Minecraft, the iconic (and best-selling) sandbox game that has maintained its popularity for over a decade, is poised for a significant update on Xbox Series S/X consoles, as indicated by new listings on multiple game rating boards including the ESRB in the U.S. and Germany's USK.
These listings have amped up the anticipation and speculation among the gaming community about what new features the updated version might include, with ray tracing support being one of the most hotly debated topics.
At the moment, The Xbox Series S and X versions of Minecraft are playable using backward compatibility with the older Xbox One edition, a detail that hasn't gone unnoticed by fans, given the game's first-party status within Microsoft's portfolio.
Phil Spencer, the head of Xbox, previously noted Microsoft's commitment to releasing the same titles across both Xbox Series X and S platforms, stating that he doesn't foresee the entry-level system missing out on games due to technical limitations. This announcement further fuels the speculation that the long-awaited Minecraft update is nigh, likely to be unveiled in the coming days or weeks, especially since appearing on the ESRB website is often seen as one of the final steps before a game's release.
Last year, Mojang, the developer behind Minecraft, mistakenly included the prototype code for ray tracing support in a preview build of the game for Xbox, which was later removed. In an official statement, Mojang clarified that the early prototype code "doesn't signal near future plans to bring ray tracing support to consoles." Despite this, fans are hopeful that ray tracing will be a key feature in the updated version. Ray tracing technology, already supported in Minecraft on PC and increasingly becoming an industry standard, creates ultra-realistic lighting effects, making it a desired feature among console gamers as well.
However, the debate goes beyond just ray tracing. Minecraft could benefit from various other visual upgrades, such as better lighting and textures. Even without ray-tracing, a properly updated port of Minecraft on the new Xbox consoles could look substantially better simply by using shaders that don't use ray tracing. This raises the question of whether Mojang would opt for an array of less demanding graphical updates, given the hardware limitations of the Series S, a fact recently highlighted by Baldur's Gate 3 and NARUTO X BORUTO Ultimate Ninja STORM CONNECTIONS, and Phil Spencer's insistence on compatibility across both Xbox Series X and S.
Furthermore, Minecraft's listing for the Xbox Series S/X consoles also stirs questions about its future on PlayStation 5. The game is playable on PS5, but like its Xbox counterpart, only through backward compatibility of the PS4 version. It's interesting that a PS5-specific rating for Minecraft hasn't appeared on the ESRB or other rating platforms, leading to speculation that an update for the PS5 may either be further down the line or not in the works at all. However, given the game's popularity on PlayStation consoles, it's unlikely that Mojang would completely overlook the platform.
Of course, we can't help but remember Sony's concerns about a "lesser" version of a first-party Xbox title being released on PlayStation platforms from earlier this year.
The expectation is understandable, not just for the graphics but for how this move will position Minecraft within the next-gen console landscape. Will it set a new standard for how games transition between console generations, or will it simply offer modest updates to bring the Xbox Series S/X version in line with what's already available on PC? Only time, and perhaps an imminent announcement from Microsoft and Mojang, will tell.