If there’s one thing for certain with Minecraft Story Mode, it’s that Telltale Games has used it as a platform for experimentation in how they deliver their episodic content going forward. Putting out a disc version with just the first episode on it to begin with, swiftly delivered episodes of what is now the origin story, gender and race choice for the protagonist, and now starting a new series off the back of this—the final episode of season one—which is acting as both an epilogue and a prologue Confusing? A little, yes, but Minecraft Story Mode has been a pleasant surprise despite all this disruption and tinkering. Still, it’d be nice if they could have ditched the whole ‘waiting-months-for-the-final-piece-of-the-story’ though. Anyway, this is a new dawn, a new adventure, the beginning of a new tale.
Fresh from their escapades involving saving the world from the destructive Witherstorm, Jesse and the gang are now fully-fledged adventurers known as the ‘New’ Order of the Stone, seeking out treasure in temples and the like. We join them as they approach one of these temples seeking out a mysterious artifact on a tip from former villain, Ivor. This whole opening sequence shows where Telltale has been using the extra time between episodes. The whole temple treasure run has a confident swagger of a developer finally clicking with its source material. The warm humour flows evenly now, instead of being occasionally awkward and standoffish, while the Q.T.E. action scenes are similarly fluid. Perhaps previous episodes saw the developer struggling to shake then overly adult nature of its more recent projects at times, creating an internal conflict that was hard to shake with each episode out so soon after the last. Here, it appears a lot of feedback has been taken on board, and the result is a more impressive, steadier and enjoyable slice of family fun.
This swagger continues on as the rest of the episode moves into gear, and provides us with a new city among the clouds to explore, and secrets to unravel as it soon becomes apparent that one of Minecraft’s greatest pleasures is outlawed in this floating realm. That’s right, dance is prohibited, so you, a young Kevin Bac…no, hang on, building! It’s building that’s controlled in Sky City. The leader prefers to build everything themselves, and only allows others to build meagre things via a permit. This provides an intriguing backdrop to your main quest, which involves racing to retrieve a new and potentially world-changing treasure against some old foes. Like the opening segment, this plot moves along at a pleasingly breezy pace, not stopping to drag you down with pointless searching and waffling, just cutting to the chase and telling a self-contained tale within the broader narrative. Simply put, this is the most cohesive, and generally interesting, piece of storytelling in the series, something that is aided by some of the best character work yet.
Paul Reubens, he of Pee-Wee Herman fame, has been quietly snarky and nefarious during his run as Ivor, but in Order Up he’s let loose to bring Ivor nearer to his famous gleeful adult masquerading as a child act, and despite the shift in characterisation, it still fits the Ivor you’ve come to know over the course of the series. A great running joke sees him unable to build anything without lava, whether it’s functional or not, something I’ve noticed is a bit of an obsession in the main game for both my son, and his friends. It’s a great nod to the younger portion of the user base, and one that involved parents, siblings etc may find amusingly familiar.
Jesse remains a highly likeable lead, bolstered by actual leadership responsibilities as the head of the ‘New’ Order of the Stone in this episode. It’s still great that both vocal performances for the character continue to be solid and just different enough to be worth a second playthrough. The remainder of the Order of the Stone have all been fleshed out to some degree in earlier episodes, if not always in the best way, and here they get little to work with beyond token exposition. It works for the story, and Lukas gets a little more to work with than the rest, but the focus is very much on introducing the residents of Sky City as swiftly as possible (who are amusingly impressed by Jesse’s building skills when he makes ridiculously simple creations), as well as building up the episode’s antagonist, Lukas’ former gang mate Aiden.
Aiden’s jealousy over the attention the Order of the Stone receive fuels him to be continuous thorn in Jesse’s side throughout Order Up. His reasoning is a little clunky, and bizarrely doesn’t remain all that strong once tested. That makes sense in a way; jealousy is rarely born of rationality, but Aiden’s arc feels a little rushed. When he’s behaving like an absolute cretin though, it’s more than enough to make you want to knock that sneer off his blocky face.
Order Up is the funniest, warmest and downright best episode of Story Mode’s season, to the point that the recently announced three further episodes are now very welcome, especially given the end of this one has woven a highly intriguing story thread for the future.Telltale fumbled badly early on in this season and while things did get better, the things on show from the end of episode four onwards have shown just how much better still this could get. It’s still riddled with the ignorant flaws of a Telltale game (the poorly-explained context of at least two QTEs and subtitles not matching the spoken dialogue being a newer offence), and is very much a child-orientated adventure, and that’s likely an instant negative for fans of Telltale’s usual work. However, the seemingly impossible, daft notion of creating a narrative-driven game set in a universe that involves building and mining doesn’t seem so ludicrous now; instead, Telltale and Mojang have complemented each other well in the end, and made this dubious concept a winner. That’s got to be a significant victory for both companies. Hopefully that engine overhaul is sooner rather than later though eh?