Minecraft: Story Mode episode 1: EW review
Mojang’s Minecraft has garnered a level of ubiquity most gaming franchises could only dream of. But the world of crafting and creepers is built on a foundation of, well, building, allowing players to sculpt whatever blocky landscapes their minds can dream up.
So Telltale’s Minecraft: Story Mode, at first, might seem a little antithetical to that ideal, considering its narrative focus that fits into the mold of the studio’s The Walking Dead, Game of Thrones, and Tales from the Borderlands series. Can the studio make a compelling story out of a franchise capitalizing on letting players tell their own stories?
“The Order of the Stone” answers that question with an exciting, if somewhat light start. While it doesn’t quite live up to the “pilots” of other Telltale episodic series, the first outing for Story Mode has plenty of charm and style to engage even those who don’t know a creeper from a cactus.
Jesse, voiced by Patton Oswalt or Catherine Taber depending if you choose the male or female character (I will default to he, only because I played the Oswalt-voiced version), and his pals want to win the builder competition at Endercon for the glory and the opportunity to meet Gabriel, one of the fabled members of the titular Order. But they face competition from Lukas (Friday Night Lights’ Scott Porter) and his group.
The competition goes awry quickly, however, and Jesse’s crew becomes embroiled in a world-saving mission that leads them to dangerous corners of the world. It’s a tall order, and whether Jesse and the gang are up to the task, they have little choice but to push forward.
Of course, Telltale is all about player choice, and so while players may be working within the confines of a narrative, the Minecraft ideal fits nicely within Telltale’s status quo. Like all Telltale titles, Story Mode is predominantly made up of sequences where players make dialogue choices affecting the flow of the story, now in the studio’s most family friendly series in years. The writing won’t always land for adult players as well as it does with, say, Borderlands, but there’s so much endearing voice work that it often carries the less compelling scenes.
The cast is stacked with familiar names and even more familiar voices. Oswalt is great as the male lead, but whether it’s The Last of Us and Blindspot’s Ashley Johnson as the mysterious Petra or Paul Reubens as the conniving Ivor, “Order” introduces an endearingly fun ensemble that also includes the most delightful pop culture pig since Spider-Pig swept the nation. The sense of friendship and adventure imbued in the performances kept me going even when specific sequences didn’tt quite land or conversations felt oddly paced.
The big new gameplay addition that attempts to spice up the formula is a crafting process, a natural adaptation from Minecraft. The moments that employ it in the first episode feel more like tutorial than any real shake-up to the formula, though. You simply follow some instructions and create an item. Hopefully future episodes offer more variation on the mechanic, but the foundation is at least there for Telltale to experiment with it now.
But as Telltale tends to do so well, “Order” ends on a solid promise of the future, an exciting adventure that even those with only a cursory Minecraft knowledge can enjoy. (The word “builder” may be repeated more times than those of us not so well-versed in that blocky world are used to, but generally there’s little that feels difficult to understand.)
The Walking Dead proved Telltale can deliver solid drama, while Borderlands solidified the studio’s penchant for humor. The initial family-friendly blend Story Mode employs may not excel at either as well as those franchise’s first episodes, but the charming cast and overall joyful optimism make the decision to come back for episode two an easy one.
Minecraft: Story Mode is now available on PlayStation 4, Xbox One, PlayStation 3, Xbox 360, Windows PC, iOS, and Android. It’s also one of EW’s most anticipated games of the fall. For more of the season’s biggest games, check out EW’s Fall Games Preview.