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The joy of playing Minecraft as a walking sim

What a wonderful world

A mountainous landscape in Minecraft, with the RPS 100 logo in the top right corner
Image credit: Rock Paper Shotgun/Xbox Game Studios

Like everyone with a shred of taste and a pair of mostly functional eyes, I can look at Minecraft and appreciate the outrageously ambitious and detailed builds that get shared around every few weeks. Putting form to my own megastructures, though? Can’t, sorry – I already have plans to wander around and gawp at nature.

Outside of Creative mode, exploration has always been core to Mojang’s blocky survival sandbox. You need food and shelter to live, and resources for both of those are unlikely to be waiting at your spawn point. Exploring for its own sake, though, has repeatedly proven enough to draw me away from any planned building projects. Today, twelve years after I punched down my first tree, I’m still content to live in sparse wooden huts if it means more time for long hikes and spelunking trips.

I forgot to mention Lush Caves and underground lakes in this article. But they're great too.Watch on YouTube

For one thing, present-day Minecraft’s random world generation is capable of some genuinely stunning scenery. Previous updates have introduced some striking new biomes – the glowing coral reefs and dense jungles are among my favourites – but 2021’s Caves & Cliff Part 2 completely overhauled how terrain is put together. Post-C&C, mountain ranges are truly mountainous, enticing wandering souls with heaven-piercing peaks and unrivalled vantage points. Hundreds of meters below, cave tunnels now open up into vast, perilously deep caverns, decorated with lava pools and underground waterfalls.

A huge underground cavern in Minecraft, lit up with placed torches.
Image credit: Rock Paper Shotgun/Mojang Studios

These landscapes are all lovely to look at, and more importantly, their call to adventure has never been louder. What’s inside that temple over there? Is there something on the other side of that mountain range? What secrets could be hiding in the pitch blackness of this ravine? To me, it doesn’t even matter if these just lead to more grass or a box full of the same mid-tier loot I already have gathering dust back at base. The journey to them was already filled with all the intrigue and awe I could want, and even better, that experience was singularly mine. This land exists solely within my PC’s SSD – not one other human being has set foot in that temple or scaled that summit. I am an explorer, in the truest sense of the word.

A coral reef biome in Minecraft.
Image credit: Rock Paper Shotgun/Mojang Studios

I think that’s the difference between going for strolls in a solo game and, say, poking around a well-developed multiplayer server, or checking out a world download. If playing Minecraft as a walking sim was purely about eyeballing pretty blocks, either of these would work: a lot of servers are packed for miles with beautiful handcrafted builds, the fruits of a shared creativity that’s so enduringly prevalent in Minecraft’s online component. And seeing this work up close is cool! But ultimately, and especially if you’re not there to join in and build something yourself, it’s more like visiting a museum than donning a pith and setting out to find some sights for yourself.

Happily, Minecraft allows for both approaches. Build on, you crazy starchitects – I’ll still admire your creations. Just on my phone, while resting my feet out in the wilderness.

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