Minecraft for Xbox Series X|S: Ray tracing, changes, and everything we know

Minecraft RTX
Minecraft RTX (Image credit: Windows Central)

Minecraft is a classic game that continues to evolve and change over time, but its overall visual style has remained relatively static since the game's debut over 10 years ago. Apart from manual changes players can enact through the use of shaders and texture packs, Minecraft looks more or less the same as it always has — even on the latest, most powerful current-gen consoles.

Many players have been left wondering when, or even if, Minecraft will become an Optimized title for Microsoft's current-gen Xbox Series X and Xbox Series S consoles. Currently, the Minecraft experience on those advanced machines doesn't stand out in any way, leading to disappointment among the community. Mojang Studios has already showcased the possibilities with the addition of ray-tracing support on compatible Windows PCs, and the expectation exists that Minecraft on Xbox Series X|S should be an inevitability, thanks to Mojang Studios' first-party status under Xbox Game Studios.

However, information is scarce, and Mojang Studios has yet to commit to a proper current-gen upgrade for Minecraft on Xbox Series X|S. Here's what you need to know about Minecraft and ray tracing on Xbox Series X|S.

What is Minecraft on Xbox Series X|S?

Minecraft RTX

Source: Windows Central (Image credit: Source: Windows Central)

The Xbox Series X and S represent a new generation of console gaming, with powerful evolutionary hardware pushing groundbreaking features that we haven't seen in the console space before, like faster SSD storage, ray tracing, and more reliable performance — even with upgraded visuals. Minecraft, being one of Microsoft's biggest and most successful franchises and one of the greatest Xbox games, works on the Xbox Series X|S from day one through the platform's impressive backward-compatibility program, even if it doesn't currently support many of the latest features that the Xbox Series X|S can utilize for current-gen games.

Don't expect a "Minecraft 2" or even a specific version of Minecraft built from the ground up for Xbox Series X|S. Instead, if Minecraft does receive an update to help it take advantage of current-gen hardware, Mojang Studios will leverage the power and flexibility of Minecraft: Bedrock Edition.

This more modern version of Minecraft currently spans Xbox One, Windows 10 & 11, PlayStation 4, Nintendo Switch, Android, and iOS platforms with one code base and feature set across all platforms. This is all possible due to the Bedrock foundation and the Render Dragon engine, which allows Minecraft: Bedrock Edition to dynamically conform to whatever platform you're playing on with the same great experience and gameplay with which you're familiar.

The Bedrock Edition can expand to encompass the current-gen gaming consoles, with some console-specific upgrades for the Xbox Series X|S. In fact, some of these potential upgrades have already appeared on other platforms. Neither the exact delivery nor timeline for these upgrades has been confirmed yet, but we can discuss all the possibilities and everything we do know for certain.

What current-gen features could we see for Minecraft on Xbox Series X|S?

Minecraft RTX

Source: Windows Central (Image credit: Source: Windows Central)

The current generation of consoles is all about making gaming more seamless. This means less time waiting and more time playing. Right out of the gate, Minecraft ideally benefits from these immediate advantages on Xbox Series X|S. You should expect much faster loading times due to the ultra-fast SSD present in the Xbox Series X|S, more consistent performance, smoother animations, greater draw distances (how far away you can see at once), and better stability when lots of things are happening on the screen, like explosions or large fights with multiple mobs.

However, Minecraft actually doesn't appear to run much better on the Xbox Series X|S versus the Xbox One generation, and may actually suffer from running in backward-compatibility mode at times, with previously rarer frame drops and lag becoming more prevalent. I've previously discussed how Minecraft on Xbox Series X|S can feel disappointing. Hopefully, a current-gen upgrade for Minecraft would resolve these issues on top of adding additional features and enhancements.

The only feature Minecraft obviously benefits from on Xbox Series X|S right now is Quick Resume, which means you can have multiple games and applications suspended in the background and nearly instantaneously resume them at a moment's notice without sacrificing performance. Minecraft does support Quick Resume, so players can hop right back into Minecraft without reloading the game, even if the console has been turned off or other games have been played. Beyond that, however, other improvements appear to rely on the possibility of a future current-gen upgrade for Minecraft.

One of the biggest features that Minecraft could greatly benefit from on Xbox Series X|S is ray tracing. This incredible technology allows games to track the path of light beams and information in real-time, leading to much more realistic reflections, shadows, environments, and more. Ray tracing is already a reality in Minecraft on Windows PCs, but there's reason to believe Mojang Studios is also working on bringing the revolutionary gaming technology to Xbox Series X|S.

What is ray tracing for Minecraft on Xbox Series X|S?

Minecraft RTX

Source: Windows Central (Image credit: Source: Windows Central)

Ray tracing is one of those vague gaming terms that doesn't concern the vast majority of gamers. However, when properly used, ray tracing can have real effects on how a game looks, particularly in the atmosphere department. On games that are already meant to be photo-realistic, ray tracing allows them to take it to the next level by accurately portraying lighting instead of simply "guessing" as was commonplace before. It's very complicated, but fortunately, we're here to break it all down.

Ray tracing, down at its core, requires three things to work: capable hardware, supported drivers and software, and a game built with ray tracing in mind. With Xbox Series X|S, all three of these things are present, with ray tracing being touted as an essential current-gen feature for both the Xbox Series X|S and the PS5. Minecraft could eventually be one of the games to support real-time ray tracing on these consoles.

Now, it should be noted that Minecraft with ray tracing already exists, and it looks incredible, completely altering the look and feel of this over-10-year-old game. We even paired Minecraft with ray tracing and an NVIDIA RTX 3060 for even more beautiful results. However, Minecraft with ray tracing is currently available only for Minecraft: Bedrock Edition on Windows 10 when paired with high-end NVIDIA RTX GPUs, and is either restricted to specific maps or requires a lot of manual work to use.

Until recently, NVIDIA has been the sole pioneer of ray-tracing technology, working together with Microsoft to create a robust set of tools that game developers can use to bring the tech to their games. Minecraft: Bedrock Edition is the perfect platform to show this off because the Render Dragon engine supports modern technologies like DXR through Microsoft DirectX 12. However, the Xbox Series X and Series S do not use NVIDIA graphics cards, so they don't support ray tracing, right? Well, they absolutely do, just not quite in the same way.

The Xbox Series X and Series S are using custom-designed AMD hardware for their CPU and GPU. This AMD hardware will utilize the full power of DirectX 12 Ultimate (Microsoft's suite of developer-centric tools and APIs), combined with AMD's advanced RDNA 2 architecture, to bring ray tracing to console gaming (and AMD hardware) for the first time. Because of this, however, ray-traced Minecraft on Xbox Series X|S is mired in mystery.

Minecraft with RTX is basically a completed product on Windows, but it took months to get there and still isn't close to perfect. To implement ray tracing with Minecraft on Xbox Series X|S, a lot of work is needed to pair AMD hardware with Microsoft's DirectX 12 and DXR (DirectX Raytracing).

There's no telling how far behind Minecraft is on the Xbox Series X and Series S, seeing as they're preparing ray tracing on new AMD hardware, a relatively recent arrival to the ray-tracing field. In Austin Evan's early hands-on preview of the Xbox Series X above, he does show Minecraft with ray tracing in action on the Xbox Series X, and it looks awesome, as expected. Microsoft also made it clear to us, after the fact, that this was a technical demonstration of ray tracing on the Xbox Series X and in no way was a product announcement.

Will Xbox Smart Delivery or a free update bring Minecraft to Xbox Series X|S?

Xbox Series X Hero Thin

Source: Matt Brown | Windows Central (Image credit: Source: Matt Brown | Windows Central)

If Minecraft is Optimized for Xbox Series X|S, there's absolutely no reason to expect Mojang Studios will do anything but release the enhancements as a free upgrade. Microsoft has been very clear about their stance here and has even told developers that they recommend providing current-gen upgrades as a free update for existing games, rather than as separate DLC or new games. Since Minecraft is a first-party Microsoft title, it's all but guaranteed to allow players to enjoy new features on Xbox Series X|S by simply installing a free upgrade.

In fact, it's likely that Mojang Studios will use Xbox Smart Delivery to deliver the current-gen Minecraft upgrade to Xbox Series X|S.

Smart Delivery is a technology that allows games to intelligently download only the parts of a game that is necessary for the platform on which it's being played. Someone playing on the Xbox One doesn't need the 4K assets and textures of the more powerful Series X, or the upgraded textures and visuals of the Series S, so foregoing those assets leads to much smaller download sizes and even potentially improved performance. Smart Delivery also makes it seamless to upgrade a game for Xbox Series X|S and has led to several games receiving Xbox Series X|S upgrades in a far more leisurely fashion than on PS5, which requires PS5 games to be separate from PS4.

Like mentioned earlier, developers are encouraged to offer free upgrades to existing games to enable new current-gen features. Still, the final decision is up to the developers. Even if they decide to provide a free upgrade (which many already have), the delivery method is up to them as well. The most straightforward one so far has been Microsoft's Smart Delivery, as it means publishing a single game and then having the console download what it needs to deliver the best possible experience to the player.

I fully expect Minecraft to take advantage of Smart Delivery, being a first-party title. While it hasn't been confirmed, it would genuinely be shocking if Microsoft ignores its own advice and chooses an alternative upgrade path for players downloading Minecraft on their Xbox Series X and S consoles. Smart Delivery pairs nicely with Xbox's already-excellent cloud saves to make it as seamless as possible to transition to Xbox Series X|S.

Will crossplay and cross-platform features remain in Minecraft on Xbox Series X|S?

Minecraft RTX Screenshot

Source: Windows Central (Image credit: Source: Windows Central)

Minecraft has been a poster child for cross-platform support, and was one of the earliest games to offer crossplay across platform lines. While many people feared that Microsoft would take Minecraft away from other platforms in favor of Xbox and Windows, that fear never came to pass, and Mojang Studios has continued its cross-platform philosophy by releasing the Bedrock Edition for PlayStation 4. Even Minecraft Dungeons, an all-new IP for Mojang Studios that expands on the Minecraft franchise, launched simultaneously on Xbox, Windows, PlayStation, and Nintendo Switch, and now features cross-play.

Minecraft being upgraded for current-gen consoles shouldn't affect cross-platform features in any way, as it'll all still be built on the universal Minecraft: Bedrock Edition. Players on Xbox Series X|S will have a superior gaming experience with new current-gen features, but they should still be able to play with all of their friends on other platforms, including Xbox One. Even the addition of real-time ray tracing shouldn't affect this, as it's all done client-side. Xbox Series X|S players should be able to enjoy the benefits of ray tracing and other current-gen features, while non-Xbox Series X|S players in the same lobby will see Minecraft as they always have.

Of course, there's always a chance that something will change here. Mojang Studios has confirmed nothing about Minecraft on Xbox Series X|S at all, so anything is possible. That being said, I firmly believe that a current-gen upgrade wouldn't affect Minecraft's cross-platform and crossplay features.

Will I keep my data and purchases with cross-save in Minecraft on Xbox Series X|S?

Minecraft RTX Screenshot

Source: Windows Central (Image credit: Source: Windows Central)

Since the version of Minecraft you'll play on the Xbox Series X and Series S will be the exact same as the version you'll play on other platforms, and will be synced through your Microsoft account, Minecraft Marketplace purchases and other save data should still carry over. Your maps should also carry over from Xbox One, as long as you have cloud saves turned on, so you can download your maps and enjoy all the greatness that the Xbox Series X|S has to offer.

This is the benefit of taking advantage of features like Smart Delivery, because instead of having to figure out how to connect two entirely separate games (if a developer even bothers), Mojang Studios can use all the existing features in Minecraft that protect your progression. That means it should be easier than ever to keep all of your information moving forward and ensure any money you spent purchasing new maps, worlds, or packs in Minecraft doesn't go to waste on Xbox Series X|S.

Protecting cross-save also matters if you're coming from Minecraft: Bedrock Edition on another platform to Xbox Series X|S, as your Marketplace purchases like maps, skins, and texture packs should sync through your Microsoft Account.

When is the release date for Minecraft on Xbox Series X|S?

Xbox Series X, Xbox Series S

Source: Matt Brown | Windows Central (Image credit: Source: Matt Brown | Windows Central)

The question to end all questions (and the one that gets asked most regularly on Windows Central social media accounts) is when Minecraft will be upgraded for the Xbox Series X and Series S. At this point, though, we simply don't know when, or even if, Minecraft will be upgraded to run better on Xbox Series X|S.

Between an early technical demonstration of Minecraft with ray tracing running on Xbox Series X, Minecraft RTX working wonderfully on Windows 10, and the gaming technologies inside Xbox Series X|S progressively becoming more accessible, it's easy to assume and believe that Minecraft is definitely being upgraded for Xbox Series X|S at some point. Unfortunately, there has been absolutely zero confirmation from Mojang Studios that it's actually happening, so we're not able to take guesses at a potential release date.

Notably, Mojang Studios recently accidentally released prototype code of ray tracing on Xbox Series X|S through the Minecraft Preview program, briefly giving a handful of players access for a few days. This, understandably, elicited an overwhelmingly excited response from the Minecraft community, as many felt the release meant Mojang Studios was preparing to make an announcement and officially begin testing the feature.

Unfortunately, Mojang Studios removed the prototype code, and released the following dismissive statement:

The previous Minecraft Preview build available to Xbox Insiders inadvertently included prototype code for ray tracing support on Xbox consoles. This early prototype code has been removed from Preview and doesn't signal near future plans to bring ray tracing support to consoles.

Mojang Studios has still not provided any additional update or information regarding the short-lived feature test, leaving many interested Xbox Series X|S Minecraft players in the dark once again. I discussed how Mojang Studios needs to come clean about Minecraft on Xbox Series X|S after this debacle; even if the feature is obviously not ready to release, players still deserve to have official confirmation that it is, at least, in the works and that Mojang Studios intends to release it at some point in the future.

We're constantly looking for any additional information on when Minecraft could be upgraded for Xbox Series X|S. The moment we learn anything new, we'll be sure to update you right away. In the meantime, Minecraft does work on Xbox Series X and Series S right now through Xbox backward compatibility, and it does work well for the most part. Just don't expect any real benefits to playing on Xbox Series X|S versus Xbox One, as the experience is mostly identical.

Will Minecraft on PlayStation 5 be upgraded like Minecraft on Xbox Series X|S?


Source: Jennifer Locke | Windows Central (Image credit: Source: Jennifer Locke | Windows Central)

So what about the PlayStation 5? Sony's current-gen console boasts many of the same benefits as the Xbox Series X and Series S, so will Minecraft also be upgraded for PS5? The answer here is a little bit muddier, but we can be more confident about some things on PS5. The PS5 is a true current-gen console, just like the Xbox Series X|S, and benefits from similar technologies like real-time ray tracing, powerful hardware, and speedy SSDs. PS5 differs in that it handles these technologies differently than Microsoft, choosing to use more custom solutions rather than Microsoft's DirectX or AMD's full RDNA 2.

Beyond the technical aspect of bringing Minecraft to PS5 with a current-gen upgrade, Microsoft may choose to hold back on fully supporting the PS5 at all. Minecraft is still a cross-platform game that gets new updates at the same time on PS5 as Microsoft platforms like Xbox and Windows, but that doesn't mean Microsoft has to support PS5 fully. For example, Minecraft Dungeons is now Xbox Series X|S Optimized but has yet to receive similar treatment on PS5.

On top of that, the Minecraft Dungeons current-gen upgrade is far simpler than what may happen with Minecraft and ray tracing. We know PS5 supports ray tracing and already has it in several games, but it's not clear how difficult it would be to implement it in Minecraft without using Microsoft's DirectX technologies.

If I had to hazard a guess, I'd suggest that Minecraft will not receive an upgrade on PS5. Any current-gen version of Minecraft will be reserved for Xbox Series X|S and PC, to ensure that Minecraft offers the best possible experience on Microsoft's platforms.

In a perfect world, Minecraft will be backward compatible on PS5, will receive a current-gen upgrade for free, and will still fully support crossplay with all other platforms, including Xbox Series X|S. However, there are a lot of unknowns here, so we'll have to wait a little longer to get a definitive answer.

Update, May 11, 2022: Added information regarding the accidental release of prototype code for Minecraft on Xbox Series X|S, as well as other tweaks to grammar and formatting.

Zachary Boddy
Staff Writer

Zachary Boddy (They / Them) is a Staff Writer for Windows Central, primarily focused on covering the latest news in tech and gaming, the best Xbox and PC games, and the most interesting Windows and Xbox hardware. They have been gaming and writing for most of their life starting with the original Xbox, and started out as a freelancer for Windows Central and its sister sites in 2019. Now a full-fledged Staff Writer, Zachary has expanded from only writing about all things Minecraft to covering practically everything on which Windows Central is an expert, especially when it comes to Microsoft. You can find Zachary on Twitter @BoddyZachary.