First Look at Minecraft: Story Mode—It's Frustrating and Delightful

Posted by and | August 28, 2015 | News | 2 Comments
Minecraft group screenshot

We got a chance to play Minecraft: Story Mode at PAX Prime this morning. Here are two different impressions—one from Keezy, a Telltale fan, and one from Simone, a Minecraft veteran.

Keezy’s POV

minecraft story mode protagonists

You’ll be able to choose from among several protagonists in the final version of the game.

First of all, I will say that I had fun playing the game—it’s charming and does a good job bringing the blocky Minecraft world to life, so to speak. The controls are pretty straightforward. The demo started off with the option to choose a character (though the choices were grayed out for the time being). Then you’re tasked with finding your pig friend, who has run off into the dark pixelated wilderness of tunnels. There are lots of things to click on and look at, as is typical of Telltale games, and your character will often have something clever to say in response.

Luckily, I found my pig. I fed him a carrot, and promised to get him out of there. Then (of course) there were the zombies.

Minecraft zombies aren’t really scary. I can tell myself that till the end of days and I’ll still get the shivers. I’m not a zombie fan, despite having played through all of Telltale’s Walking Dead series. The studio proves once more that they’re adept at creating tension with minimal graphical assets. I was never in any doubt that my Minecraft character and his pig would make it out of there, but I did accidentally get my poor pig wounded—something I still feel a bit guilty about, if I’m being honest. (I hope he doesn’t remember that.)

Mother Son Minecraft

A family plays Minecraft Story Mode together.

My main complaint about the game is that it just wasn’t very accessible to me as someone who doesn’t play Minecraft. I could tell that there were a lot of in-jokes and references scattered throughout, but they went over my head and ended up feeling a little awkward. Then came the crafting table. I was supposed to make myself a sword. I have zero idea how crafting works in Minecraft, and I was given no guidance whatsoever.  I sort of floundered around aimlessly with some materials, hoping my in-game buddy would give me something to work with. I laughed when she chided me—”it’s like you’ve never even crafted before!” But I wished she had given me some advice to go with the joke. I’m sure I would’ve figured it out eventually (I only poked at it for a minute or two before we had to move on). Maybe she does offer some help if you struggle for too long, but I was a little a bit irked that the game seemed to assume that the player knows what they’re doing even when they’re clearly at a loss.

In short, I’m sure Minecraft: Story Mode will be thoroughly enjoyable for seasoned Minecraft players (or even dabblers), but I was a bit disappointed that it didn’t welcome new fans into the world with open arms. Telltale’s other four popular games—The Walking Dead, The Wolf Among Us, Tales From the Borderlands, and Game of Thrones—are also all based on pre-existing franchises, but they do a better job of introducing new players while not alienating hardcore fans. I’ll definitely still be playing Minecraft: Story Mode for Telltale’s amazing writing and character development, but the demo left me feeling very much like an outsider.

Simone’s POV

I wasn’t sure what to expect going into Minecraft: Story Mode. Telltale does a great job of making their stories equal parts heartwarming and harrowing (and with games like The Walking Dead under their belt, they do trend towards harrowing). Even Tales from the Borderlands, by far their funniest game, has its really dark moments. Would that writing talent translate just as well to a kids’ franchise?

It really, really did. The humor in Minecraft: Story Mode pokes a lot of gentle fun at the Minecraft lore. At one point, as you follow your friend Petra into her cave to build a sword, Jesse makes a comment along the lines of, “You brought a crafting table all the way down here?”

There were a ton of little moments like this, which call out things about Minecraft that we all do, but that are actually really silly when you think about it. During a fight with some zombies, Jesse’s sword breaks. “Wooden swords!” he exclaims. Yeah buddy, I’ve been there.

I thought Patton Oswalt, who plays Jesse, did pretty well with terminology-laden dialogue of game—something that voice actors can sometimes struggle to make natural. What has me interested, though, is that the character selection screen told us that Jesse can be either male or female. It’s up to the player to choose.

So far I haven’t seen any female voice actors for Jesse publicized. We know virtually nothing about what a female Jesse’s story will be. This could change the dynamic that Jesse has with Petra, the uber-competent swordswoman who saves your butt in the beginning of the game. With a guy main character, Petra seems like a competent sidekick but might come a little close to “Trinity Syndrome”—when a lackluster guy is the main character, while a talented, more suitable female character takes the role of sidekick.

Not to say that I hated Jesse, I thought he was a charming little dude. Plus his pet pig, Reuben, is adorable.

At the beginning of the demo, we had to find Reuben, who was lost in the woods. Of course, our group of friends split up (what else do you do when you’re hunting for a pig in the dark?). That’s how Jesse and Reuben end up menaced by zombies, spiders, skeleton archers—the whole gamut.

This part cracked me up because it was so similar to my first Minecraft experience. One minute you’re running along looking for pigs, and the next you’re running into monster after monster with comedic frequency. This part also brought up our first big choice of the game. It boiled down to telling Reuben to run away and let me distract the monsters, or to stay with me so I could protect him.

There’s another big choice at the end of the demo. I won’t spoil it, but it certainly made me wonder how safe the characters in your group of friends are.

The gameplay mechanics are similar to other Telltale games, but I felt like the quick time events were simplified. That’s not a bad thing. This isn’t a game for adults (though speaking as an adult, I really enjoyed it), and there’s no reason it should be punishing. The only thing I noticed going awry was when I absolutely pressed the wrong button for the quicktime event, but I would still manage to pass the obstacle. This could be a fluke unique to the demo. I’ll keep an eye out for it when I play the full game.

Keezy already talked about the art, so I won’t dwell on it, but it was really great. With the lighting and shadow effects it looked as good as some Minecraft mods that I’ve seen for PC.

Playing this demo made me way more excited for Minecraft: Story Mode than I’ve been. It’s definitely a game aimed at Minecraft players. The jokes are very meta, and there’s very little in the way of explanation about the world. As a Minecraft player I really got a kick out of it. Despite a few complaints, I think Telltale will ultimately deliver a charming little game.

Keezy Young

About Keezy Young

Keezy is a gamer, illustrator, and designer. Her background is in teaching and tutoring kids from ages 9 to 19, and she's led workshops for young women in STEM. She is also holds a certificate in teaching English. Her first memory of gaming is when her dad taught her to play the first Warcraft when she was five. You can find her at Key of Zee and on Twitter @KeezyBees.

Simone de Rochefort

About Simone de Rochefort

Simone de Rochefort is a game journalist, writer, podcast host, and video producer who does a prolific amount of Stuff. You can find her on Twitter @doomquasar, and hear her weekly on tech podcast Rocket, as well as Pixelkin's Gaming With the Moms podcast. With Pixelkin she produces video content and devotes herself to Skylanders with terrifying abandon.