Minecraft is about to get its biggest set of changes in a while, in the Adventure Update. It's focused around making the world more interesting to explore, with traces of civilizations, larger climate zones, freaky new monsters, new block types and combat tweaks.
Mojang sent us a pre-release verison that I've been playing around with for a few days now, and my brain has magically formed OPINIONS and OBSERVATIONS about it. I won't focus on the bugs - even the pre-release version is being rapidly patched, and we all know how fast the quickfixes come whenever Mojang release a new Minecraft update.
The terrain has changed significantly: it's now cut up by rivers and ravines, and the different climate zones - biomes - are much larger. It's now possible to spawn in a desert and for that to feel like you're actually in a desert, with no wood, wildlife, or water. It goes a long way towards making your map feel like a world, exaggerating the features of each biome by virtue of its size. This allows for proper mountain ranges, deserts you can get lost in, and prairies large enough to build a town in.
If someone hasn't beaten you to it. You can now find pre-built towns, randomly generated settlements that usually include a bunch of cool houses, a village well, a smithy, some farms, and some sort of church thing. They're more like an oddity than a significant addition - in a future patch, they'll actually be inhabited.
You'll also find traces of civilisation in the depths: abandoned mine shafts are new dungeon-like features that criss-cross the subterranean world. These narrow passages are full of goodies, like iron picks and mine cart tracks, but also poisonous cave spiders.
It's not hard to stay alive in there, but it is easy to lose your way, or get stuck in the new sticky web blocks which clutter the particularly spider-infested portions. It feels like a much better dungeon than the pokey monster-spawning rooms we're used to – they're huge, convoluted, and claustrophobic.
You can also find a stronghold. If you do, please tell me what it is like, and maybe let me touch your hand or something, because they are VERY rare. They are extensive dungeons crammed with loot and monsters, built out of a new stone brick block. They even have their own little monster – the silverfish. It hides in a sort of trap block – it looks like any other common stronghold wall section, but breaks extra fast, and triggers a swarm of these little bug things.
The poster boys for the Adventure Update are the spindly black Endermen, and they're pretty terrifying. They spawn in small groups along with the usual undead suspects, and burn in sunlight. As soon as you clap eyes on one, he wrenches his head around to face you and stares you down with his green, luminous eyes. Break eye contact and he flips out, teleporting after you and smacking you around. Other than that, he's just a slightly tougher ordinary monster – he can move blocks around, but not to any particular purpose at the moment.
Combat is now a significantly more fluid and enjoyable exchange. By jumping and striking as you fall, you score a critical hit, dealing double damage with a bonus twinkly particle effect. You can also sprint, which lets you knock back enemies farther when you strike, escape more easily, and save precious time running back home for some beef.
New bow mechanics prevent arrow-spamming by forcing you to draw back the bow for about a second, rewarding you with a critical hit for a fully taught bow. Altogether, combat feels better. You have a plan. You have a reason to make a sword and keep it with you, and a reason to fire a few arrows before using it.
Health has been totally reworked: rather than eating food to heal yourself directly, you have a food meter. It depletes as you walk, jump, or sprint, and you have to eat to replenish it. When it's full, your health regenerates if you're hurt. When it's empty, your health starts to drain, and on hard mode it'll eventually kill you. It alters the priorities of survival, because suddenly you need to keep harvesting, stockpiling, and consuming food as you build and explore. The other new meter, for experience, isn't hooked up to anything yet: it fills as you kill monsters, but there's no reward for levelling up. Mojang haven't quite decided what it should do.
The Adventure Update won't affect you much if you just like to dig: there are some new blocks to make, like iron bars and glass panes, but nothing huge. This update is about the world outside your fortress, and how big and rich and scary it is. And it gives you so much more reason to explore.