Minecraft: Story Mode Episode One: The Order of the Stone Review

Minecraft: Story Mode Episode One: The Order of the Stone

Developer : Telltale Games

Publisher: Telltale Games

Release Date: October 13, 2015

Platforms:  PlayStation 4, PlayStation 3, PlayStation Vita, Xbox One (reviewed), Xbox 360, Wii U, Microsoft Windows, OSX, iOS, Android

Three minutes is all it took for me to forget that I was kind of against the idea of this game. Minecraft: Story Mode Episode One surprised me with its loveable characters and stylish presentation but most prominently, the decisions. In a universe where story is the last thing on anyone’s mind, Telltale Games successfully made me care about my companions and when tough calls need to be made, you’ll care.

The presentation is self-aware and stylistic. The music is heartfelt and foreboding. And who doesn’t love a pig made out of cubes?

Things are not as they seem

Minecraft Story Mode Screen 2

The milkman’s baby, perhaps?

There’s a gentle lore here. We spend the first few minutes learning about a group of legendary heroes – The Order of the Stone – and how they used real-world (read: Minecraft) skills like engineering or demolition to overcome unspeakable evil. By blending the fabric of Minecraft with some light fantasy elements, Telltale has laid the foundation for an imaginative adventure.

You are Jesse – a ridiculously loveable protagonist voiced by the perfectly cast Patton Oswalt. I’m sure we’ll find out Jesse has some deep dark secret, probably in Episode Four, but for now it feels nice to play a genuinely good guy. I was pleased to see Jesse isn’t just a “yes man” and when the going gets tough, he can punch somebody in the face.

Jesse and his pet pig (oh good lord is he cute) Reuben are tired of playing the nice-guys-finish-last part and, along with his friends Axel and Olivia, are cast in the zeroes-to-heroes roles. You’ll meet quite a few more characters in the relatively short time in Episode One (about two hours if you stretch it out) and realize some are more likeable than others. Sure, this is a hallmark of Telltale, I just didn’t expect to side with certain characters so strongly, so quickly. And this is how they get you. You will prefer some characters over the others and when you make decisions based on those biases, Minecraft: Story Mode shines.

It’s surprising but unsurprisingly imperfect.

My face when I heard they were making a Minecraft-Telltale game

My face when I heard they were making a Minecraft-Telltale game

There are things that consistently make Telltale Games great but unfortunately, the fairly formulaic approach cross-contaminates some ugly symptoms. For example, you’ll be hard-pressed to convince me that a Minecraft game is pushing the limits of my Xbox One. Still, there are noticeable frame rate issues here and sadly, I was just waiting for it. This is the best those blocks have ever looked, sure, but these stutters simply shouldn’t be happening. I wouldn’t say it takes you out of the world but it is distracting.

The bonds you’ll forge with the cast are what make these games for mature audiences. However, the difficulty and tone are undeniably juvenile. For me, I enjoyed the joyful cadence of the story beats but if you have any gaming skill at all, you’ll absolutely race through Episode One. There is really only one puzzle to be solved and, truth be told, it’s a poor one. Clearly, setting the stage for good story telling and great characters was the focus but if Episode Two doesn’t take things up a notch (get it?) with some more clever problem solving, I’m nervous that some players might feel this isn’t for them.

Final Verdict

There’s a common theme throughout Minecraft: Story Mode Episode One: things are not as they seem. The presentation and story are better than you’d expect. The main character has gumption and is a poised hero. You will feel that struggle to make decisions, particularly as the episode closes.

So far, it is quite innocent and while I’m hopeful Minecraft: Story Mode will become more complex, this is a genuinely surprising take on a familiar Telltales forumla.