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Tuesday, October 27, 2015

Review: Minecraft Story Mode - Episode 1: The Order of the Stone (Microsoft Xbox One)

I was terrified when it was announced that Telltale was doing a narrative game season based on Minecraft. Minecraft, of all things! The most open-world game available, the game which I have easily sunk hundreds of hours into playing over the past five years, the game which I’ve seen grown up from a PC beta to a international, multi-console, family-friendly smash hit. Minecraft doesn’t have a story, I scoffed; Minecraft doesn’t NEED a story. When I play Minecraft, I write my own stories. That's the point.

Minecraft doesn’t need a story, no. But it turns out Minecraft is a wonderful vehicle for storytelling, and Minecraft Story Mode - Episode 1: The Order of the Stone is a solid start to what has the potential to be an epic tale of adventure and friendship.

Related reading: Nick’s review of the first episode in a Telltale classic, The Wolf Among Us.

Like most Telltale games, Minecraft Story Mode will follow one character across all episodes. At the beginning of this episode, the player can select who they want to be from six different figures. Regardless of who is chosen, the game and the resulting decisions will play out the same. Heck, every possible protagonist is even given the name of Jesse.

Again, like most Telltale games, Minecraft Story Mode is played out with short bursts of activity spread out across a lot of narrative. Players will find themselves, dodging, crafting, and exploring areas amidst a lot of conversation and cinematics, and that’s fine by me. If a prompt is missed, what happens depends on what Jesse is up do: she (he) could trip, get knocked over, or (gasp!) die.

Telltale has managed to preserve an immense amount of Minecraft charm, and that is part of why I believe the game has a lot of promise. Of course, there are little bugs (such as the sky flashing odd colours when decisions are made), but overall the graphics are the pixellated boxy goodness that Minecraft players have grown to love and appreciate. Other than the graphics the most Minecraft-esque aspect of the game is crafting. Sometimes crafting is woven into the story – what a lovely surprise it was to see an iron gollum being created as though by magic! Other times it is part of the actions Jesse needs to complete, such as making a stone sword.

Another reason I believe in the game’s promise: the character interactions and voice cast are absolutely phenomenal. I cannot rave about them about. The story itself seems to be more of a prologue than a first episode, but that is made up for in what characters say to each other and who is voicing them. The comedy is 100 per cent family friendly and prominent, including a self-aware montage and snarky responses when a poor choice is made (to be fair, calling a fist bump the “Builder Bump” was a terrible idea and I deserved the result “no one will remember that”).

The voice cast seems to dictate my favourite characters: Axel, Jesse’s large and sarcastic best friend, is voiced by Brian Posehn while their other friend, Olivia, is voiced by Martha Plimpton, two actors which I have great respect for in terms of their voice work and versatility. I am sad that I chose a female Jesse though, as I would have loved to hear Patton Oswald voice the main character. That’s no diss to Catherine Taber though, as her reactions as Jesse gave me plenty of laughs along the way. The narration is by everyone’s favourite, Billy West, and his script also contained lots of giggle-inducing phrases.

As I mentioned, the story seems more like a prologue than a first episode. I believe it really could have been combined with whatever comes next into a longer first chapter, although perhaps I’ve been spoiled by the constant activity in the narrative-heavy choice-based Life Is Strange. The score I’ve given Minecraft Story Mode - Episode 1: The Order of the Stone may seem mediocre compared to the raves I have about the game, but this is something I feel strongly will impact any future recommendation of the season things don’t pick up a little more in Episode 2: Assembly Required.

- Lindsay M.
News Editor

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Review: Minecraft Story Mode - Episode 1: The Order of the Stone (Microsoft Xbox One)
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