When Minecraft: Story Mode was announced in 2014 as a collaboration between the original game’s developers Mojang, and episodic adventure experts Telltale games, the reaction was mixed. Telltale had a strong reputation, but how could Minecraft possibly fit within their relatively rigid structure? For many, the fundamental reason for enjoying Minecraft was the virtual absence of story – you proceed as you wish, without any pressure to adhere to any predefined narrative. So, with the release of Episode 1 – The Order Of The Stone – have Telltale games manage to create a fun, fresh take on Minecraft’s pre-existing world, without ruining what was so great about it in the first place?
There’s certainly a lot of love gone into this title. From the moment you load it up, everything is familiar. The music that plays evokes that of the original game’s composer, Daniel Rosenfeld, the menu system visually replicates that of Mojang’s game, and the graphics of course are here in all their blocky glory. Well, actually, that’s not quite accurate. Whilst the blocks are unmistakeably Minecraft, they have a certain softness to them – as if the game is running with a texture pack installed. Which, of course, as many Minecraft aficionados will be aware, is something you can do in the game so, even by being different, it somehow honours its source.
As soon as you begin, you’ll have the chance to choose your character. Rather than attempt to impose a personality on the original’s much-loved Steve, Telltale have wisely chosen to create a new character for this quest, Jesse. Conveniently, they’ve chosen a gender-neutral name, so the game allows you to pick either Male or Female, and there’s several versions of each.
The male character is voiced by comedian Patton Oswalt, the female by Catherine Taber, whom many may recognise as Amidala in the Star Wars: Clone Wars animated series. Both voice actors do a great job and, if you just can’t decide which to go with, play it twice – the great thing about Telltale games is that, by their episodic nature, they don’t take long to play through – episode one takes a couple of hours – so you can easily pick it up and play again. We tend to go with our instincts for one and test the extremes with the other, but we know some people don’t like to play through more than once as, for some, the choices made become the narrative of the game and they like to stick with their chosen reality. Up to you! The supporting cast is quite the stellar line-up as well, although best supporting actor surely must go to Reuben the pig.
As far as the story itself goes, obviously we don’t want to say too much, as that would be like telling you the plot of a book before you read it – and, of course, you’ll have some control over your own version of this story here. The basic premise, though, is that Jesse – that’s you – is preparing for the Endercon Building Competition with friends Olivia, Axel and pet pig, Reuben. Upon arriving there, things escalate pretty quickly and before you know it you’re off on your adventure which, we’re pleased to say, is Telltale at their finest. Exactly WHAT the adventure is, we shan’t say but it’s not too much to let you know that, of course, it takes in a lot of elements you’ll be familiar with from Minecraft itself.
Gameplay has several elements to it, and all are familiar to regulars of Telltale’s episodic adventures. Firstly, during scripted moments, you’ll periodically need to choose the response you feel best suits your character, which will steer the conversation and narrative in different ways, and have an impact on other characters perception of you – and future behaviours. Secondly, there’ll be occasional action elements where Quick Time Events will be triggered, forcing you to test your reflexes to avoid disaster. Occasionally, you’ll have slightly more control over where your character wanders but, make no mistake, you’re definitely on-rails here. There might be several paths, and there might be different narrative outcomes but – unlike Minecraft, where you can go anywhere and do anything – here, Telltale have a clear path laid out for you, albeit one you can have an impact on.
Whether existing Minecraft fans enjoy this latest game will depend on how much they buy into the Story Mode’s approach to gameplay. If you’re willing to let go of preconceptions about what Minecraft can be, there’s an entertaining, well-written, family friendly adventure here for you to play.