Image: Nintendo Life

After diving deep into the new Minecraft Caves and Cliffs Part II update (all the way down to Y-64), our resident Minecraft expert Kate Gray is ready to declare her verdict on the whole thing. Do new caves and cliffs make that much of a difference to a game that's all about caves and cliffs? Read on to find out...

There's an interesting phenomenon that I've observed with Minecraft. I keep dragging my friends into the game to build little towns with me, and every time, they can't help remarking that "things have changed so much" since they last played. Everyone seems to have had a Minecraft phase, and that phase was often a few years back — before the Nether was added, or before axolotls — so, when they come to the game in 2021, everything is glorious, new, and incredibly confusing.

For people like me, whose Minecraft phases are more frequent, those changes feel slow. We're currently getting big updates once or twice a year, giving us 6 to 12 months to have a bunch of fun before we need to restart the world to fit in all the new stuff. In Minecraft, that's an age.

But Caves and Cliffs — the two-part update that just wrapped up last week — changes everything, and it'll take more than a few months to get used to it, even for old players like me.

Caves and Cliffs Part One - Goats and Glow Squids

The first part of Caves and Cliffs added the content: new mobs, like goats, glow squid, and axolotls, plus copper, amethyst, deepslate, and tuff blocks. There was new flora alongside the fauna, too: glow berries, cave vines, dripleaves and azalea trees and bushes gave us a whole bunch of stuff to make gardens out of, and the addition of moss blocks made grassy areas look much more interesting.

Caves and Cliffs Part One was fun, for a while, but it didn't really change things in a big way. My gardens were now carpeted in moss, and I loved seeing axolotls swimming around in flooded caves (and then, inevitably, dying by getting stuck on magma blocks) but largely I was playing the game the same as I was before — it was just prettier.

The second part of Caves and Cliffs was the big one, though, promising to change how the world itself generated. The addition of mega caves — gigantic underground networks of tunnels and massive, city-sized voids — and the more realistic mountains, cliffs, and other overworld geographical features turn Minecraft into a totally different game.

After all, it's in the name: Minecraft is partly about crafting, and partly about mining. Before Caves and Cliffs, mining was largely about digging in a general "down" direction until you found things. It was slow, tedious, and rarely rewarding, even though it could sometimes be quite zen to dig in a straight line for an hour.

Caves and Cliffs Part Two - Game-changer

The way caves and tunnels generate now changes that completely. Gaping entrances form in forests, beckoning players into their cavernous depths; very little actual mining needs to happen to get down far enough to find iron, coal, and even diamonds. Spelunking in these gigantic caves is more about being able to carefully navigate your way down and through claustrophobic passages and dizzying heights, just like in the real world. Underwater is also more interesting, going from flat ocean floors to crumbly, tunnely caves that you'll definitely drown in.

Minecraft Caves And Cliffs
Image: Nintendo Life

Ore deposits are just there, in the open, for the taking, and although the ore generation has changed to make it less likely for ore to spawn if it's exposed to air (otherwise it would be ludicrously easy), the very nature of these massive caves with all their exposed sides does make it a lot easier to find rare ores... as long as you're willing to risk it in these dark, monster-filled spaces.

In the caves, especially the big ones, Mojang have taken care to make things look more interesting than before, with gigantic aquifers that jut out across the caverns, and gigantic stone pillars that connect the roof to the floor. Combined with the new lush caves — which fill the caves with glow-berry light and verdant green moss and vines — going caving is now just as much about taking screenshots as it is about finding materials.

It's not just the caves that are breathtakingly gorgeous, either. The cliffs and mountains are beautiful now, with new features like river valleys that wind through the hills, snow-capped peaks covered in spruce trees, and gently rolling countryside blanketed in flowers.

It's all incredibly pretty, and fantastically varied, too, with minor tweaks like biome blending and softer curves adding to the overall effect that this could be real. Add this to the increased world height and the increased biome size, everything just feels a lot more vast. It's genuinely gorgeous.

Soundtrack changes

And there's new music, too — from Celeste and Chicory: A Colorful Tale composer Lena Raine, who contributed to the Nether Update's music (and wrote Pigstep, which is incredible), and Kumi Tanioka, whose musical work includes Final Fantasy, Super Smash Bros., and Hyrule Warriors: Age of Calamity.

It definitely marks a change from C418's soundtrack, which is beloved for its dreamy, echoey, lo-fi vibes; Raine and Tanioka's music is more polished, composed, and modern, sounding like it could come from Breath of the Wild with its wistful, slow piano melodies.

Then, of course, there's the more unusual tracks like Raine's "otherside", an upbeat Stardew Valley-like track with plenty of tambourine, brass, and light drums. People might bristle at the change, but Minecraft could not and should not remain static, preserved in amber for all time. I like the new music, because it makes Minecraft feel new. I could hum C418's "Sweden" in my sleep — I'm open to being surprised. (And, for the record, I like all of it.)

Changes that might not please everyone

There are a few changes that perhaps not everyone will welcome, although with Minecraft, everyone enjoys the game differently, so your mileage may vary.

The cave systems have made mob generation a little... weird. In 1.18 (Caves and Cliffs Part Two) the mob generation was changed to allow mobs to spawn only if the light level is zero, which means we no longer have to spam torches around our houses to keep Creepers away. This is good news. But it also makes the overworld weirdly barren, partly because there are quite a few ambient light sources (lava, mushrooms, glow lichen) and partly because, well, the caves beneath are a much more appealing place to spawn. That means if you're above any kind of cave, the monsters will all be beneath you.

Minecraft Caves And Cliffs
Image: Nintendo Life

And this might be a minor issue, but... it's really bloody hard to light up a cave the size of a skyscraper. Sure, it's incredibly cool to fly around, but without shaders, it's impossible to see much. Even in Creative mode, it took me an age to place enough torches that I could actually see to the end of a cave.

Plus, well... The Switch version really isn't the best version of Minecraft. The render distance is capped out at 12 chunks, and I often found that exploring new areas made the game slow to catch up, with chunks generating slowly enough that I had no idea where I was heading. It's hard to appreciate mountains and caves on a scale like this when the Switch limits your view to just a fraction of what's there. This is done to make Minecraft run well on the Switch, of course, so it's a trade-off, but it just makes me want to play on my PC, where I can install lovely shaders and see an entire mountain without the top being cut off.

2021 12 07 12.59.32
Here's a PC screenshot with Optifine as a (very unfair) comparison

But I really can't complain too much. Caves and Cliffs — the world generation, in particular — makes Minecraft new. It adds a lot of subtle (and monumental) changes that just make the entire experience of playing Minecraft so much better, whether you're starting out from spawn or in the middle of building a castle. Caving will never be the same again.

Been enjoying the update? Let us know your thoughts on Caves & Cliffs below.