Minecraft: Story Mode – Episode 1: “The Order of the Stone”
Minecraft: Story Mode is a new episodic adventure from Telltale Games. As its name implies, it’s based on the world of Minecraft, which I was surprised to learn is the best-selling PC game of all time (with about 50% more sales than World of Warcraft). I’ve never played Minecraft, but from my understanding it’s sort of a sandbox building game, and so I went into Story Mode hoping that since the main game doesn’t really have characters or a story, that I wouldn’t be missing anything important when I played the adventure. However, after working my way through Episode 1: “The Order of the Stone,” I changed my mind. Now I hope that I’m missing all sorts of stuff, which would help explain why the game seems so dopey and basic.
In Story Mode, you control a character named Jesse. You live in a blocky Minecraft world, and you’re sort of mediocre but oblivious, but your dream is to become a famous builder — preferably by winning the big building competition at EnderCon. So along with your closest friends, you head to EnderCon, where you meet a girl who knows a lot more about building than you do, and you start an unlikely adventure where you have to prevent the world from being destroyed. Surprisingly, neither Batman nor Gandalf shows up at this point, so Story Mode only borrows from The Lego Movie for a little while.
As with the other Telltale games, the world in Story Mode is presented as a series of scenes. You use the WASD keys to move Jesse around, and you left click on things you want to interact with. Every so often an action sequence pops up (like when zombies attack), and you have to press the WASD keys to dodge in the right direction, or press the Q key repeatedly if you’re in some sort of struggle. There are also some fight sequences where you have to swing a sword and defeat enemies — including some flying creatures that look like they’re from an evil version of Hello, Kitty — but nothing about the game is difficult. After a while I stopped pressing keys at all to see if Jesse could actually die, and while it’s possible, it’s tough to do.
An adventure can survive lukewarm action sequences if it has good puzzles, but Episode 1 only has one puzzle, and it’s completely trivial. Usually I wouldn’t describe puzzles in detail in a game review, but this time I’m going to do it just to get the point across. Near the end of the episode you come to a machine with five levers, and you have to use it to turn on five lights. The first lever toggles the top three lights, the third lever toggles the middle light, and the last lever toggles the bottom three lights. So you just need to pull those three levers to complete the puzzle, which takes all of about a minute. I’m not sure who the target audience is for Story Mode, but it’s not adventure game players.
Luckily, the story for the first episode works better than the action sequences and the puzzles. The dialogue is fun, and it’s well-acted by the game’s cast. The faces of the characters are also expressive, which is impressive given the fact that the game is mimicking Minecraft’s overly blocky look, and so it feels like you’re dealing with real people. I could have done without the bickering friends routine (plus the zombie killing) that makes the episode feel like The Walking Dead Lite, but at least the story goes in a direction that I wasn’t expecting. It has sort of an RPG save-the-world appeal to it.
But overall, the first episode of Minecraft: Story Mode felt like a disaster to me, which is why I’m hoping that it’s because I don’t know anything about the game it’s based on. Maybe there are a bunch of in-jokes that I’m missing. Maybe fighting zombies and endermen is supposed to be exciting rather than superficial. Maybe building tree houses and fireworks stands is supposed to make you feel nostalgic. Maybe — well, I don’t know. From my perspective, Episode 1 is completely linear, it’s unchallenging, and it’s only moderately interesting as an interactive story. Here’s hoping that the upcoming episodes raise the bar a little.
Reviewed By: Steven Carter
Publisher: Telltale Games
This review is based on a digital copy of Minecraft: Story Mode – Episode 1: “The Order of the Stone” for the PC provided by Telltale Games.