It's been years since I played Minecraft — it's like a whole new game today

Minecraft is be the best selling game of all time and represents a huge chunk of Microsoft's gaming efforts across cloud, cross-platform services, and merchandising. And at 10 years old it's showing no signs of slowing down.

Creators of all types have made careers producing videos, mods, and other types of content for Minecraft, which remains one of the biggest games on YouTube in terms of viewership. It has made history as the first ever game with cross-platform play between Xbox, Nintendo, VR, mobile, and PC platforms, owing to its re-written Bedrock Engine, powering cross-platform experiences. Soon, Minecraft will also take on augmented reality, in the form of Minecraft Earth.

At this point, Minecraft is a game that needs no introduction. A lot of the things I bring up here will be old news for the Minecraft faithful, too. But for me, as a lapsed player of the old Java version, returning to find out what Microsoft has been doing with modern Minecraft has been an incredible experience, and I felt like sharing. If you're an OG Minecrafter that's been away for a while, here's why it might be worth jumping back in.

A platform for adventure

While I have dabbled in the Bedrock Edition here and there, it was the recent Village and Pillage update that got me re-addicted to the game. Village and Pillage added deeper settlement systems to the game, where new types of villages could be raided and ransacked by evil "illagers." On our particular Realm seed, the illager spawns have been relatively rare, but we have triggered at least one raid, which plays out similarly to a huge Horde-style battle, with villagers running indoors to hide.

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Minecraft's creative aspects are a great way to relax, but some of the newer, more adventurous aspects have surprised me as a platform for tense, exciting co-operative fun. The Nether, Minecraft's twisted Hell-like otherworld, has been in the game for quite a long time, but I recently had my first foray into its lava-blasted world. Emerging unscathed with all the loot I acquired, including armor for my trusty steed, tons of Blaze rods for making potions, and Ghast tears for various spooky things, was quite a nerve-wracking challenge.

An undersea shipwreck, will there be treasure?

An undersea shipwreck, will there be treasure?

The Nether is pretty difficult to navigate for a newbie like myself, with lava pitfalls all over the place, floating eldritch horrors, and swarms of horrifically mutated pigs that make me question Minecraft's "kid-friendly" designation. Raiding the place was a blast, and by no means the only adventure I've had the past few weeks.

I've also had the chance to experience some of Minecraft's newer biomes, including polar-style glaciers, taigas filled with gigantic trees, and swamps full of slime monsters. Perhaps the most exciting, for me, so far has been the abandoned mine shaft, which was added years ago, showing just how much I've been missing out on. I came upon an abandoned mine shaft while digging beneath the Helmsdeep-inspired survival base I've been making, uncovering a vast warren of spooky tunnels, brimming with monsters, precious ores, and minecart chest loot. The mine shaft system generated there seems to intersect with various other caves and crevices too, making me wonder just how big it is. After a couple of weeks, I'm still finding new tunnels and pathways in the darkness, which typifies the quintessential Minecraft fantasy in my book.

There are still tons of experiences I haven't dabbled with yet too, including The End dimension, where the Ender Dragon dwells. I'm yet to find an Illager outpost and trigger a raid of my own, too. I'm just on the edge of being ready to craft water breathing potions to explore some of the undersea biomes added in Update Aquatic, as well as the oceanic temples filled with monsters I've never seen. There's so much to do, so much to see, all without getting creative.

A platform for creativity

The essential Minecraft "digital Lego" experience not only remains intact but seems to have pushed far further than I could have imagined, even without considering the vast array of mods and add-ons that can enhance the experience. As someone playing using only a basic texture pack, I have been blown away by some of the new options for creation, but even more so when looking at creators on YouTube and subreddits like /r/detailcraft and /r/minecraftbuilds for inspiration.

We're playing on a dedicated Realm, rented from Microsoft for around $7 per month. It allows up to ten concurrent players onto the server at any one time, allowing you to build together, craft together, slay monsters together, and so on. As a survival realm, resources aren't infinite as they are on creative mode, where players can build endlessly to their heart's content. Some of the creative mode stuff I've seen has been truly crazy, but there's something satisfying about making large structures with the added danger of creepers lurking around, ready to blow up your stuff.

I've been crafting a Helmsdeep-inspired castle wall, with plans to carve homes and buildings out of a large cliff face behind it. We've also been building large skyways to link parts of the map across powered rails, monorail-style. There are tons of small and large homes of all types dotted around the map, created by our small community, and it's always fun to walk around and see what people have made.

Some of the new features like leashes and campfires, which seem simplistic enough, have led to a vast array of new creative ideas out of the Minecraft community. Campfires can be used in chimneys to create the effect of rising smoke, while leashes can be tied to wooden posts and buried chickens (sorry chickens) to create realistic-looking rope bridges. The beauty and genius of Minecraft's low-poly visuals is that the lack of detail on items allows them to perform multiple functions, with your imagination filling in the gaps. With higher fidelity graphics, a campfire would always look like a campfire, but in Minecraft, it can also be any sort of wooden detail when you douse the flames.

What does the future hold?

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We already know about Minecraft Earth hitting smartphones in the near future, as well as Minecraft Dungeons, which look as though it'll condense Minecraft's adventuring gameplay into shorter, more focused Diablo-like sessions. But what else does the franchise hold for Microsoft?

We've heard that the teams building Minecraft experiences is among the largest as Redmond, up there with Halo in terms of employees. We've also heard that Microsoft has even more Minecraft-related standalone projects in the works, beyond Dungeons and Earth, as well as the typical heavy updates for its Java and Bedrock Editions that fans have come to know and love. The long-awaited 4K Super Duper Graphics pack is still reportedly in the works, although it has been heavily delayed to accommodate emerging graphics tech like ray tracing. I'll try and find out more about that at E3 2019.

One thing is for certain: Minecraft is not slowing down, nor is it going away. As Microsoft's biggest recreational property outside of Xbox itself, the $2.5 billion purchase from 2014 has proven to be a huge win for Redmond, and I'd argue it has been a big win for Minecraft fans too.

Now if you'll excuse me, I have another section of wall to build, and a ton more to learn.

Awesome Minecraft merch

Love Minecraft? We're fairly certain you'll love these accessories equally.

Minecraft Sprites Premium T-Shirt ($19 at Amazon)

Show off your Minecraft pride with this premium tee from Jinx, showcasing many of Minecraft's iconic mobs.

Minecraft Lego: The End Battle ($20 at Amazon)

Who doesn't want a Lego Ender Dragon?

Minecraft for Nintendo Switch ($30 at Amazon)

Minecraft for Nintendo Switch features full cross-play between Xbox, Windows 10, mobile phones, and even VR!

Minecraft shades ($8 at Amazon)

You might think you're cool, but are you cool enough to wear these?

Jez Corden
Co-Managing Editor

Jez Corden is a Managing Editor at Windows Central, focusing primarily on all things Xbox and gaming. Jez is known for breaking exclusive news and analysis as relates to the Microsoft ecosystem while being powered by tea. Follow on Twitter @JezCorden and listen to his XB2 Podcast, all about, you guessed it, Xbox!