Minecraft: Story Mode got off to a rocky but overall enjoyable start with Episode 1 “The Order of the Stone”. Now, less than two weeks later, Episode 2 “Assembly Required” is already available, breaking the usual long months of waiting between Telltale episodes. With a shortened wait time, players can dive back into the adventure they started in the first episode. However, that shorter wait sadly left us with a sparse episode that feels like the first half of something better.
Minecraft: Story Mode tells a sort of quasi-Minecraft tale. It’s not the grand origin of the weird universe that millions of gamers have enjoyed. Nor is it the story of a bunch of friends playing Minecraft. Instead, it sits firmly in the middle, introducing a group of friends inside the Minecraft universe, with all of its video game quirks and weirdness, but still portraying that world as realistic and important.
Within this structure, we follow Jesse, a boy or a girl depending on your choice, and his band of friends. A great evil has been unleashed on the world and it’s up to them to track down the heroes of old, the titular Order of the Stone, and bring them together to fight it. In the first episode, Jesse’s party was a bit scattered after their encounter with the Witherstorm. After being separated from Gabriel, one of the Order of the Stone members, they set out to find one of the other two members, depending on which one you picked at the end of Episode 1.
Minecraft: Story Mode Episode 2 picks up right after this choice, taking you to either Redstonia or Boomtown. For a long time, Telltale reviewers have pointed out how choice doesn’t matter so much in their games, despite the message that pops up before each adventure. It seems that the developer hse tried to remedy this with this episode, by making sure that you only visit one of the two places offered to you at the end of episode 1.
Players will find they have progressed, but only to another breakpoint along the way
This definitely makes choice a more important factor, giving players a reason to go back and try the alternate story path offered here. However, it certainly detracts from the overall enjoyment of this episode. Once you realize what happened, and especially once you finish the unfortunately short chapter, you’ll wonder if that locked content would have improved the overall experience.
As Minecraft: Story Mode Episode 2 draws to a close, players will find that they have made progress, but only to another stopping point along the way. With a run of five episodes to be expected, but something is missing here that makes it even worse. It only took me about an hour to go through this episode, which is at least 50% shorter than the usual time. This compounds the usual problem of lack of closure that players find themselves with at the end of an episode.
Another issue that persists in Minecraft: Story Mode Episode 2 are the animation issues that somehow got worse here. On rare occasions, it gets so bad that characters distort around the screen, appearing in different places, usually after a camera transition. This also extends to the lip-sync, which sometimes gets so messed up that I had trouble determining if the video matched the audio.
Fortunately, the writing stays on point, though it still falls somewhere in the family zone of not feeling overly dramatic or funny. Minecraft: Story Mode seems to be trying to walk the line between action-adventure and straight-up comedy, not really exemplifying the best of both genres. Kids will enjoy it, as it features all of their favorite Minecraft tropes, but without picking them up and doing something unique with them, most mature gamers will just snicker or ignore it altogether.
The way the writing is delivered is also excellent, with fantastic voice actors featured throughout. Unfortunately, a few cracks appear in this generally thin piece of the Telltale experience. The supporting characters, mostly ones you won’t necessarily encounter often, have some crude voice work attached to them. It wasn’t so much that it felt amateurish, but with a developer typically knocking this element out of the park, it was strange to see, or hear so to speak.
The overall gameplay is still a strong point for Minecraft: Story Mode, with interesting combat mechanics that match the Telltale property and formula. Players will spend most of their time talking to people or following QTE prompts, but sometimes things get more interesting. Combat actually involves walking towards or away from enemies, selecting which one you want to attack, timing your strike, and even choosing between ranged and close combat. These are huge improvements over Telltale’s usual method of combat, which is pretty straightforward. There was a bug here though, where a Ghast failed to shoot me, and without extra arrows I couldn’t take it out, causing a visit to the main menu. It could have been a one-time issue though.
Finally, the visuals continue to impress, with Minecraft’s retro styles firmly on display. Something about the look of Minecraft generates such a sense of happiness, nostalgia and fun, and with improvements to lighting, color and presentation, Minecraft: Story Mode gives players the world that they love in a new and interesting way. Seeing some of the scenery or crafting in-game creations will truly impress any fan of the property.
Minecraft: Story Mode is off to an unusually rough start for a Telltale game. Glitches are definitely an issue, both in gameplay and animation. The real problem is that, despite the excellent quality of the writing, the story just doesn’t grip the player the way it should. The much shorter wait time for this episode helps dampen the feelings left behind at the end of Episode 1, but the anemic amount of content makes it feel rushed or half-baked. Episode 3 might deliver the goods, as has become a Telltale standard, but until then Minecraft: Story Mode is for young gamers or hardcore Telltale fans only.