Telltale's fourth Minecraft release over the course of just a few months continues the breakneck launch schedule that the developer has suddenly become fond of. We've been weary of this rapid schedule from day one because it's in such stark contrast to their normally overly long, drawn out release time frame - and this episode does nothing to ease that concern. In fact, it might raise all new questions.
The episode, which was called "Wither Storm Finale" in the lead up to its release is, for all intents and purposes, the end of season one - except it isn't: this episode is actually the penultimate entry in the series. Now, while the series has struggled to impress us, it could have at least gotten a few bonus points for ending when it should have ended. Telltale has shown with its Game of Thrones adaptation - a six episode season - that it feels no obligation to stick to just five episodes per season, and we can't help but think that Minecraft would have benefited from ringing in at just four entries.
As it stands, one of the previous episodes barely clocked in at 40 minutes, and the season still comes off as feeling longer than necessary. This is particularly apparent with this fourth entry, as the season's narrative arc is finished. It's done, yet we have one more episode on the way. From where we stand, cutting season one short and regrouping to deliver a vastly improved second season - assuming that there is one - seems like a far better plan, especially since the ending of this episode has a sense of finality to it. In short, what's on offer here would have been very appropriate as a season finale.
Having said that, there's one very obvious narrative strand to pull that Telltale seems to have swept under the rug. One particular character, who up until episode four was a villain, does a complete 180 without anyone batting an eye. Granted, the situation required the villain to team up with the good guys as they were all combating a greater evil, but the issue stems from no one addressing the fact that this person was still a villain for a long time afterwards. It's taken for granted that they're just "one of the guys" now, with almost no explanation - and that rubbed us the wrong way.
As if that wasn't enough, the game's handling of the problem that Jesse and the gang need to solve is not great. For a couple of episodes now, the writing has just been pulling solutions out of thin air over and over again. When they inevitably failed, a new means of solving the problem of the Wither Storm would be pulled out of nowhere instead, only to end the same way. Needless to say, it was all getting rather tiring, so in that sense, the silver lining here is that we're just glad that Telltale's finally put the issue to bed.
This instalment isn't completely devoid of quality moments, however. Towards the end of the episode, there is one particularly touching moment involving a couple characters that we had actually grown to care about across the previous episodes - it was so touching, in all honesty, that it nearly brought a tear to our eye. But unfortunately, even this moment is ruined, as towards the end of the scene, one of the characters disappears with an ill-timed comedic popping noise, replaced by an item to be picked up and added to Jesse's inventory. The tonal dissonance in this scene is so strong that we had to put the controller down for a moment and consider just what Telltale could have been thinking; it severely dampened the impact of what was, up until that point, one of the best moments of the whole season.
Much like some of the earlier episodes, we came away from this release with far more negative things to say than positive. Again, it's not all bad: Telltale's use of the Farlands - the boundary of the generated maps in the main version of Minecraft - is interesting, and is used to not only create some cool environments, but also to deliver a sequence of genuine gameplay that involves navigating a maze. Another interesting area is the inside of the Wither Storm, which delivers an environment that, even outside of this title, could be considered rather creepy.
However, aside of a couple of nice ideas, there really isn't much of this episode that sufficiently held our interest. The season, now 80 per cent finished, has never really surpassed being just okay, and it's even struggled to hit that sometimes. We're now far too late in the season for that to change, but we suppose that there's at least some hope for an improved second season, even if the upcoming finale flounders in similar fashion to what's on offer here.
The fourth and penultimate episode of Telltale's first season of Minecraft: Story Mode has yet again failed to impress. The further along in the season that we get, the more obvious it becomes that there just really isn't much here to hold interest. While there are occasionally neat ideas, the core of the game has never exceeded total mediocrity, and with just one more episode left in the season, we can't help but suggest that you pass on this particular series - at least until Telltale can prove that there is a genuinely good reason to come and play it.