By Chris Melchin / February 25th, 2016
|Title||Minecraft: Story Mode|
|Release Date||Episode 2: Assembly Required: October 27, 2015
Episode 3: The Last Place You Look: November 24, 2015
Episode 4: A Block and a Hard Place: December 22, 2015
|Platform||Steam, PS3, PS4, Xbox 360, Xbox One, iOS, Android|
|Age Rating||ESRB – Everyone 10+|
Minecraft: Story Mode is still somewhat baffling to me. Even after finishing four episodes, I’m still not entirely clear on why Telltale made it. The old Deus Ex: Human Revolution reference “I never asked for this” is definitely quite pertinent here.
However, its existence is not quite as surprising to me as just how enjoyable it gets. Especially in the later episodes.
There’s really not much to be said for the gameplay here; everything is pretty much the same as it was in Episode 1. You can check out my review of that here for my thoughts on how it all plays. Everything is still pretty closed-ended, with opportunities to choose your path pretty much only presenting themselves in the dialogue. The game also throws in some fairly simple puzzles in Episode 4, and another part near the end of the episode where you are given the chance to build yourself some kind of diamond weapon, and can choose from the five basic tools (sword, pickaxe, axe, shovel, hoe) which to build and enchant. So, of course, I built a diamond hoe. That is, one of the most worthless items in Minecraft.
So, since the gameplay is unchanged, that leaves the story to critique. It naturally picks up where Episode 1 leaves off, with Jesse either going with Olivia to find the redstone engineer Ellegaard, or with Axel to find the griefer Magnus, depending on the player’s decision at the end of Episode 1. From there, you meet up with whichever person you didn’t go with and the other Order of the Stone member, with a bit of a grudge against Jesse. The group then takes off to find the remaining member, Soren, in order to find a weapon to destroy the Wither Storm. Anything more than that would be fairly spoiler-heavy.
It seems like the main lingering effects of the choices made in earlier episodes is what people will be accompanying your party, since all of the interpersonal conflicts that I inadvertently caused could be mended with some choice words at the right times. Keeping everyone happy with you or, at the very least, not openly hostile, doesn’t seem as difficult as it maybe should be, although the consequences of failing to do so seem rather dire, such as certain members abandoning the group and not coming back when you need them.
Either way, as I mentioned earlier, Minecraft: Story Mode is still significantly better than I expected it to be, either based on the first episode or on my own general expectation. The story gets remarkably serious and heavy following the lighthearted first episode, as the characters’ situation progressively grows direr as the episodes go on, peaking around the end of Episode 3 and the start of Episode 4, as indicated by the subtitle A Block and a Hard Place. It’s the player’s job to keep everyone together during dark times and do what they need to keep the group from fracturing apart until it needs to happen.
One thing that really struck me about Minecraft: Story Mode, possibly more than anything, is how pretty it all is. Telltale worked very well with what they had to work with, that is Minecraft voxel graphics, to build a visually stunning experience. Stunning vistas abound, with some standout moments including a massive grinder structure and The End in Episode 3, Ellegaard’s redstone-powered city in Episode 2, and the “Far Lands” in Episode 4. The Far Lands are particularly interesting since it shows off a bizarre glitch from early beta versions of Minecraft. After going too far in one direction (around X/Z ±12,550,820, an exceedingly long distance) strange technical errors occur with terrain generation, causing some incredibly strange land formations to be generated, with infinitely long caves stretching out from the normal part of the world. Minecraft: Story Mode incorporates it well into the game’s universe, with the Far Lands standing as the edge of the known universe, and a place with unpredictable terrain and where nobody knows what could happen. I’m surprised it even appears since it doesn’t exist at all in modern versions of Minecraft.
(Aside: Does this mean that Story Mode takes place in pre-beta 1.8 Minecraft? It can’t, since Endermen appear. Moreover, it must be at least after 1.4.2 of the official release since witches, bats and the Wither didn’t exist before that version. The Far Lands are the only element that makes this whole thing anachronistic, and it bothers me probably more than it should. Not only that, but the command block only exists within creative mode and mods, but I’m more willing to give it a pass since it’s a plot device here.)
Ultimately I definitely enjoyed Minecraft: Story Mode more than I expected to. I went into it with some trepidation, considering I was somewhat lukewarm on the first episode, but I was soundly impressed by the story here. Some of my issues from the first episode still stand, such as the sort of identity crisis that the whole affair has. The presence of the Far Lands, in particular, strikes me as an addition that is strictly for the long-standing fans of Minecraft like me, since it was a somewhat obscure glitch that was removed back in 2011. People who like Minecraft strictly for what it is may be disappointed here, due to the overall lack of player freedom that comes with being a point-and-click adventure game. The story takes an unexpected turn for the serious in these later episodes. I also came across a few minor technical issues, such as voices cutting off early and playing out of sync with the mouth movements. This is on the PC version, so the issues may be more or less prevalent for people on different machines or on consoles.
On PC, Minecraft: Story Mode will run you $24.99 USD, and includes all four episodes released as of the time of writing, with the fifth coming as a free update upon release. On consoles and mobile, individual episodes can be purchased for $4.99 USD apiece, with a season pass for all the episodes available on consoles for $24.99. The three episodes here run approximately five hours in total, which may seem a bit short on its own, but with considerable replayability with the different choices available leading down different story paths, the playtime can be stretched out more.
Review copy provided by publisher
MinecraftMinecraft Story ModemojangPC reviewTelltale Games