After the success of The Walking Dead, Telltale Games has obtained the rights to use numerous popular franchises in their narrative-heavy episodic adventure titles. These have ranged from comic book adaptations like The Wolf Among Us to the television version of Game of Thrones. Last year, though, the developer made an announcement that took many gamers by surprise: Minecraft: Story Mode. Many were perplexed as to how the company would apply their story-heavy approach to a game with no plot and a more unorthodox art style, and wondered if the developer could successfully pull it off.
Speaking as a fan of Telltale with only the most basic knowledge of Minecraft, the first episode, The Order of the Stone, feels like a proper story that is still able to stick to some of the original title’s basic rules in clever ways. Despite being intended for a broader age group than most of the developer’s recent work, there are still hard decisions to be made and a well thought-out cast of characters. Telltale fans apprehensive about touching anything related to the global phenomenon that is Minecraft will make a mistake if they choose not to pick up this game, as it still contains everything we’ve come to expect from the developer.
Players control a character named Jesse, who, in a first for Telltale, can be either male or female with three different skin tones, a choice made at the game’s beginning. Jesse’s friends, Axel, Olivia, and pet pig Reuben, work with them to construct a creation that they hope will win the grand prize at an upcoming convention, and lead to them meeting a member of an order who protected their world from evil in the past. While the story starts simple and leisurely, Jesse soon witnesses a major threat unleashed on the world, and embarks on an adventure to reunite the order and hopefully save the day.
Characters are wonderfully voice acted by recognizable names like Patton Oswalt, Paul Reubens and Ashley Johnson, but more surprising is how they’re portrayed graphically. While sticking to the super blocky and minimalistic art style Minecraft is known for, Telltale’s animators still get a lot of expressive moments out of the characters. In fact, the whole game looks surprisingly nice at points, particularly when more elaborate buildings and structures are displayed. The enjoyable soundtrack is also more memorable than Telltale’s usual tracks, possibly due to the involvement of indie band Anadel, who previously contributed numerous vocal tracks to The Walking Dead: Season Two.
As for the plot, it’s well paced and presented. We get a good idea of what most of the cast is like in the first act, and there are plenty of fun set pieces as things progress. Though it clocks in between two and three hours instead of four or five, I finished the game feeling satisfied with the amount of engaging story elements and character interactions it contained.
The Order Of The Stone doesn’t completely ignore its roots, either Two important aspects of Minecraft, collecting and building with materials, are represented through Telltale’s trademark timed button prompts. Occasional fights are done with a simple real-time system involving Jesse needing to swing a sword at the right moment. Finally, a simplified version of the crafting system is utilized at certain points, which makes use of Jesse’s inventory and allows for multiple solutions to specific obstacles.
In keeping with Telltale tradition, gameplay is a mixture of occasional free movement and numerous cutscenes with prompts for players to choose many of Jesse’s responses and decisions. Certain decisions hint at affecting character relationships down the line, and the episode ends with a choice between what seem to be two very different paths that will kick off the next installment.
Of course, the overall tone, despite the presence of a devastating threat, remains less dire than the likes of The Waling Dead, with zero deaths among the main cast, no blocky blood or gore, and only a few utterances of “crap” and “hell” language-wise. It’s certainly not all sunshine and rainbows, but Telltale seems committed to delivering a story that’s accessible to both the numerous younger gamers who adore Minecraft and their existing fanbase of older players.
Technically, while never reaching the glitch levels of earlier series, the Xbox One version still has some brief freezes between scene transitions, a jittery camera when holding the run button in the free movement sections, and most distractingly, a sky that periodically flashed black for me throughout the episode. Telltale once again showcases many of their best gameplay features here, but also reminds us of the fact that they still need to fine-tune numerous presentation elements.
While there’s no guarantee that Minecraft fans who adore the game’s freeform structure will like Story Mode‘s more linear plot, the game is still certainly enjoyable enough that they should give it a try. Fans of Telltale’s previous work, even if they’re apprehensive about the choice of license, will find all of the developer’s best trademarks contained within The Order of the Stone. If the following four episodes can deliver a consistent level of quality, the finished product will be another title that the company can be proud of.
This review is based on the Xbox One version, which was provided to us.
With the first installment of Minecraft: Story Mode, Telltale stays faithful to the popular source material while delivering another enjoyable adventure.