This is something of a general, overarching idea- or, at the very least, my opinions regarding exploration. That is, I feel that exploration is something Minecraft very much lacks. To be fair, it is a game about 'mining' and 'crafting' things... but another one of its major appeals is the ability to 'explore an infinite world.' The problem I see right now is that there isn't much reason to do so.
TLDR (Summary) ~ There's currently no real reasons to explore, due to the lack of biome unique resources. Various simple adjustments could make exploration more plausible and worthwhile.
Mojang has recently announced that they intend to upgrade a lot of Minecraft's biomes. Most recently, the Taiga was upgraded... while I'm a fan of the newly upgraded Taiga, this update was also something of a let down to me. We got foxes- which are only useful for a few very specific types of item farms- and sweet berries, which are a new source of food... but are inefficient, and can't be used to craft anything.
The problem with exploration now is not aesthetics- Minecraft's biomes already look pretty good- though certain improvements, such as the upcoming changes to mountains will look nice. The problem right now is that there's no real need to explore. Simply put, it really isn't necessary to go anywhere when you can get all the resources you need in pretty much any biome. You don't necessarily have to leave your spawnpoint so long as there's enough trees and animals nearby. The solution I would suggest would be to make sure that the upcoming biome upgrades aren't just cosmetic changes- but rather add content that offers some sort of imperative to explore.
Currently exploration doesn't make much sense in the game- which isn't to say players won't do it anyways. Exploration is something that people seem just fundamentally inclined to do. However, if you think about it, exploration is kind of needlessly dangerous. It makes way more sense to continue developing your existing base than to try and travel somewhere else... when the resources are more or less the same, and dying might cause you to lose anything you've brought with.
That isn't to say that there isn't any reasons to explore- there are certainly exceptions. However, a lot of these don't make sense either. Woodland mansions are quite rare, and you can get the totem of Undying from them. ...However, the totem isn't nearly as useful as its name implies, and you can generally find better loot in the far more common desert pyramids. You only need to find a single decent sized village to get all the trades you could possibly need- and can even mess with villager professions if that isn't enough. The Mushroom Isle is an extremely rare, special biome... but aside from Mooshrooms and Mycelium, it really doesn't have much to offer. Finally, the Stronghold usually neccesitates a lengthy journey... but this doesn't have anything to do with the world itself, but rather simply getting to the
What really got me, though, was the Nether Update. I've only recently taken to exploring the Nether more in depth in survival... and it continues to impress me. The new content makes this dangerous dimension worth exploring- offering unique materials in each of its biomes, and balanced loot for the dangerous Piglin Bastions. This, at least, goes to show me that Mojang is more than capable of both listening to player feedback, and improving aspects of exploration in a way that both looks nice and works well with gameplay.
What we need, (or at least what I would appreciate) are small changes to make exploration more plausible, and more worthwhile. Most importantly, these don't have to be big, contentious, game-changing decisions- but rather smaller tweaks and additions that add unique reasons for traveling to each biome. These are just some of my ideas, and I'd be interested to see what others like, dislike, or violently oppose:
Changes in Mineral Frequency ~ One interesting way to change how players think about establishing mines and outposts would be to make some minerals more or less frequent depending on the biome. Mojang has already shown that this is possible by making Emeralds only generate beneath mountain biomes... but this is kind of silly, because emerald ore is almost completely useless due to its extreme rarity.
This could range from simply making some minerals slightly more frequent- (For example; Iron ore is more common beneath cold biomes, Gold ore is more common beneath hot biomes, coal is more common beneath swamps and lush biomes) -to making ores exclusive to certain areas; whereas 'ordinary' biomes could retain existing levels of ore generation. While I'm sure this would be hard to balance, I imagine it would be something that few people would mind, if only because this would really only change where you wanted to mine rather than how you did it.
Respawn Mechanics ~ Whether or not beds are overpowered is an entirely different debate that I went into elsewhere- however, exploration could be more plausible if there was a means of sleeping without resetting your respawn point. This could be as simple as making beds allow you to sleep, but having a seperate device to reset your respawn point. On the other hand, it could be argued that trekking through the dangerous night is a part of exploration to begin with. This is probably one of the biggest things that might be considered worth tweaking in the interest of exploration.
Biome Specific Resources & Creatures ~ Sweet berries certainly give at least some reason for going to a Taiga... but they're really only noteworthy for adding some variety to their diet. New things could be added to biomes to give more reason for hunting down every biome than a simple achievement or advancement. More food sources could be one thing- (more types of berries, or other produce) -but these would, (like sweet berries) need to have unique new mechanics to be worth adding to the game. Another idea is more variations of existing creatures that would offer new resources or new means of obtaining resources that would make them worth hunting down. Consider, for example, a rare livestock that would offer the ability to farm dyes. (Ahem, Mooblooms. Why, Glowsquid?) This has already been implemented to some extent- Husks are unique to deserts, Strays unique to cold biomes, drowned to oceans... these are all variations of existing mobs, but aside from the trident, they don't really offer anything new. Adding mobs that provide an additional imperative for exploring both increases the quality of biomes... and makes them look nicer.
Better Means of Travel ~ This idea is pretty simple, and doubtlessly pretty debateable. I almost always end up playing with the 'Waystones' modification- which adds an expensive new object that allows players to teleport instantly between other waystones they've built or discovered. ...However, I would be the first to admit that this modification is more than a bit overpowered. Of course, the existing modes of transportation aren't the greatest either- Nether highways are dangerous and expensive to build, Horses are useless if you want to get through a forest or mountains, and minecart rails are too expensive for traveling long distances. If something like waystones was implemented in the game, they ought to be even more expensive- requiring eyes of ender and diamonds at the very least. They shouldn't drop themselves when mined, and they should only occur naturally in ruins or towers of some sort very rarely, making them more of an end game item. This would make, (And I can assure you, it does make) establishing outposts far, far more plausible.
More Biome Variation ~ While this would be a lot harder to implement, I think it might go a ways to decrease the feeling of 'same old same old' when exploring. Adding slight variations to existing biomes- such as woodland cliffs, or jungle mountains, or mixed woodlands with multiple types of trees; would help make the world feel a bit more diverse and varied.