It's out before Hallowe'en
October 24th, to be precise.
Much less fiddling around with mods
One of the biggest changes to the game is taking place behind the scenes, with the creation of a new modding API for servers which will finally allow server-side mods to be pushed out to players. In plainer language, that means no more messing around with mods before connecting to someone else’s game, their server will shuttle over all that you need. For many Minecrafters this will be a welcome release from tinkering inside the guts of their game.
Bigger, scarier, nastier mobs
Freed from all that fiddling with add-ons, players will be able to focus their attention on a burgeoning monster problem. There's the powerful Wither boss to contend with, with its three heads, the sword-wielding Wither skeleton and the recently announced witch.
There’s also the possibility for zombies and skeletons to use or even spawn with equipment, so don’t be surprised if you spot the occasional monster waving a shovel or even sporting a few pieces of armour. Will this make them tougher and more dangerous? You bet, particularly if that equipment is enchanted, which there's a small chance it could be. At the moment, it looks like they won't always drop what they're carrying, much as skeletons don't drop bows.
Zombies now baldly attack villagers and, after a bit of clawing and nibbling, will convert them into big-nosed zombie villagers. There’s a 50% chance of this happening on Normal difficulty, a 100% chance on Hard and, yep, that even includes baby villagers, meaning zombie babies will now be scuttling around, likely causing gamers to cry “Awww!” or “Urrgh!” according to taste. Zombified (is that even a word?) villagers can be rescued from this terrible fate, but it’s expensive as you’ll need to use both a splash Potion of Weakness and a Golden Apple.
Better villager AI
It’s increasingly in your interest to look after those villagers too, as they’ll offer you better trading options the more you interact with them or, if you’re one of those players who likes to beat on them when you don’t get what you want, they’ll be less inclined to offer you good deals. They’re still wimps, mind, reacting with little more than an angry glare.
Lots more decorative items
There's much more scope for improving the look and layout of your creations, and while the "scary" part of the update is represented by all those witches and Withers, the "pretty" part comes in the form of potted plants, picture frames, stone walls, corner stairs, decorative heads, better trapdoor placement and armour and wolf collars that you can dye. Yes, that's right, you can now give yourself pink boots. Pink boots! They won't offer any more protection, but at least you'll look good while you're dying down a mine somewhere, covered from head to toe in venomous cave spiders.
Fully functional portals
You know how you pop into the Nether from time to time, much like you pop down the road for some milk? Well, now those portals work for everyone and for everything. Monsters can follow you through, animals can wander in and out, even minecarts can drive through them.
It's going to feature anvils
Anvils. Anvils! Even the word is great. They let you repair and combine items, but they also do rather a lot of damage to anyone they fall on. If it takes your fancy, you can use them as part of a very dangerous (though very expensive) trap.
Plenty to eat, including carrots that control pigs
Potatoes and carrots can now be grown and harvested, just as you would with wheat, and carrots can now be dangled on sticks to allow you to control and direct pigs. Yep, that means that pigs are now a viable form of transport and they potter along at a quite reasonable 5 meters per second. You can even make them jump while you're in the saddle and give them extra bursts of speed by right clicking with your carrot-and-stick combination, but these new items have limited durability and this will speed up the rate at which they're used.
While you're dangling carrots to control your pigs, chickens now need to be fed seeds to breed. It turns out they're no longer interested in eating wheat and I can't say I blame them.
Potatoes can be baked, while carrots can be transformed into golden carrots, a useful ingredient in alchemy. You'll also be able to make pumpkin pie, by combing eggs, sugar and a pumpkin head.
Wannabe alchemists and apothecaries will be delighted to hear that there’s at least two new and very useful potions on the way. The potion of Night Vision does exactly what you would expect for three minutes, but also produces some pretty and rather trippy effects. Then there's the invisibility potion which, like all the others, can be splashed on mobs or other players. Want to give your friends a headache? Lure a few invisible creepers their way.
New and rather unusual blocks
Two rather interesting new blocks are also set to make their debut. The Redstone Command Block can execute specific server commands when activated by a redstone current, such as giving items to a player or manipulating the environment, while the unofficially-dubbed Beacon Block is placed atop pyramids of gold, emerald, iron or diamond and will act as a player buff. Blasting bright light into the sky, the block can grant bonuses to stats like your speed, your strength and your resistance. The taller the pyramid that its sat atop, the more bonuses it can offer, and over a greater range. It makes you wonder if the ancient Egyptions had some other purpose in mind.
Speaking at PAX Prime, the development team explained how re-writing some of the game's code should shift some of the load from your CPU to your GPU, making your graphics card do its fair share of the work while your processor gets a breather. Mojang are also working to overhaul the lighting engine, making those unusually dark areas of shadow a thing of the past. They've also been trying to prevent light from bleeding out through step blocks and create more natural shadows, but some problems with the engine mean this update will likely have to wait until 1.5.