Minecraft: Story Mode is rapidly approaching its finale with the fourth episode, and in some ways, by the time you finish A Block and A Hard Place, it already has. Telltale’s doing something a bit unorthodox with this series, because while there’s still a fifth and final episode on the way, this one is basically a proper finale for most of the story threads that the series has been building up. Thankfully, it’s also a satisfying instalment, retaining the positive qualities of previous outings as well as providing a heavier emphasis for emotional and character-based moments that the series had been lighter on compared to Telltale’s previous work.
After the previous episode ended with a failed plan to stop the gargantuan Wither Storm from consuming the world of Minecraft, this follow-up starts out with protagonist Jesse and the party of companions escaping its wrath and attempting to both find an alternate plan and keep themselves together after the stress of the first three episodes. A truce is called between the group and series antagonist Ivor when he reveals knowledge of a solution, and the bulk of the episode revolves around tracking down an all-powerful weapon and facing the storm for the final time.
As Story Mode has skewed for a more general audience than Telltale’s more grim and violent existing series, there’s been quite a bit less in the way of character conflicts and development. A Block and a Hard Place seems to have been made with the goal of fixing that. More than ever before, you witness fatigue, self-doubt, internal conflicts, and growing hopelessness among Jesse’s party. From longtime friends to the warriors you’ve reunited, there’s a sense of consequence and pain. Many of the less action-packed segments revolve around this, and they help to alleviate any sense of boredom that those parts could contain.
The last act also hits harder than the rest of the series has up to this point. Ivor’s previously-unexplained hatred for the Order of the Stone has a hard-hitting reason that’s finally revealed, and once the final battle ends, we’re hit with a scene more emotional than anything else we’ve seen so far, and one that I’ve already heard many players teared up at. It now feels apparent that Telltale was saving the more significant and impactful moments for the later episodes instead of spreading them out like they usually do, but at least these moments do manage to deliver.
Gameplay-wise, players should know what to expect. There are many cutscenes with frequent dialog choices, a few puzzles and opportunities to craft items, and QTE-heavy action scenes. Unfortunately, I encountered a few more stutters and technical hiccups than the previous episode, but none were too severe. Writing and voice acting remain as great as ever, and Telltale continues to make the most of Minecraft‘s blocky art style, particularly with the environment where the final conflict takes place.
If I had to name my biggest complaint, there’s a section midway where players must navigate Jesse along the top of a large maze. Not only is the environment too big and convoluted for its own good, but the camera doesn’t zoom in when you go farther away from it, adding an unnecessary complication. A scene midway where players confront a witch also isn’t bad, but doesn’t really add to the plot, other than one character staying behind to leave a likely plot thread for the final episode.
Where Minecraft: Story Mode goes from here is a total mystery, as the only things left unfinished are the fates of two specific characters and the ending narration is purposefully vague. Thankfully, even if the finale ends up disappointing the way The Walking Dead: Season Two did, Telltale has still done an admirable job in wrapping up the overall plot with A Block and a Hard Place.
This review is based on the Xbox One version, which was provided to us.
Minecraft: Story Mode's penultimate chapter does a great job of both concluding the main plot and delivering more of Telltale's trademark character moments and emotional beats.