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What is Minecraft Earth?

It made perfect sense for Mojang to bring a Minecraft game to smartphones, but fans probably weren’t expecting the likes of Minecraft Earth. It’s the company’s first attempt at a mobile game in the Minecraft universe, but with an emphasis on AR (Augmented Reality), and walking around just like Pokémon GO. In it, you’re encouraged to get up and go outside, with the goal of collecting items in order to build.

You won’t be doing as much building as you would in the original Minecraft, instead focusing on exploration and resource management. You’ll find that Minecraft Earth shares much of its DNA with the original, but offers enough of a change of pace to differentiate it and keep things fresh.

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Further Reading

Following in the footsteps of giants

Player battling with an AR skeleton above an AR lava pit| Minecraft Earth Key Art
Microsoft

Minecraft Earth is being developed by Mojang — the same company in charge of Minecraft, albeit by a distinct team of engineers — and is published by Xbox Game Studios. It was first revealed last May and has been available as an early access title since October 2019. Minecraft Earth is still a relatively new game, meaning much could change between now and its official release. That being said, the AR title offers players several cool features not seen in other AR titles and is a perfectly serviceable mobile game in its current state.

Plus, it’s completely playable without the need to spend a single dollar. Microtransactions are available, however, and allow players to speed up the crafting process and purchase certain upgrades.

If you’re completely new to the world of augmented reality, be sure to check out our guide on the topic. In short, AR uses your phone’s camera to superimpose virtual objects into the real world. For Minecraft Earth, that means when you look at your screen, you’ll see the real world in front of you along with virtual mobs, enemies, and hundreds of blocks.

Turning a popular IP into a mobile AR game isn’t a new concept. We’ve seen this before with both Pokémon Go and Harry Potter: Wizards Unite. Minecraft Earth borrows heavily from these titles — players are encouraged to wander their surroundings, collect items, go on quests, and level up in the process. However, since Minecraft Earth is still in the beta phase, it’s not only building off other AR games but also innovating in unique ways to push the genre forward.

Tappables are the heart of the experience

Playing Minecraft Earth on a phone (key art)
Microsoft

Just like PokéStops in Pokémon Go, Tappables are the driving force behind Minecraft Earth. As players explore the real world, they will stumble upon objects called Tappables. These come in the form of treasure chests, trees, mobs, or a variety of other Minecraft items. When tapped, they will give you materials that can be used in the crafting process such as wood logs or stone blocks. Unless players are willing to get out and explore their surroundings, they won’t have much to work with when it comes to crafting.

Minecraft Earth takes advantage of AR technology

Image used with permission by copyright holder

Although the “mining” portion of Minecraft Earth typically requires players to journey out into their surroundings, the “crafting” portion is a decidedly home-base affair. As players level up, they can purchase objects called “Build Plates.” These are items that must be placed in a fixed position in the real world before players can start creating their own masterpiece. While there is nothing stopping players from setting these down in a crowded city park, a quiet living room is much more conducive to the building process.

Even in its early access state, the AR implementation works incredibly well. Once a build plate is set, you’ll be able to move around it in 360 degrees to make adjustments as you see fit. It’s an impressive mechanic and one that truly shows off the capabilities of augmented reality.

Build plates can be used in two different modes: One that allows for placement on tabletops and another that turns your creation into a life-size environment. The tabletop mode is great for creating, as the action plays out like a Lego set. Once you’re done, you can then expand the build plate and explore your creation — so long as you can find an open space big enough to place it!

Another great AR feature in Minecraft Earth is Adventures. This is a game mode that allows you to explore a random slice of the virtual world without having to leave the comfort of your home. Adventures are placed in a fashion similar to Build Plates, but instead of crafting you’re tasked with discovering new minerals, mobs, and blocks. It’s arguably the portion of Minecraft Earth that is most reminiscent of the original Minecraft, and fits the AR title perfectly.

Beyond AR

Minecraft Earth Kids Looking at AR Castle
Microsoft

Outside of the unique AR features, players can engage with a bunch of content. You can craft new objects from the materials you’ve discovered in the real world, create your own avatar, level up your character, and join your friends in local multiplayer to craft a collaborative masterpiece. For an early access game, Minecraft Earth gives players a lot to sink their teeth into. By the time it is officially released, we expect a staggering amount of content to be added.

Whether or not Minecraft Earth will survive in the long run is another story. Although Minecraft is a powerhouse of an IP that will no doubt garner the interest of millions of players, so too are Harry Potter and Pokémon — the other big entries in the mobile AR marketplace. However, with its unique implementation of crafting and the simplicity of discovering resources in the real world, Minecraft Earth is likely to be a long-term addition to the world of augmented reality.

Jon Bitner
Jon Bitner is a writer covering consumer electronics, technology, and gaming. His work has been published on various websites…
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