Minecraft: Story Mode is Telltale Games' newest series. While it currently has two other releases with unfinished seasons – Game of Thrones and Tales from the Borderlands – at least we know that one of them will be wrapping up very soon. So, the time seems ripe to begin a new episodic adventure. Unfortunately, the studio seems to have selected a property that no one really asked for in Minecraft – a colossal commercial success yes, but one that's not exactly overflowing with rich fiction. Having said that, Tales from the Borderlands seemed like an odd choice as well, but it's turned out to be some of Telltale's best work to date. For now, though, the results of this new outing are mixed.
The game puts you in the role of Jesse, a guy – or girl – who, along with his friends, is on the way to Endercon, a building competition. Once there, things get a little out of hand, as a legendary society of warriors are called upon. As we alluded to, you can choose whether or not you want to be a guy or a girl, which can offer different results down the road. The bright side is that it allows you more freedom to properly represent yourself – but the downside is that if you choose to be a girl, you'll miss out on one of the best aspects of the premiere episode.
The girl version of Jesse is voiced by Catherine Taber, who does a perfectly fine job; there's nothing wrong with her performance, but it's just overshadowed by the fact that the guy version of Jesse is voiced by Patton Oswalt. For those who don't know, Patton Oswalt is a comedian and actor, and well, he's pretty darn hard to dislike. His performance is one of the best aspects of the episode, and helps to bring weight to the charm and almost kid-like wonder that Minecraft is able to evoke.
Jesse's group of friends are hit and miss, though. Some of them, like the Ashley Johnson voiced Petra, are great, while others fall short of the mark – or are simply uninteresting. As an episodic title, there is still time for the supporting cast to grow into their roles, but sooner would be preferable to later.
One of the better personalities is actually a non-speaking character. Reuben is Jesse's pet pig and best friend, and while all he does is oink and squeal, Telltale actually achieves quite a bit of success characterising this poor little pig. Reuben is there to fill the role that Disney Animation have had a resounding success with through many of their movies – the goofball animal companion that is there to offer comedic relief.
The thing is, Minecraft is essentially a digital version of LEGO, so restricting that within Telltale's method of narrative delivery comes off as an odd choice. This title plays just like Telltale's last five or so adventures, with little deviation. And so for those that are tired of the formula, there's not really a lot to offer here.
It does have a few tricks up its sleeve, though, like Telltale's representation of the crafting table. It's only used a couple times in the first episode, but the display of it, as well as the process of crafting items, is a neat little touch. Resource harvesting also makes an appearance several times, but instead of extracting each individual block, it's delivered montage-style, using QTEs.
Now, being a Telltale game, there's not a whole lot of gameplay, but that doesn't mean that the title is lacking for fun sequences. There is one literal on-rails section that evokes some of the dangerous fun of the Indiana Jones films, as well as a couple of combat bits that don't disappoint. There's more to the release than that, though, and that's where the writing lets it down a bit. While not terrible, much of the humour lands with a resounding thud, and the main narrative lacks depth. But like we said, since this is episodic, we'll cut it a little slack for now.
However, our biggest gripe is the lack of Telltale's in-house composer Jared-Emerson Johnson. When we failed to notice his name in the opening credits, we were a little concerned, and rightfully so. The music is very repetitive throughout this first episode, and it does almost nothing to enhance the experience. That's a stark contrast to some of the studio's previous works, where even the weaker episodes were practically saved by the exceptional music. Sadly, folk band Anadel's tunes just don't really fit.
Minecraft: Story Mode - Episode 1: Order of the Stone is a lacklustre start to Telltale's latest series. While it's certainly not bad, it's not exactly good either. A great performance from Patton Oswalt and some fun sequences aren't enough to cancel out the wonky pacing and bland narrative, while the ensemble cast mostly falls flat. This instalment is inoffensive enough, but it never really provides enough for you to latch on to. There's still plenty more to come, of course, but the jury's still out.