Available On: PlayStation 4, Xbox One, PlayStation 3, Xbox 360, Android, iOS, PlayStation Vita, Wii U, Microsoft Windows, Mac OS
We Played On: PlayStation 4
Minecraft: Story Mode is a dialogue- and choice-driven game about a group of friends trying to save the world. This standard adventure story is lent a lot of charm by the blocky world of Minecraft, but Minecraft: Story Mode’s debut episode (The Order of the Stone), which we first tried at PAX Prime, doesn’t quite find its footing.
The Story (Mode)
Lovable incompetent main character Jesse (voiced by either Patton Oswalt or Catherine Taber) is ready to change their luck by winning a building competition with their buddies Axel and Olivia and their lovely pet pig Reuben. Jesse idolizes a retired hero named Gabriel the Warrior, who is attending the local EnderCon. Winning the building competition, going to EnderCon, and meeting Gabriel seem like the most exciting things Jesse has to look forward to.
The episode wastes no time establishing that our main characters are total losers. They’ve never won anything, but that might all be about to change. Unfortunately, the fun of EnderCon ends when a really sketchy guy who cheats Jesse in a business deal tries to summon a Wither. Things go wrong, and Jesse, Jesse’s friends, and Gabriel have to fix things.
The story started off a little bit slow for me. We meet the gang of friends, as well as their rivals at the build competition. We also meet loner Petra (voiced with dry humor the always-fantastic Ashley Johnson) who is… someone that everyone knows? It’s not entirely apparent how Jesse and Jesse’s friends know Petra, nor why the rival builder crew The Ocelots is friendly with her too.
Petra takes Jesse under her wing, and the time we spend with her is some of the funniest and most interesting in the game. This first episode of Minecraft Story Mode feels very “first episode” in the way it sets up the characters and the setting. There was a little too much exposition to make it a smooth, satisfying episode. That being said, if you’re not familiar with Minecraft lore, there’s probably not enough exposition here for you. A lot of the Minecraft references are left unexplained, making them either very satisfying easter eggs, or just plain confusing throwaway lines.
I hope that as the series moves forward it will settle into the story it wants to tell, rather than telling us too much.
If you’ve played a Telltale Game before, the gameplay in Minecraft: Story Mode will come as no surprise. First, a refresher.
Throughout the game, the player will choose between dialogue options. There are usually four responses offered, one being “say nothing.” The dialogue chosen will be remembered by the other characters. For example, if I say that the Ender Dragon costume that Axel made for Reuben is ridiculous, Reuben will remember my cruel insults. Or he would, if I ever chose that option, because why would you insult that sweet pig?
All the choices form a personality for your version of Jesse. Does Jesse respond with violence to every situation? Is Jesse self-confident and optimistic, or does Jesse lack confidence? It’s all up to you.
As always, the dialogue choices are timed. If you don’t pick something before the meter runs down, you’ll respond with silence. The choices you make will definitely impact future episodes of the game, and I’m actually interested enough to play this episode twice to see what changes.
Aside from dialogue choices, the other gameplay revolves around quicktime events, with a little button-mashing mixed in. A quicktime event is signaled by a button flashing on the screen, prompting you to hit the same button on your controller as fast as possible. Hence, quicktime.
I had a few fights with zombies in the game, and that was definitely not the most inspired gameplay I’ve ever experienced. Jesse will edge towards the zombies with a press to the joystick, and you can hit the zombies with the sword. But timing the attacks is slow and awkward, as it’s hard to tell if you’re actually close enough to hit.
My first zombie kill involved a button-combo quicktime event, but it was the only one of its kind. After that, my Jesse just performed the final blow herself while I watched.
I might be in the minority here, but I did like the quicktime events during action sequences. Failing these resulted in some great slapstick moments. At one point I was prompted to press “x” to jump into a mine cart. I missed the button press, and Jesse tumbled headfirst into the cart, her legs waving in the air. For me, these were the funniest moments of the game.
The last kind of gameplay is a special nod to Minecraft itself: building. Twice during the first episode you are asked to construct something using the crafting table. The first time you’re told exactly what to do, and it’s a nice introduction to using the crafting table in a context that Minecraft players might not be familiar with. The second time is awesome because you’re given a bunch of material and have to decide what you need to make to solve the puzzle.
Having all these materials and no guide reminded me of my first time playing the Minecraft beta. With nothing to go on, it was always exciting to see what I could manage to make.
The downside of this is that, like I said, you only build twice. In other sequences where Jesse and their friends need to build bigger structures, you hammer the action button to watch them build it in fast-motion. It was cool watching the structures get built, but having such constrained building capabilities in a Minecraft property still felt weird and limited.
Minecraft: Story Mode is rated E10+ by the ESRB. The words “damn” and “hell” are used a couple of times, which really surprised me. Other than that, the game is very child-friendly, just like the original Minecraft. Of course, in this case the rating doesn’t necessarily reflect how well the game will be received by younger kids at all.
One of the most important skills you need to play Minecraft: Story Mode is fast sight-reading. Players get a few seconds to make their dialogue choice before the option is gone. The bright side of that is that this game is probably a good one for reading practice. But that doesn’t mean it won’t be frustrating for players who aren’t quick readers.
The action events themselves are fine even if you fail them, and as I mentioned above, sometimes the game is even improved by failing.
Minecraft: Story Mode is still searching for its footing. Telltale excels at telling dark stories, funny stories, and above all adult stories. This game is funny and strives to be friendly to all ages, but for now it feels like some of Telltale’s cleverness has been sacrificed in the process.
Standout characters like Petra, Jesse, and Reuben the pig keep the game entertaining, and I’m excited to get to know the rest of the characters better in subsequent episodes.
It’s also really important to me that you can choose Jesse’s gender and skin tone. Two of Jesse’s friends, Petra and Olivia, are women. They’re both treated as competent, full characters in their own right. (Well, Olivia is a loser because she’s friends with Jesse, but come on she’s awesome.)
The first episode, Order of the Stone, is available now for digital download. It will come out on disc on October 27. When you buy the disc, the first episode will be playable and you will be able to download each episode when it is released. Our digital Season Pass (all five episodes) from the PlayStation store cost $24.99.