. These are sprawling sets of connected rooms found in the outer islands of The End that contain a new enemy type, floating pirate ships and—most importantly—some of the best loot in the game. 

My Minecraft experience now revolves around them. When I log in I’m not thinking about what my next build is, or what resources I need to collect for my long-term project. I’m wondering how many End Cities I can loot in that session. To reach them, go The End and use an ender pearl on the gateway portal that spawns after you defeat the Ender Dragon. Then, pick a direction and hurl yourself off an edge, double-tapping space to spread your wings and firing rockets to gain speed.

It’s genuinely relaxing to glide between the islands, grazing the tops of the tall chorus plants below as the wind rushes in your ears. I especially like flying in third-person view (hit F5) and gradually sweeping left and right in gentle arcs. If you change direction quickly you slow down, which is useful for landing and gives you a sense of realistic physical movement—you feel like more than just a floating head. Trying to keep your speed up and manage your reserves of fireworks is like a stress-free mini game in itself.

Eventually, an End City will emerge from the darkness. They’re vast, impressive complexes connected to the ground by a thin room. Their tops branch up and out like twisted purple trees. Sometimes, a floating End Ship will spawn at the end of a pier which lets you ender pearl across if you don't have yet have wings.

These ships are usually my first target, because they contain the best loot, and popping their two chests rarely disappoints. There’s diamonds abound, and you’ll often find diamond tools and armour with top level enchants alongside iron ingots, armour, and other goodies.

They’re also the only place you can find wings. If you don’t have a buddy who can lend you a pair like I did, you’ll have to find an End City on foot, climb up the tower, and use an ender pearl to get across to the ship. It’s a bit of a faff, but it won’t take very long and it’s well worth it in the long run. 

Next it's a smart idea to head for a treasure room, which you can identify by stairs leading down into their vaults. They, too, contain top-tier items as well as the new enemies, called shulkers. When their shell opens they fire what look like zero gravity cotton balls that home in on your position, dealing minimal damage but causing you to levitate on impact.

Provided you’re geared up with some decent armour, they don’t pose a threat, and they’re easy to take out. The levitation can actually be useful for climbing up towers or reaching new areas. As long as you have ender pearls or wings with you (or chorus fruit, which cancels levitation when you munch it) it’s easy to avoid any fall damage. 

With no real enemy threat you’re free to move around the city, and this itself is fun, too. You can use the wings to glide between different rooms, or use ender pearls to clear gaps. And if you miss a shot the wings serve as a safety net that prevent you from dying, respawning, and having to traipse back to where you died (a cycle we all know too well).

It’s pleasant. You arrive at a base, grab diamond gear, muck about a bit, and then glide off to the next one. The feedback loop of fly, loot, fly is really addictive, and feels like a much more active way of tooling up than digging mine shafts miles under the surface, scrabbling through the dirt in the hope of finding a glint of blue. 

But more than that, it’s rekindled my love for the rest of the game. Having access to high level tools and a reliable reserve of diamonds cuts down the time it takes me to complete other projects. Combining some of the enchanted diamond tools I’ve found in chests, including an Efficiency V, has given me a pick that rips through stone as soon as it touches it, allowing me to carve out an underground space for a substantial new tree farm in a matter of minutes. 

I’m now a month in to this style of play, and I haven’t stopped thinking about what I can do with the loot I’ve plundered from End Cities. If you, like me, haven’t played it in a while, then its worth giving it a go—this might just be the update that makes you fall in love with Minecraft all over again.