It's fair to say that version 1.8 of Minecraft, also known as the Adventure Update, has been hotly anticipated by the game's millions of fans. Offering a significant update over previous versions, the game rewards both exploration and combat to a much greater degree than previous versions while still keeping the goal-free sandbox play so beloved of its proponents intact.
Here's the full list of what's been added and changed in the update:
The new biome generation code makes for a more geographically-diverse randomly-generated world, with areas each having their own "look" and ecosystem. In your travels around your Minecraft world, you'll encounter forests, swamps, deserts, dungeons, caves and abandoned mines -- some of which have great treasures for the taking as well as being infested with monsters.
Part of the new terrain generation includes randomly generated ravines.
Huge underground dungeons known as "strongholds" have been added. These offer the potential for significant rewards, but large amounts of danger for unprepared explorers.
You'll find randomly generated houses and villages across the landscape. NPCs to populate these are coming in a future update.
The new "Endermen" monster will ignore you until you look directly at it -- that is, put your crosshair over it. Then it will stop and stare at you until you look away, at which point it will teleport towards you with terrifying speed in an attempt to convert your internal organs into external ones.
Monster-wise, besides the Endermen, we also have new Cave Spiders and Silverfish to contend with.
Weapons can deal critical hits, and if players hit a monster while falling, they'll always deal critical damage.
Monsters drop experience orbs when killed, which the player can then use to level up -- though this currently has no purpose.
There's a new "field of view" slider for those who want to play with visual effects.
There's also a new brightness slider for those playing in rooms with too much sunlight or on dark monitors.
There are now huge mushrooms. You can grow your own by using bonemeal on small mushrooms.
The lighting engine has been tweaked, making it look significantly better, particularly underground.
The game now keeps track of what has damaged you and how. Alongside this, some damage types now ignore armor -- including drowning, being on fire and falling out of the world.
Ice now only spreads next to existing ice or in coast areas.
Explosions are "prettier."
You can sprint by double-tapping the forward key.
There's a new hunger mechanic. While players are well-fed, they'll slowly regenerate health. This is to make up for the fact that eating food no longer immediately restores health, and also now takes time to do (with a charming new animation).
Food is stackable in your inventory.
Talking of food, there are now melons, and both these and pumpkins are farmable.
Animals that get hurt will now run away.
Block and object-wise, players can now build gates for their fences and iron bars. Vines can also be harvested and applied to blocks.
That should keep you busy for a while, then -- at least until Notch and the team start teasing what's coming in version 1.9. Update the game simply by logging in -- Minecraft.net was down for maintenance earlier but seems to be working fine at the time of writing.
The game itself isn't far off final release now, with the first official non-beta version planned to arrive at some point during the MineCon event in mid-November. In the meantime, if you want to play the game right now, preorder the game from its official site at a reduced price and jump in to the Adventure Update straight away.