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Dual-wielding and shield-crafting are overdue additions for players primarily interested in fighting Minecraft's mobs.

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Happy Leap Day. Celebrate this rarest of days by picking a fight with a skeleton.

We here at don”t recommend fighting real skeletons, however. That”s a one-way ticket to joining their calcium-rich Dance of Death. You”re far better off taking on the bony denizens of Minecraft, which recently received its much talked-about 1.9 update (PC version only so far).

The Minecraft 1.9 update is called the “Combat Update,” and for good reason. Though there are lots of little improvements and tons of new tchotchkes to collect (including grass path blocks, igloos, and a sweet dragon head block), the heftiest portion of the update is dedicated to improving Minecraft”s fighting physics and weapon options.


Dude. Behind you.

The Combat Update lets you dual-wield items and weapons via a new inventory slot, which is a big deal because it means you can keep a sword in one hand and your pick-axe in another. So if you”re digging a tunnel halfway to hell and a zombie sneaks up on you with that skin-crawling gurgling moan it makes, you can whip around and whap it with your weapon.

Or you can just do things the traditional way and plant your pick-axe in its head. That still works fine.

Still, dual-wielding comes in extremely handy with another Combat Update addition: The shield. A bit of crafting magic with some wooden planks of any kind plus an iron ingot will finally earn you some serious protection against mobs that favor long-distance attacks, especially arrow-slinging skeletons. Now you can theoretically cross wide deserts at night without becoming easy target practice for some hateful stack of sentient dog treats.

Sure, sword blocking was always an option, but let”s face it, a big ol” wooden board does a better job of covering up your most tender meat-parts, and it makes a statement (especially since you can put a design on your shield with a banner).

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But don”t celebrate too hard, fleshling. Skeletons also learned how to domesticate animals in the Combat Update, and now we have Skeleton Riders as a consequence.

Dual-wielding, shields, a new cool-down period that applies after you swing your weapon, and a new special attack for the axe are all important and welcome additions to Minecraft. Though Minecraft is synonymous with building crazy-cool things, exploration and combat are still major parts of the game. But Minecraft”s fighting system always felt far less substantial than other combat-heavy exploration games like, say, The Legend of Zelda. Though you can shift through your inventory quickly (once you get the hang of it), it”s still easy to get confused and find yourself vulnerable if your luck is bad and a gaggle of zombies decides to spawn right next to you while you”re merrily digging a ditch.

The Combat Update gives Minecraft some weight, not to mention good reason to jack up the game”s difficulty if you”re playing on super-easy. Not all of us play the game to re-create giant sprites of Nintendo characters. Some of us are in it just to jump on our horse and take off across the plains, just to see what we can see.

It”s good of Mojang to remember us adventurers, and to give us more options for protecting ourselves against zombies, creepers, and skeletons.

Dang skeletons.

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