With the success of the soon-to-be concluded Tales from the Borderlands, TellTale showed they could take an established shooter and turn it into an engrossing narrative. Now, they’re diving into the pixilated world of Minecraft with Minecraft: Story Mode, which figures to be a significant departure from their usually dark and/or adult-oriented fare. Let’s check out the inaugural episode, The Order of the Stone, to see what course is charted.
If you’ve played previous TellTale titles, you should know what you’re in for: a combination of dialogue choices, environmental interaction and quick time events. All three are seen here along with some rudimentary combat and crafting elements. Crafting consists of putting raw materials on a table, while fighting is about timing your strikes as enemies move slowly toward you. It happens at a slightly odd angle, but it’s a forgiving system so there shouldn’t be any issues.
Few games have a more iconic graphical suite than Minecraft, and the instantly identifiable 3D blocks are perfectly rendered here. Even with the relative simplicity there are some performance issues, however, with certain elements loading more slowly than others and leading to pop in. It’s disappointing given how often that has been an issue for TellTale properties — I keep waiting from them to beef up their engine based on their ongoing success.
Playing as the male version of Jesse, I was treated to the dulcet tones of comedian Patton Oswalt, who is funny and likable in the lead role. It’s a good cast with a number of familiar names with performances and dialogue that, while far more kid friendly than usual, are up to the usual standards. The music is fun but doesn’t stick with you.
Our story begins with Jesse, along with his trusty pig Reuben, getting ready for “Endercon” where he and his friends Olivia and Axel are entering a building competition. Just when things are looking up for the group of neophyte builders, however, they quickly go south, causing them to split up. Jesse finds himself in some trouble before being rescued by Petra, who then enlists Jesse’s help to conclude a deal with a shady individual known as Ivor.
Although you’ll be given a couple of meaningful decisions before that point, most of the story begins to unfold after the clandestine transaction. Without delving into spoiler territory, The Order of the Stone contains plenty of significant moments that quickly shape the direction you’re headed and who you’re headed there with. In that sense, it feels like a natural extension of their Walking Dead series (and hey, there are even some zombies to do battle with!).
There are definite shortcomings with the debut effort, though, most notably a lack of back story and interactive action scenes. Clearly the latter is never going to be a focus in TellTale’s world, but when you’re adapting a game that’s known for the freedom it provides players it would seem to make sense to try to incorporate that feeling into the game.
As for the back story, even after the credits roll you won’t feel like you know much about anyone other than Jesse — and it’s not like he/she is particularly fleshed out, either. There’s still plenty of time to fill in the blanks, and the emotional connections between the characters feel authentic, but it’s kind of like being dropped in a world with no real context.
I’m not the biggest Minecraft fan — while I appreciate the concept and enjoy the creativity, I’m just too busy to invest huge amounts of time in it — but there are some clever references that even I recognize, so I’m thinking those more steeped in the world of Minecraft will find additional winks and nods in the form of fan service.
It’s worth noting that this is by far the most family friendly TellTale episodic game (more so even than Back to the Future), approaching serious topics or dangers in a fun manner. If you’ve been looking to play a narrative-driven game like this with your kids, The Order of the Stone certainly fits the bill.
While I had fun during my time with The Order of the Stone, it definitely feels like the series could benefit from more clarity in fleshing out both your friends and the world as a whole.