By Chris Melchin / October 26th, 2015
|Title||Minecraft: Story Mode|
Episode 1: The Order of the Stone
Steam, PS3, PS4: October 13, 2015
Xbox 360, Xbox One: October 14, 2015
iOS, Android, Fire OS: October 15, 2015
PS Vita, Wii U: TBA
|Platform||Steam, PS3, PS4, PS Vita, Xbox 360, Xbox One, Wii U, iOS, Android, Fire OS|
|Age Rating||ESRB – Everyone 10+|
Minecraft: Story Mode is an odd specimen. Its announcement doubtless came as a surprise to all who saw it; of all modern established franchises that Telltale Games could have approached for a story-heavy adventure game, Minecraft seems like one of the least obvious choices. Just in case you’ve been living under a rock lately and don’t know about Minecraft, it is the reason why the open-ended, survival-crafting game genre is so popular today. It was originally the epitome of a game with no ultimate goal – the game forced the players to do nothing aside from surviving, and it was up to players to devise their own goals and make their own fun. Although subsequent updates have added a final boss of sorts with the Ender Dragon which allows the player to see the ending, this is completely optional and the player is free to ignore this goal completely and just do their own thing if they wish. Aside from player-created adventure maps and mods, Minecraft has always been a game without any kind of story.
According to Telltale Games, that’s precisely the reason why they decided to tackle the Minecraft world for their newest adventure game. It posed them with a unique challenge, where they had to bring some kind of story into this world without disrupting the world that the game already had. Not the easiest task, but it seems that if anyone can do it, Telltale thinks they can.
Minecraft: Story Mode is somewhat of a departure in narrative style for Telltale Games; they previously worked on adventure game adaptations of The Walking Dead, Game of Thrones and Borderlands, and the Fables comic book series with The Wolf Among Us. All of these are games for a rather mature audience, while Minecraft: Story Mode goes back to the more family-friendly style of their older games, such as Strong Bad’s Cool Game for Attractive People and Tales of Monkey Island. This keeps with the general style of Minecraft, which has rather infamously attracted a somewhat young audience due to its broad appeal and simple gameplay.
If one is familiar with Telltale’s style of game design, or adventure games in general, it should come as no surprise that Minecraft: Story Mode is a radical departure from the original, retaining virtually none of Minecraft’s openness and variety in favor of a more cinematic, quick-time event-heavy gameplay style more befitting of a story-heavy adventure game. Interaction comes mainly from dialogue choices which frequently pop up in the cutscenes, giving the player a set of choices and a time limit to choose one or keep their mouth shut. The other main form of interactivity is the quick-time event sequences, which use the arrow keys, the Q and E buttons and occasionally clicking on things with the mouse. Time limits tend to be fairly forgiving on these, at least in this first episode, but things can get hectic when moving the mouse cursor to a point under a short time limit or the ones where you need to rapidly hammer Q and then press E afterwards while trying not to get pulled to your death by a giant monster.
The lack of interactivity isn’t something that bothers me, since I regularly play visual novels which are typically even less interactive than this, but quick-time events are things that often tend to rub gamers the wrong way. These seem relatively well implemented and inoffensive, so I don’t have a problem with them. There are also points where the player gets to explore a limited environment. You can talk to your companions, check out points of interest, do one relatively simple puzzle and do some crafting, as per Minecraft’s traditional style. The crafting in particular is a nice touch, and it follows the same crafting recipes as Minecraft. It isn’t that much, but it’s a little thing that I appreciated seeing in Story Mode. Notably, it seems that many of the dialogue and gameplay choices you make will have consequences down the road, so it’ll be interesting to see what Telltale decides to do with them in later episodes.
The story follows Jesse, a newbie crafter of undetermined gender, his or her (I’m going to use male pronouns for the sake of simplicity since I used the male protagonist first) best friends, Olivia and Axel, and his pet pig, Reuben. Other major characters in the first episode include the freelance explorer of sorts, Petra; the heroes’ primary rival, Lukas; the villainous Ivor and the hero Gabriel the Warrior. Gabriel is actually an unusual case; he is a member of the legendary Order of the Stone, along with three others, who slew the Ender Dragon sometime in the past. Exactly how far in the past isn’t clear – the narrator in the game’s intro talks about how legends fade over time and become lies while telling the player about the Order of the Stone, implying that the Order slew the Ender Dragon a long time prior to the events of the story. This is called into question by the physical presence of Order member Gabriel, and his telling Jesse and company to search for the other members who are apparently still alive. It’s a little thing, but it’s something that annoys me about the story; I like to know my timelines when I play games.
The story seems fairly simple and standard so far; heroes from humble beginnings find themselves thrust into an end-of-the-world scenario and set out to find legendary heroes to help save the world – and then the game ends. The first episode is quite short, and one can quite easily get through it in less than two hours. Since this is only one episode, brevity can be expected, but it ended up being even shorter than I expected it to be. It does leave off at a suitable point, but, even so, it still feels like it was over too fast. The story starts out with Jesse and his friends going to Endercon, a convention of unspecified type, where they enter a building competition hoping for the chance to meet Gabriel. During the convention, Jesse gets rescued from a horde of zombies, spiders and creepers by Petra, who takes him along for a literal back alley deal. Things go horribly wrong, and Jesse, Axel, Olivia, Reuben and Lukas are tasked with finding the Order of the Stone’s temple in the wilderness and, from there, tracking down the two members Ellegaard the Redstone Engineer and Magnus the Rogue. I’m summarizing, of course, but, aside from some things I won’t reveal because of spoilers, that’s really all there is to the first episode. It’s a bunch of setup, without that much payoff. Maybe that’s to be expected, but I still wish there was a bit more to it.
The story is all presented in a pretty lighthearted way, with a somewhat comedic approach supported by some all-around solid voice acting. Some standouts include stand-up comedian Patton Oswalt as male Jesse, and likewise Knights of the Old Republic’s Catherine Taber as female Jesse, and also Paul Ruebens (better known as Pee-Wee Herman) as Ivor and Futurama’s Billy West as the narrator. There are no voices that stood out to me as particularly poorly done, and it seemed generally above average across the board. The music was in a similar vein to that of Minecraft, mostly atmospheric music meant to provide a mostly-unnoticed background to the proceedings. It did its job well, not dragging the rest of the experience down and putting a suitable backdrop behind everything that was going on.
Minecraft: Story Mode is a somewhat bizarre case of a game based on a popular franchise that does not seem at all like it would appeal to people who like the original. This game is so radically different from Minecraft that the only real association they have with each other is the setting and visual style. I would recommend Story Mode to people who like adventure games and are looking for one with a fairly lighthearted style. However, if you like Minecraft for its gameplay and would rather not watch what essentially amounts to a two hour long movie with no real ending and occasional dialogue choices and quick-time events, I suggest you stick to the original and steer clear of Story Mode.
I think my main problem with Minecraft: Story Mode is not anything with the game itself but with episodic gaming in general. The short, fragmented episodes are not conducive to really getting into the story as I like to with narrative-driven games, especially when there’s no specific time frame for when later episodes will be released. The plot is a clichéd and formulaic one, for sure, but it’s not particularly badly done, and the characters are very archetypal, but generally well-portrayed by their respective actors. This game does a decent job of showing that even if the story is not particularly original, a game can still be worth playing if the overall execution is good. That all may change, for better or for worse, as more episodes are released, but only time will tell. Episode 2 is set to release in late November, and we’ll see then where the story goes once it starts getting into its groove. As it stands, the game costs $24.99 USD on Steam, with console versions going for $29.99 USD and mobile versions at $4.99 USD. As far as I know, those prices each include all episodes as updates as they are released.
Review copy provided by publisher
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