Minecraft: Story Mode Episode 1 – “The Order of the Stone”
Everything from episodes of children’s programming to cheap educational video games, media aimed at kids tends to be cringeworthy when watched by adults. In a beautiful change of pace, the first installment of the episodic video game Minecraft: Story Mode brings a fun experience to everyone who plays it.
Minecraft: Story Mode is developed by Telltale Games, the same developer as The Walking Dead and The Wolf Among Us. But this time, Telltale traded violence for a softer side. It’s the type of game that a parent can sit down and play with their child, minus two light swears.
The first episode in the five-part game series is titled “The Order of the Stone.” It follows Jesse, his two friends, and his pet pig as they try to win the building competition at EnderCon. The grand prize for the winners is the chance to meet Gabriel, one of the four members of the Order of the Stone, which will remind any Camelot fans of the Knights of the Round Table.
But the shady Ivor pops up and ruins everything by unleashing a modified Wither on the land. Suddenly, the player finds him or herself tasked with reuniting the Order to fight back and save the world.
Those familiar with Telltale have a lot to love, even the small touches (for example, Gabriel is voiced by David Fennoy, who voices Lee in The Walking Dead). Minecraft: Story Mode uses plenty of the mechanics that Telltale is famous for and takes them out for another whirl.
Players will have to make decisions where they choose between two or more options. Sometimes these decisions are just casual conversation options during a chat, but others can be storyline-altering decisions such as who to save in tough situations.
At its worst, though, the game never offers up decisions or gameplay that would heavily trouble a young player. The decisions in the first episode never involved a graphic or disturbing outcome, something that can’t be said for lots of other Telltale games.
The gameplay is also very laid back and passive. The majority of gameplay involves QTEs and simple walking, finding objects, and engaging NPCs, though players will fight mobs occasionally. Through the episode, it seems like more time is spent watching cut scenes than actually playing the game, and when the player does take control, the mechanics are simpler than the standard Telltale game.
There are also easy ways out of a lot of situations that act as failsafes for young players. Whereas a failed QTE against a zombie in The Walking Dead results in having to retry the event, Minecraft: Story Mode often provides an alternative. For example, in one instance, the player fights mobs on a bridge, but instead of dying at the hands of a mob, the player simply falls into the water below.
All of this isn’t to say that adults will find Minecraft: Story Mode to be excessively childish or overly simplified. The story and gameplay may be kid-friendly, but the first episode is still well-crafted, well-written, and original. The voice acting is superb, a point that in itself sets the game apart from most other forms of kid-friendly media.
The game also manages to stay true to its source material: the smash hit Minecraft. Sound bytes from the original title make their way into Story Mode, such as eating noises, pig squeals, and more. Plus, some of the music follows the same mellow tone the band C418 brought to the original.
Crafting is present in Minecraft: Story Mode, albeit in a slightly different, more visual way. The player sees a 3D, top down view of a crafting bench, gets a recipe card for reference, and has to build an item that comes to life before his or her eyes.
The same blocky art style from the original is present, and it’s all animated in a way that is familiar to anyone who has seen one of the many Minecraft music video parodies that are scattered across the internet. The entire episode will really strike a chord with those who watch Minecraft videos on YouTube like this one.
Minecraft: Story Mode manages to infuse a delightful story into the Minecraft universe. Although the story is non-canonical, it’s still worth playing. Kids, adults, Minecraft n00bs and Minecraft pros will all find something to enjoy within Minecraft: Story Mode. With that being said, it is certainly more rewarding for those who have played the source material a bit.
Episode one sets the scene for the next four that will follow, and it crafts a tale that’s interesting enough for adults to find rewarding while still being simple enough for the younger fledgling gamers to grasp and enjoy. It provides a great entry-level experience for those who are just beginning to move past Minecraft and into games with legitimate storytelling, but it also provides a beautiful, well-rounded cinematic experience for those old enough to appreciate the work that went into it.
For that, I award the first episode of Minecraft: Story Mode a score of 8 out of 10.
Expect to find this review updated with every episode that comes out of the game, as those reviews will be found below.
Episode 2 – “Some Assembly Required”
The second episode of Minecraft: Story Mode is titled “Some Assembly Required,” and that much is evident. Unfortunately, developer Telltale Games didn’t do enough of the assembly before sending the episode out to players, as it brings an inferior script, a rushed storyline, and a lazy “plot twist.”
The second episode starts with a storyline branch based on how the player decided to end the previous episode. Will Jesse go find Ellegarde, the engineer, or Magnus, the demolition pro?
That might be part of the reason why the episode is so short; only about half as long as its predecessor. It is essentially two episodes in one, but in a given playthrough, only one can be experienced. Sure, it provides for replayability, but in the immediate sense, it makes the episode feel very stunted.
In my playthrough, I went to Boom Town to find Magnus. Minecraft players will be familiar with the “griefers” that populate the town that’s very reminiscent to a multiplayer server. It is worth mentioning that these little touches are welcome nods to the Minecraft history and player base, and they frequently pop up in Minecraft: Story Mode.
At one point, Jesse even toys with breaking the fourth wall when he challenges Magnus to a duel. Magnus boasts that he could beat Jesse in real life, to which he asks what that is. It’s almost as if the characters are self-aware, and it’s a fun concept to play with.
Even so, aside from clever spots like that, the episode’s script falls short. Whereas I remarked that the first episode featured exceptional scriptwriting for a piece of media aimed at children, this one is much more cringeworthy. It just doesn’t come off as polished.
The worst part comes from a “plot twist” that involves Gabriel. I put “plot twist” in quotes because it was incredibly easy to see coming, given the circumstances. Gabriel is voiced by the same actor as Lee from Telltale’s adaptation of The Walking Dead. I won’t spoil it for those who have not played either game, but the exact same thing happens to Gabriel as what happens to Lee near the end of The Walking Dead: Season One.
There’s a difference between paying homage to an old series and totally ripping off it. This is a rip-off, and it’s a lazy way to come up with a story point.
“Some Assembly Required” is a step down from the top-notch quality of the previous episode. With any luck, Telltale can redeem itself with the third episode of the series, but that remains to be see.
Episode 3 – “The Last Place You Look”
Episode 3 of Minecraft: Story Mode picks up where the previous episode left off: Jesse and his gang must find Soren, the master builder and the last of the members of the Order of the Stone.
Soren has a handy device called the Formidi-bomb, which Jesse’s crew thinks can stop the Witherstorm that is tearing apart the land. A trip into The End ends up uncovering exactly what the crew is looking for.
To its credit, “The Last Place You Look” fixes some of the issues of the previous episode. The main plot twists in episode 3 are much more unexpected than in episode 2. I won’t spoil what happens, but I have to say that they reminded me I was playing a Telltale game, and I hadn’t been prepared for that.
The script is much better this time around as well. It’s less cringeworthy, and although it isn’t as well-rounded as the script from the first episode, it’s makes for a middle ground between the two. The storytelling is still humorous and involves gags for kids while not being too annoying for adults.
This episode’s nod to Minecraft comes in the form of an intricate mob grinder. I do love the way that Minecraft: Story Mode takes cues from the creations spawned from its source material including griefers and TNT cannons.
In this episode in particular, Telltale takes some creative liberties with the IP that play out very nicely, and they add some originality into the smash hit that’s been out for several years now.
Episode 3 also involves more combat than the previous episodes, and although it’s scripted, it still feels satisfying. What’s there not to love about taking out creepers and zombies?
Unfortunately, the episode also wraps up fairly quickly. It clocked in at around an hour like the one before it. Unlike the previous one, it didn’t really have an excuse, as there wasn’t a branching storyline within the third installment (unless I missed something). Brief as the experience was, it was still enjoyable.
The story once again ends on a cliffhanger that sets up the fourth episode quite well. I’m intrigued to see what happens with some of the characters within the story. Once again, I don’t want to spoil anything, but I think the next episode is going to be pretty dialogue-heavy, as there’s a lot that will unfold.
In all, “The Last Place You Look” is a solid episode that is enjoyable and certainly Telltale material, yet it isn’t the standout that the first episode manages to be.
Episode 4 – “A Block and a Hard Place”
Although “A Block and a Hard Place” isn’t the final episode in the first Minecraft: Story Mode season, it definitely acts as a satisfying finale. It offers one of the better experiences yet but doesn’t provide any clues as to what the fifth episode will hold.
This time around, Jesse and his crew must team up with Ivor to stop the Wither Storm. Ivor created the storm, so only he knows how to destroy it. He helps lay out a plan, and the team carries it out, taking some of them as far as the Far Lands.
As with all the other episodes, this one offers a great nod to the source material: the Far Lands do exist in Minecraft, but only because of a technical oddity in PC versions prior to the 1.8 release. The Far Lands are now gone, but the legend has remained. Minecraft: Story Mode takes this accident and uses it well.
The storyline is interesting and offers much more content than the previous two episodes. Whereas episodes two and three both clock in at roughly an hour apiece, episode four takes twice that long. This is great because there’s a lot of story to unpack in that time and it all culminates with the end of the Wither Storm.
The storyline features much more originality than the previous couple of episodes, which is a welcome change. I was honestly surprised at a couple of plot twists, even if they trade maturity and weight for a bit of lighthearted levity. Minecraft is a pretty kid-friendly game, and Story Mode remains the same.
Unfortunately, “A Rock and a Hard Place” isn’t perfect. Some of the dialogue falls flat, and it’s almost as if the voice actors weren’t really made aware of how the scenarios would look on-screen. Some of the lines in high-intensity sequences lack the emotion or punch they should carry.
The episode gives no major hint as to what will follow in the final entry. I can guess and grasp at straws, but I am left with no cliffhanger that makes me want to see how Minecraft: Story Mode will end. The game already feels complete. Considering there’s at least another hour of gameplay to follow, that’s not exactly a good thing.
There is also some instability near the end of the episode. In one of the final scenes, a crowd gathers, and for some reason, the game drops in framerate and becomes choppy whenever the crowd pans over the audience. Out of all the episodes so far, this is the only time I’ve noticed a technical issue. Unfortunately it comes in a pretty vital scene and detracts from it slightly.
Nonetheless, the fourth episode in Minecraft: Story Mode is one of the stronger ones so far and offers more to sink into than the previous couple of adventures. The game remains a solid experience that’s fit for the whole family to enjoy, and it’s certainly charming.
Episode 5 – “Order Up”
The first season of Minecraft Story Mode has come to an end with Episode 5, titled “Order Up.” The episode packs excitement, suspense and plenty more into what might be the best episode of the season.
Episode 5 picks up some unspecified amount of time after the last episode’s wrap-up. The new Order of the Stone is scouring the land for treasure, and the crew definitely finds what they’re looking for. A magical piece of flint and steel helps Jesse and the gang open a portal to a new world, and the rest of the episode revolves around fixing the ensuing problem the Order accidentally started.
That’s because Aiden, the leader of a rival group, is jealous of the Order’s recent fortune. He follows the Order into the new world, and chaos ensues.
It’s been a couple months since the fourth episode, but “Order Up” does an excellent job of weaving a review of previous antics into its first few minutes of gameplay. Jumping back into the story is quick, easy and cleverly done thanks to the way the summary of the story up to that point was worked into the introductory scenes.
I also noticed that the script was well written and well delivered by the voice actors. Aside from some stilted dialogue in the first few minutes, the script does a great job of telling the story. The voice actors do an even better job of bringing that script to life. I noticed this especially in one of the final, dramatic scenes in which the Aiden’s voice actor (Matthew Mercer) really captures the levity of the situation and conveys it to the player.
The story is not only written and presented well, but it is also well paced. It fluctuates in intensity and even provides one moment when I genuinely gasped and yelled “NO!” There are plenty of surprises, twists and suspenseful encounters. Then, it all ends at a great cliffhanger that simultaneously closes the door to one story (unless Telltale Games has another surprise in store, which I wouldn’t necessarily discount) while opening another. And it’s an interesting one, for sure.
The best part of the episode is definitely that its storyline branches make me want to explore all the options more than any of the other episodes in the series. There are a couple of decisions that really have me intrigued. I want to see what would have happened if I had chosen different paths, not because I think those choices would have changed the end results, but because the different experiences seem interesting.
Although the episode clocks in at an hour, the attractiveness of trying all the branches within it more than make up for the brevity.
The gameplay itself differs little from the rest of the series with its QTEs and short walking segments. There are a couple scenes where Jesse must craft items and solve puzzles (one puzzle in particular had me stumped for longer than it probably should have, honestly), but the episode nothing out of the ordinary.
The one major downfall of the episode lies in its subtitles, oddly enough. The subtitles often don’t match the dialogue. I follow the subtitles along with the dialogue, just in case I mishear something. But when the two don’t match up, it makes it difficult to follow along. Occasionally there are issues with a mistranscribed word or two within a game, but “Order Up” contains the most subtitling mistakes (entire lines of incorrect text, not just lone words) I’ve seen in a game.
Although it’s the end of the first season, it’s apparent that Telltale Games is setting up for the three bonus levels that it has planned for release in the coming months. It’s not necessarily a “happier ever after” ending, but it does its job as a closer while still leaving ample room for the three one-off episodes still to come.
Thanks to great scripting, acting and suspense of the finale, the first season of Minecraft Story Mode ends on a high note. It is an experience that both Telltale fans and Minecraft fans can enjoy regardless of age. It’s fun yet suspenseful, there are times of triumph and emotions, and most of all, it perfectly captures the essence of Minecraft: wonder, exploration and imagination.
Minecraft: Story Mode Season One Summary
All things considered, Minecraft Story Mode is another successful venture for Telltale Games. It manages to capture the narrative-based, decision-heavy nature of Telltale experiences with the whimsical world of Minecraft. The two gel well together: because Minecraft is a game based on exploration and adventure, Telltale is able to do whatever it wants with the story, and it has crafted a fun one that provides some lighter fare for fans of the formula.
While the game never presents the player with gut-wrenching decisions to make, it does still cause him or her to question what’s most important in a given situation. A couple decisions can have repercussions, but in all, the game is much kinder to its players than, say The Walking Dead.
The characters are genuine for the most part, but they can be cheesy and stereotypical at times. More often than not, Minecraft Story Mode comes across as one of the more high-quality kid-friendly entertainment options out there, but there are moments when it manages to be cliche and unauthentic.
The voice actors and scripting usually help bring the game to life as do the blocky Minecraft graphics. The game stays true to its source material and throws in plenty of fan service for longtime fans of Minecraft. From the sound effects and music to the asset models and crafting mechanisms, there are plenty of ways that the game stays true to the original, which really helps tie everything together.
The game never does anything groundbreaking, but it also is unique enough to keep the player from feeling as if he or she has seen it all already. It rides a fine line between new and familiar, and the strategy works. Something about playing Minecraft Story Mode feels like home. It feels like childhood. The light atmosphere lets the player be a kid again. Capturing one’s youth is something few games manage to pull off, but Minecraft Story Mode does so magnificently.
Is it Telltale’s best, most suspenseful, edgy work to date? No. But is it fun? Yes, and it brings plenty of smiles along the way, which is good enough for me.