Minecraft: Story Mode Review

By Brandon Fusco,
Telltale Games has been an unstoppable force in the adventure game space since they released the first episode of The Walking Dead over three years ago. With that success, they've seemingly had their pick of licensed properties from which to draw for their games, including the hit TV series Game of Thrones. In some ways, pairing them up with today's biggest video game property to bring us Minecraft: Story Mode seemed like a no brainer, but creating a story for a franchise that has none might be their biggest challenge yet.

Episode 1: The Order of the StoneEpisode 1: The Order of the Stone

There's a consistent feeling that Story Mode was aiming for a children's cartoon feel, which isn't inherently bad, especially considering that Minecraft tends to appeal to a younger audience. Not only are the characters archetypal, the plot is simplistic and the story beats are predictable. For instance, the game starts with the story of the Order of the Stone, a group of four heroes: A warrior, an engineer, a rogue, and an architect. The friends that make up the protagonist's party are designed to be analogs of these characters, adorning walls with posters of their idols or dressing in their hero's iconic colors.

This predictability wouldn't necessarily be a problem if Story Mode had delivered a little more charm. Patton Oswalt is painfully bland as the male version of Jesse, the game's protagonist. The female version, played by The Clone War's Catherine Taber, has a little more depth but still tends to be pretty flat. The supporting cast is better, but only Dave Fennoy's Gabriel brings any variety to the dull tones of conversation. Compounding the problem is the absence of significant facial expressions. In previous Telltale games, characters may have paused to think with a furrowed brow or scowl at the player for an inappropriate comment, but the characters in Story Mode lack those subtleties. By far the most expressive of the characters, Jesse's pet pig Reuben shows emotions ranging from indignation to panic and even occasionally excitement without a single word of dialog.

Friend! I should have said friend, not Pet!Friend! I should have said friend, not Pet!

Gameplay is similarly simplistic by making use of mechanics characteristic of previous Telltale games, including Quick Time Events and dialog choices that shape the narrative around you. Although basic, the action is entertaining enough and does an admirable job of connecting the player to the events on screen, especially when considering how few inputs are made during these scenes. However, these are largely the highlight as the choices and consequences fall flat. In previous Telltale games where the story is compelling enough to make players try alternative choices to see the results, Story Mode's draw for replaying a section is in the hope of getting something more by making a different choice, and it's rarely worth the time.

The connecting tissue between choices is generally mundane at best, sometimes consisting of an otherwise straight walk with only a few points of interaction as opposed to a stroll through a lively space. At one point, the player's party stops talking just long enough for you to walk about 20 feet straight ahead in silence before control is wrestled away for an event. In another instance, the group is running through a forest and one of the characters instructs the team to split up to run around a set of flaming trees. Doing nothing and running directly into the burning trees will suddenly and inexplicably put Jesse on the other side with no harm or explanation of how you got there.

Plot twist! In many sections, it feels like you're walking in a hallway. This time, you actually are!Plot twist! In many sections, it feels like you're walking in a hallway. This time, you actually are!

This lack of significance to the gameplay is pervasive. In many instances, failing to do something causes absolutely no ill effect at all, while in others Jesse may die instantly. Later chapters still have this problem but a speedy tempo and the surrounding chaos make it less noticeable. Despite this, it isn't until the very end where the player has a couple of big binary choices that the game seems to relinquish its death grip on control, but even then the significance of these are largely speculation because the consequences don't play out before the end of the episode. Rather than escalating to a worth-while cliffhanger, it feels as though the journey is only just beginning, begging the question of what you were really doing during the last three hours.

Minecraft: Story Mode's saving grace is the world itself. The space that these characters inhabits still carries that blocky charm and the horizon instills a sense of grandness that can only fuel your curiosity. Characters move with a stilted authenticity, even if it detracts from their expressiveness. Building, though not a large element of play, exists as an ever present hobby in which seemingly every character partakes. Creating tools at a workbench or building a structure with your team only requires a few button presses, but it still carries a small measure of ownership and creativity. It seems only natural that this place sits alongside all the other worlds created by players in the rest of the Minecraft universe.

Meet the Order of the StoneMeet the Order of the Stone

All 33 trophies for the entire season of Story Mode are listed online, though only seven are available as part of Episode One. All but one of them is unlocked simply by playing through the two to three hour story, and the final trophy can be obtained by using the game's rewind function, watching a cutscene, and then attempting to build a lever without a recipe. Even though it only takes two minutes to get if missed, this trophy is a pain, because the process of getting it erases about 85% of your story progress. On the whole, these trophies are pretty easy but ultimately unrewarding.

Summary

Minecraft: Story Mode isn't without redeeming qualities. The cartoony nature of the game maintains a lot of the blocky charm from the Minecraft world, but it doesn't excuse the overall poor voice acting, simple story, and insignificant choices. Some weighty late game choices look to be pointing future episodes in the right direction while failing to justify most of the events leading up to that point. Trying to tackle a franchise that is so beloved among young gamers was a bold move for a developer that has been so successful while working on mature stories. While the effort should be applauded, it has also resulted in Telltale's weakest offering in years.
2.5 / 5
Minecraft: Story Mode - A Telltale Games Series
Positives
  • Blocky world
  • Reuben
Negatives
  • Routine story
  • Flat performances
  • Insignificant choices
  • Inconsequential strolls
Ethics
Brandon purchased a copy of Minecraft: Story Mode on Playstation 4 for the purposes of this review. He spent six hours with this first episode and earned all seven of the available trophies. He has enjoyed previous Telltale games, and hopes that this game finds its stride in the next episode.
Brandon Fusco
Written by Brandon Fusco
Brandon is an Editor and TGN's Host with the Most. The most what? The most opinions, the most understanding wife, and the most *funny cat videos. Previously Host of the Trophy Talk Podcast. (*Not Verified)