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Minecraft 1.18 finally resurrects the experimental feel I loved 11 years ago

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Minecraft 1.18 has arrived today, bringing with it giant changes to the way that worlds are generated. Caves & Cliffs part 2 has made Minecraft’s terrain dramatic. Mountains now stretch up into towering Frozen Peaks biomes the likes of which earlier versions never would have created. Massive caves are open along the surface, earthen maws ready to swallow you down to deepslate depths without warning. Entire mountains are hollow, filled with new Lush Cave interiors. Each new world I visit has landscapes that are dauntingly large, excessively strange, and ultimately fascinating in the way Minecraft was when I first played it.

Back in 2010, Minecraft was still in alpha. This was long before its blocky visuals became a popularly mimicked aesthetic, before the crafting survival frenzy that it inspired, and back before procedurally generated worlds became more common. In the early 2010’s, Minecraft was magical. Every time I started a fresh world, I was excited just to see what it was capable of creating.

In the years since, Minecraft has become a toy box full of known unknowns—when a new mob is added we ask whether it’s tameable and what it drops when killed, while a new ore often signals new tools we’ll craft with it. Minecraft has provided thousands of hours of fun, but becoming a global phenomenon has required Mojang to sand off the rough edges. It’s not nearly as weird as it once was.

In 1.18, Minecraft feels magical again, recapturing some of the original tech demo flair that I’d missed. I’ve randomly generated dozens of worlds already in the pre-release versions of 1.18 and each one feels like Minecraft is a system re-committed to surprising me.

So what is it that’s actually changed? Several things. The actual ceiling and floor of Minecraft worlds has been raised, meaning that they are both 64 blocks taller and deeper than before. Up on the surface, this means postcard-worthy mountain ranges with more towering peaks and precipitous cliffs. 

I’ve seen Minecraft worlds with this style of dramatic scenery before, but it’s always been in the kinds of work showcased in our best Minecraft builds, often sculpted with third party tools like World Painter. Minecraft now rivals those builds right out of the box.

Impressive as they are, you may not spawn in a mountain range when you create your first 1.18 world. What you will immediately stumble across—and perhaps into—are the new caves.

Caves no longer have any chill whatsoever. Forget coyly stopping at block level 40 or so. In 1.18 I’m constantly tripping over giant tears in the earth that descend, seemingly never ending, into the deepest layers of the earth. It’s not uncommon to ride a waterfall down a ravine, pass by a cavern of dripstone stalactites, spill into an underground lake, and then continue on down until I’m surrounded by the deepslate stone that now defines the lowest layers of the world just above bedrock. Survival players absolutely have a new challenge at hand when staring down into the dangerous abyss. If the massive new caverns full of skeletons and creepers don’t kill you, taking a fall down into a lush cave just might.

Version 1.18 also brings a subtler change: the separation of terrain and biome. Biomes and structures are able to organically generate on different terrain shapes, meaning that combinations previously created by sub biomes like Desert Hills and Badlands Plateau now exist naturally. Mountains freely spawn with spruce forests climbing their edges while deserts transition from hills to shores at will. 

Best of Minecraft

Minecraft update: What’s new?
Minecraft skins: New looks
Minecraft mods:  Beyond vanilla
Minecraft shaders: Spotlight
Minecraft seeds: Fresh new worlds
Minecraft texture packs: Pixelated
Minecraft servers: Online worlds
Minecraft commands: All cheats

The unleashed terrain is most evident in villages, which is my favorite part of Caves and Cliffs part 2. Villages have always been a visual indicator of funky Minecraft generation. The placement of houses and the dirt paths between them make it obvious when Minecraft has attempted to make sense of its own tricky terrain. 

Now that villages can spawn in a biome of any shape, they’re often warped in wild ways that I enjoy dissecting. Lone houses often stand apart on outcroppings. Villages fall into chasms, climb mountains, and span rivers. Their paths trickle down unlikely cliffs, attempting to connect a cobblestone temple to a library 10 blocks down. Villages in 1.18 exemplify the weirdness that I missed in Minecraft. It’s still a big sandbox full of rules, more capable than ever of spitting out wild new worlds.

Fear not, Minecraft hasn’t become entirely alien overnight. Idyllic meadows and swaths of swamp are all still there, now with the added promise that avid explorers and builders won’t ever have to walk far to find some impressive new view for their next base.

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