Minecraft: Story Mode isn’t something most Minecraft fans or anyone remotely familiar with Mojang’s behemoth sandbox game could have guessed when it was first announced at the tail-end of 2014. An episodic adventure set in a series where the only story is the one personally crafted by the player is a hard thing to imagine, but Telltale Games delivers a promising new canon into the Minecraft culture.
Just in case you were confused about what Story Mode entails and means for the future of Minecraft mythos, the characters are avatars of people playing Minecraft together. This enables the story to remain faithful to the lack of pre-existing lore and keep it more about the players, creation and crafting that defines the series.
The premiere episode, The Order of the Stone, sets up the tale of either a male or female (at your choice) Jesse, a passionate newbie to the Minecraft world that loves building and exploring with his friends Axel and Olivia. The trio are massive fans of the Order of the Stone, a group of legendary Minecraft players who defeated an Ender Dragon and faded into legend. The opening cinematic and story is narrated by Billy West (Futurama), who gives the tale an extra dose of ‘Saturday Morning Cartoon’ charm without things seeming cheesy.
When Jesse and his friends hear Gabriel the Warrior of the Order is attending EnderCon, the three heroes resolve to win the convention’s annual building competition to finally beat their arch-rivals, the Ocelots, led by the arrogant but otherwise friendly Lucas, and get Gabriel the Warrior’s attention as winners rather than losers.
It’s all a fairly straightforward premise that’s family friendly and easy to follow, but there’s a surprising amount of mature themes, a few semi-naughty-but-not-really words in the dialogue and some violence that the more conservative parents out there should take note of if they let younger children play.
There’s heaps of cool and funny Minecraft references throughout the two-hour or so first episode – whether it’s about the silliness of the game’s crafting concept, or about Creepers or griefing – that will sit well with the fans. You’ll also visit several iconic and interesting locations such as the Nether, an in-game rendition of EnderCon, and more. The more you’re invested in Minecraft, the more you’ll appreciate the efforts. As for the characters, Telltale does an excellent job defining each of their roles and personalities.
Jesse, Axel and Olivia are shown to be weirder than most players, and the game does a good job of connecting you to them and their plight of essentially being Minecraft social outcasts. Axel is boisterous and opinionated, Olivia is a little low in her confidence and Jesse has the traits of a leader but owns a pet pig named Reuben, who is cute but leads the group into various embarrassing social situations. Several times you will side with one or the other in making decisions, but it’s clear they’re a band of inseparable misfit heroes in the making.
If you’re familiar with past Telltale games, you will fit right in here even if you’re not as knowledgeable about all the enemy types, terms and customs of Minecraft. As an adventure game, the core gameplay mainly involves interactive cutscenes full of conversation choices and decisions to move the story forward in the way you desire, mapped to the four buttons of your controller or touch-screen, with major choices usually down to two options. Most of your choices lead to different reactions, dialogue or different events playing out, and there’s just enough variety for replay value should you choose to play again in another way.
When you gain control of Jesse, you’ll explore linear areas with NPCs to speak to, clues and areas of interest to investigate for additional information or dialogue, and a sizeable amount of puzzles, quick-time events, and combat sections scattered throughout the first episode. Most of the mechanics remain the same as other Telltale Games series, stylised with the Minecraft art-style and interface, helping keep things as faithful to the franchise as possible.
Episode 1 is fun and looks and feels the part of what a Minecraft story would be like, but it does lack some complexity and sense of danger and urgency that Telltale’s other series have. This last point is due to the less mature and serious tone Story Mode is going due to its kid-friendly source material, but the decisions are still interesting enough to be hard for players to decide between which they like better.
Puzzles are extremely simple and lack any true challenge, quick-time events are overly generous and some of the dangers you face and major decisions you’re forced to make don’t really pan out to have lasting consequences, though of course maybe a few of the have more subtle effects in later episodes. To its credit, the final two choices are tantalizing in how drastically different they could potentially make the second episode pan out.
Combat is at least a little different from other Telltale games, requiring the player to take on several creepers and zombies and spiders with various swords using the left trigger to attack and control stick to switch between foes and keep them away – the iconic Minecraft blocky heart bars govern your health, and getting damaged or hitting an enemy has the same animations as the core game. Mixed with QTEs, it at least feels more interactive at times.
Crafting, too, is included as a semi-new gameplay mechanic to fit in with the primary goal of Minecraft; you’ll have a bunch of resources to place on the crafting table, shaped like a grid that you will need to place in specific ways to build your tools, explained in recipies. It’s not exactly as involved as actual crafting in Minecraft, but it does help make things feel authentic.
Graphically, Minecraft: Story Mode looks true to the core series in its depiction of its cube art-style. Everyone and everything is nice and blocky, with zero liberties taken that might offend the die-hard purists out there. As noted before, the interface, button and health icons and text look great in how they reflect the interface of the main game and the extra bit of detail is appreciated, even by a not-so hardcore fan of Minecraft like myself.
The impressive cast of well-known voice actors contribute heavily in the quality of the audio, dialogue and story, including Patton Oswalt (Ratatouille), Catherine Taber (Star Wars: The Clone Wars) and even Dave Fennoy who voiced Lee in The Walking Dead: The Game having a major role.
As usual, Telltale did a great job matching them with their characters and they definitely helped immersed me more into the narrative. The music and soundtrack present within the game is surprisingly somber at times, but most of it is upbeat and matches the cartoon adventure feel the game seems to be going for the majority of the time.
The Final Verdict
Minecraft: Story Mode’s The Order of the Stone is a strong first opening for the episodic Telltale adventure set in the Minecraft world. It’s got its small fumbles like most games from the developer, mainly a lack of tangible consequences and less hard choices than other series (though this is due to its different approach in tone), but it’s otherwise a very entertaining, intriguing premiere for a story-centric game set in a series not known for any kind of narrative. Minecraft and Telltale fans, give it a shot and judge it yourself before wiping it off the games board.