2021 UPDATE: Since I’ve got nothing better to do, I’ve decided to start streaming over on twitch.tv/strongstylesmark. At 2PM GMT Tuesdays & Thursdays I’ll be trying out indie games I’ve never played before, and at 6PM GMT on Saturdays, I’ll be playing games I love. I’ll be starting Saturday 16th January, so please come over and give me a follow to be notified when I go live!
Given that, by some estimates, it is now the best-selling game EVER, I don’t think I’m alone when I say that I believe that Minecraft is one of the greatest games ever made. While I can’t get exact numbers (if anyone knows how, please tell me) it’s easily the game I’ve sunk the most hours into over the course of my life so far and I don’t think I’ll ever get tired of it.
One of the reasons I’ve stuck with the game for so long is because it’s constantly evolving. Ever since the game first became available to the public, Mojang has been consistently adding new content and updating the old content completely free of charge to existing players. This philosophy of game design arguably paved the way for systems like Steam Early Access to become as popular as they have, be that for better or for worse is still up for debate, but what isn’t up for debate is the crown atop Minecraft’s head as one of, if not THE, most successful & influential games to ever be made.
Not every update was able to turn the world of Minecraft on its head like others and over the years there have been plenty of updates that failed to add much of any value to the game, or in some cases, actively worsened existing features. So today, I’m going to take a look at every major update to the Release Version of the Java version of Minecraft (i.e, from version 1.0 onwards) and rank them all from worst to best as of February 2020. This is going to be a two-part list, as it ended up being quite a long one, so stay tuned for that in a few weeks!
17 – Version 1.10 – The Frostburn Update
Release Date: 8th June 2016
When it comes to “Placeholder Updates” they don’t come much more placeholder than this.
1.10 was the definition of an update for the sake of an update. It had been just under 4 months since the release of 1.9 and it would be another 5 months until the release of 1.11, so it seemed to me like the team at Mojang pulled together a couple of relatively simple new features and stuck them in one of the smallest ever updates in order to tide people over until the next major update was ready for release at the end of 2016.
In terms of additions to the game, there’s wasn’t anything major to shout about, Magma Block, Bone Blocks & Red Nether Bricks were certainly all nice to have and they’ve added a nice layer of depth to some builds, with Magma Blocks even getting extra functionality in later updates, however when you compare it to many of the other updates we’ll be discussing, they’re really nothing special. Polar Bears were also a cool little touch, but there isn’t a great deal you can do with them other than look at them and the same goes for the new mob variations, such as Strays and Husks.
The only addition that I’d say made any kind of impact was that Structure Blocks – which were added in 1.9 – were given their full functionality and have proved a great tool for those creating custom maps and larger builds in general.
Like I said, all of the features added in this update were nice things to have, but none of it warranted a brand new release version and they could’ve easily been just a part of any other update without any major impact.
16 – Version 1.6 – The Horse Update
Release Date: 1st July 2013
No really, it added Horses and that’s pretty much it. Leads, Nametags & Carpets came with it and while all those things are useful, they’re nothing exciting. The only reason I’m placing this update above 1.10 is that, as much as just horses aren’t much to centre a whole update around, horses were actually a pretty good feature that had at least a bit of depth to it. Horses are animals with a bunch of different designs and stats, so you could actually try to find the best ones and since Donkeys & Mules were added as well, they actually had some tangible utility with the movement of both yourself and your stuff.
While it’s technically outside of the game, it’s worth noting that 1.6 is also when we finally got an updated Launcher for Minecraft that made a lot of quality of life changes. It made the advanced settings much easier to access and change, it gave us a news feed as well as the ability to save our own, fully customized setups and in general, seems a lot more stable than the old one.
15 – Version 1.12 – The World of Colour Update
Release Date: 7th June 2017
Much like 1.10 before it, 1.12 didn’t actually add much in terms of tangible game content, but what gives 1.12 the edge over 1.10, is that it made a couple of changes & additions to other systems in the game that greatly improved the experience for people.
Firstly and most importantly, the achievement system was completely re-worked into the “Advancements” system which is brilliant. The achievement system in Minecraft wasn’t all that intuitive and often it just straight up wouldn’t work, I couldn’t tell you how many times I got the “Getting Wood” achievement in the exact same world where I’d already got it 15 times.
There were also a couple of accessibility options such as the narrator, that worked as audio description for the game, which was a great help to allowing the visually impaired experience the game to it’s fullest. We also got ourselves the crafting book, which would actually show you the recipes of items & blocks that you’ve unlocked. Admittedly, I can’t really comment on how useful of a feature this is since by the time it came around, I already knew how to craft just about everything in the vanilla game, but it certainly seems like it’d be a big help to someone new to the game.
As great as those features are, they aren’t entirely obvious features to add, so I can’t give them as much credit as they perhaps deserve, especially when you look at what actually was visually added and…it’s not exactly overwhelming amounts of stuff.
Parrots were a fun addition, although, much like Polar Bears, they don’t exactly add anything outside of something to look at. Not to mention Mojang’s original idea of feeding them cookies led to children poisoning their pet parrots, so they changed it. The addition of Concrete Blocks was another pretty nice thing to have and it meant that there were plenty of options for builds that required flat colours, instead of wool, which had a slight texture to it or terracotta, which had fairly dulled colours.
Also, it added the Illusioner, a mob that has absolutely no way to spawn in survival mode and has basically no purpose out of being a weird boss-fight in adventure maps.
Much like with the additions of the previous two entries, however, these weren’t additions that warranted their own separate updates and would’ve been much better suited to being just one part of a much larger one, especially when you consider that it would be over a year until we got our next update following 1.12.
14 – Version 1.11 – The Exploration Update
Release Date: 14th November 2016
With 1.11 we’re done talking about the updates that didn’t add anything major (or only added one thing of note) and I would say there’s actually quite a jump in terms of quality of content from the previous three entries to this one.
First thing’s first, Shulker Boxes. The expanded End dimension had been around for just under a year at this point and although the Elytra was a cool bonus for people to get from End Cities, there wasn’t much reason to come back after your first visit unless you were stocking up on Purpur blocks for a building project. Then Shulker Boxes came along and became one of the most useful items in the whole game, acting as extra inventories that you could carry around with you and, unlike End Chests, you could have as many as you want, filled with all kinds of different stuff as you carried them around. While they’re a relative end-game item, their usefulness is so great that it keeps me coming back to End Cities time and time again to hunt down more Shulker and expand my storage systems all the time.
Redstone got another minor expansion in the form of the Observer block. I have no idea how it works as I’m not a Redstone person, but those who are, have assured me it was a very welcome addition and allowed for ever-grander Redstone contraptions to be built.
The final major addition of this update is the Woodland Mansions. These mansions are gigantic structures that spawned several thousand blocks away from your world’s original spawn point and are really only ever found through a map you could gain from villager trades. While they look cool, they’re not exactly that great of a challenge for people to face for the most part and I can’t even say they’re overly worth it. The only unique item they give you is the Totem of Undying, which can save you if you take a fatal blow, but outside of a couple of boss-fights, I’ve never found myself in need of them, so I generally don’t bother.
However, there were Llamas added too, so this update can’t be all that bad.
13 – Version 1.8 – The Bountiful Update
Release Date: 2nd September 2014
Unlike most of the other updates we’ll see on this list, 1.8 lacked much of a theme, however, when you look at the kind of things it added, I can’t help but be quite impressed by the vast array of what was on offer.
Ocean Monuments and various Guardian mobs helped make oceans that little bit more interesting places to explore before 1.13 would give it a helping hand a few years later. However, much like the Woodland Mansions, I don’t often find myself having much interest in the Monuments and very rarely go out of my way to clear one out, the blocks you can get from them if you’re an avid builder like I sometimes am then Prismarine and its variants are very nice, but I often think that it’s just not worth the hassle.
Armour Stands, Banners and a whole host of new fence & door wood variations were welcome additions to make plenty of builds more visually interesting. The wooden variants especially were features that were long overdue to be added into the game and banners were implemented in such a way that their potential was seemingly limitless. We also saw the introduction of everyone’s favourite stone variants in Andesite, Diorite & Granite, which helped make caves a bit more interesting, even if 2 out of 3 of them look absolutely horrible when used in builds.
Rabbits helped add a bit more flavour the wildlife in the world, although they’re fairly inconsequential in the grand scheme of things and Barrier Blocks were extremely useful for keeping players under control in adventure maps. Then we got to play around with Spectator mode, which didn’t revolutionise anything, but certainly made various situations a lot more easy to sort out on multiplayer servers.
There’s a pretty big black cloud hanging over this update as what was easily its best feature would later be removed for some reason. That being custom world options. This feature allowed you to fully control just about everything in terms of the parameters of how you want your world to generate. There were plenty of easy options for things like biome size, ore frequency, sea level; while also offering people who understood what they were doing the opportunity to enter in just about any advanced values and commands they wanted in order to get exactly the kind of world they wanted. I’m sure there was a good reason for it being removed, but it was such an amazing feature and if it were still in the game today, this update would undoubtedly be higher up the list.
12 – Version 1.15 – The Buzzy Bees Update
Release Date: 10th December 2019
The most recent official update as of the time of release and while on the surface it doesn’t actually look like it added very much to the game, it’s what’s below the surface that makes this update a great one.
In terms of tangible addition, we got bees, honey and various blocks and items related to that like hives and bottles of honey etc. They’re a nice thing to have in the world and serve again to add a little bit of life to Minecraft’s overworld, but they serve very little purpose outside of aesthetics.
What’s really important about this update is the OVER THREE HUNDRED bug-fixes that were implemented. Minecraft has most certainly proven to be a bit of a buggy game at times over the years and while most of the major problems get fixed, the more minor problems were slowly allowed to build up and would eventually become a bit of a problem; with the 1.13 & 1.14 updates especially beginning to cripple Minecraft’s performance in various ways. These bugs have stopped many mods and servers from updating past 1.12.
So Mojang decided to dedicate this entire update to wiping away as many bugs as they possibly could and it clearly had a very positive impact on the game as a whole. While progress is still fairly slow as the update is still relatively new, servers and mods are slowly being updated to the current versions of Minecraft thanks to the bugfixes making it possible and sustainable. Even in singleplayer, I’ve noticed huge boosts in the game’s performance since 1.15 was released which goes to show just how needed of an update this was.
Unfortunately, it’s not very flashy, so I can’t really bring myself to put it much higher than this. I still greatly appreciate it’s existence though.
11 – Version 1.1
Release Date: 12th January 2012
This update is so early that it didn’t even get a name…dark times.
With many of these early updates to Minecraft, the lists of new features often aren’t all that long and the features don’t look so flashy because of how standard they are to us 8 years down the line. However, I think that goes to show just how crucial many of 1.1’s features were that many of us can’t even remember a time when these features weren’t in the game.
Language Settings were added as an absolute baseline for accessibility to a global game like this and helped to expand Minecraft’s reach even further than it already was, allowing the game to reach a truly global audience. Superflat Worlds gave people a chance to test out building ideas and contraptions in a completely controlled environment and it remains a key feature for many creators in Minecraft today.
Then there’s the stuff added for survival. Today we take for granted the fact that sheep can regrow their wool by eating grass, but until 1.1 that wasn’t possible and I can’t only assume that farming wool was quite the pain. Bows could now be enchanted with all of what we use them for today, making the Ender Dragon fight a hell of a lot easier and finally Spawn Eggs were added to the creative mode menu, allowing for greater testing of contraptions and allowing people complete control of what mobs appeared in their worlds.
Like I said, these additions don’t feel like anything amazing now, but they were game-changers at the time of release and they’re almost impossible to live without in the modern-day.
10 – Version 1.2
Release Date: 1st March 2012
Continuing on from the theme of 1.1 these are another set of additions that seem standard for the modern Minecraft player. The list is a little shorter given this was released a mere two months following 1.1, but I think this update has a slight edge over its predecessor just because I enjoy these features more.
The Jungle biome was added, giving us a new type of wood in the process. Jungles are by far the most interesting biome to me and I have many worlds where I’ve made my home there, be it along the ground or amongst the treetops. We also saw the addition of a couple of mobs in the form of Iron Golems to protect you and your villagers from monsters and Ocelots, which back then could be tamed into cats, giving you some vital protection against the ever-present threat that is the Creeper.
Finally, caves got a nice little touch-up and Abandoned Mineshafts were added to give the underground of Minecraft’s world a little bit of variety. These mineshafts are still fun to come across to this day and they sprawl out in just about every direction filled with all manner of horrors and treasures for you to find and it made mining a whole lot more interesting to do.
Like I said, not an extraordinary list by any means, but I have nothing negative to say about any of the features that were added and I’ve got a lot of enjoyment out of all of these features over the years.
9 – Version 1.9 – The Combat Update
Release Date: 29th February 2016
Sitting right in the middle of the list is easily the most controversial update on this list and I’ll talk about that in a moment. However, looking past the controversy, there was so much added in this update that made it great.
Addressing the negatives first, this is the update that gave us the extremely flawed new combat system that we’re still dealing with in Minecraft to this day. While I don’t think it’s that big a deal when playing singleplayer, it has led to PvP becoming quite a different beast and not in a positive way. I don’t do a lot of PvP but those that do have told me that this combat system more often than not simply comes down to a matter of “whoever gets the first strike wins” which isn’t very fun. Not to mention the change in system has led to many a frustrating YouTube video featuring people who haven’t played the game in years not realising that you can’t spam click anymore.
It’s a system that has inarguably been received very negatively by players and it has taken quite a long time for anything to be done about it, with beta testing for new combat systems being released every now and then, so it looks like a fix may be on the horizon.
Now, let’s look at the positives because there was a lot.
The most major thing is easily the addition of the secondary hand slot. This was a feature that mods had been adding into the game for years and it was one of those features that made so much sense it was mindblowing it wasn’t already a feature and it’s made so many things, so much easier since it’s addition. With the secondary hand also came shields, another “so obvious it should’ve been there from the start” feature, which made an impact on the combat system in a positive way, especially when it comes to singleplayer combat.
The biggest addition in terms of scale, however, is the extended End dimension after you defeat The Ender Dragon. Before 1.9, it didn’t really feel like there was much of a reward for beating The Ender Dragon outside of an achievement. It dropped a healthy helping of XP, but given how quickly XP is used up in Minecraft and how easily it can be farmed, it doesn’t feel like all that great of a reward. With the 1.9 update, that was no longer the case, as we instead got access to a vastly expanded dimension, featuring End Cities that contained a challenging mob in the form of Shulkers (which would later become extremely useful with Shulker Boxes) and some proper end-game loot in the form of enchanted diamond gear and the brand new Elytra, which made navigating the vast expanses of your worlds all the more exciting and easy.
It’s a little sad that 1.9 is mostly remembered for a largely negative feature because I really think it added some cool stuff that we couldn’t live without in the modern game. This counts double once the combat system has been fixed, as the current system will constantly seem like a huge weight dragging this one down in everyone’s rankings.
And there’s the first part of the rankings! Thank you very much for taking the time to read this list. Please, let me know what you thought of these updates, either in the comments below or on Twitter @10ryawoo, where you’ll also be notified when the second part of this list drops in a few weeks time. Finally, make sure you come back here next week, where I’ll be running down my official rankings of ever episode in Doctor Who Series 7!