I’ve started to feel like I haven’t given Telltale enough credit in previous reviews for this series. Minecraft Story Mode has seen the developer experiment with its established formula quite a bit, and in the long run it has probably made for a better series than it deserves to be. With the fourth episode; A Block and a Hard Place, Story Mode wraps up the ‘Witherstorm’ portion of its tale and leaves the season finale to begin a new chapter, rather unprecedented for a Telltale game. That, along with forging a narrative out of an extremely popular title that has no real story, and releasing nearly this entire season in half of the time it took for Telltale to release the finale of Game of Thrones, Telltale has made Story Mode a clear sign of intent for the future–well, you’d hope so anyway. The really impressive part is how much the series has improved after an indifferent start.
A Block and a Hard Place continues directly from the end of previous episode The Last Place You Look, which ended on quite the cliffhanger (I’ll try and keep things fairly spoiler free here so not going into great detail). That episode was of a darker tone than expected and Telltale continues to embrace that again here. This effectively serves as a season finale and does indeed put a nice bow on the plot of this particular tale (the events of the upcoming fifth episode remain largely a mystery even after finishing this one). Questions are answered, triumph and tragedy occur, character arcs are completed and revelations are made. There is a general feeling of satisfaction about the conclusion to this story. Even when it goes down predictable avenues, there are still more than the odd surprising turn of events to prevent this being a formulaic fairy tale.
Throughout the series, there has been this not exactly subtle feeling that the legendary group known as The Order of the Stone are not quite the heroes the world believes them to be. That thread reaches a rather interesting conclusion here: There’s a more hammy and ridiculous route Telltale could have taken with it and credit where it’s due, it takes a much more interesting turn where all involved are just shades of grey rather than full on good guy/bad guy divides. Considering the audience, it is commendable that the game believes its fans can handle a plot thread that isn’t simplistic to the point of holding their hand. Similarly, Telltale haven’t shied away from chucking a bit of heartbreak into A Block and a Hard Price, and it really is a gut punching moment, presented in a very clever Minecraft way that only adds to its impact. It is easily the high point of the series so far, whether that speaks volumes about how inconsistent the rest has been or not is in the eye of the beholder, but, for me, it does show up the weaker aspects of Story Mode. The first two episodes were choppy waters to traverse in order to get to the far more enjoyable and consistent second half of the story, if the start had been as strong as these past two episodes, we’d have a surprise hit on our hands instead of a pleasing, yet flawed, experiment.
Jesse (and by extension, you) has become the archetypal ‘savior’ character over the course of this story, and that is perfectly fine. It’s done with such warmth and wit that you can’t really begrudge Telltale for making Jesse this way. As characters go, Jesse has remained extremely likeable throughout and someone who does at least evolve over time. Something that hasn’t been so easy for the majority of the supporting cast to achieve.
Axel is one of the luckier ones, and his loveable lug schtick is great for providing comic relief and ‘don’t forget where you came from’ moments for Jesse. He doesn’t really change all that much over the course of the story, but he doesn’t have to. His character trait is effectively the good-natured man-child who never changes, so too much of an arc beyond that would require more time, still, an episode to go, so who knows what could happen to him going forward.
Lucas’ potential arc of betrayal never goes anywhere sadly, instead copping out by having him moan at Jesse about their situation and apologize almost immediately for it. It’s disappointing that we never see anything beyond this, because Lucas ends up being little more than a cipher for questioning your decision-making. It remains unclear just how much animosity there is between Jesse and Lucas by the end of the episode. The tone of conversation is so inconsistent, a victim of the branching choices it seems.
Olivia and Petra are probably the biggest letdown. The promise of two interesting, relatable female characters in the first episode has slowly dissolved them into two plot point dispensers. Even with the different path you can take for Petra, she still gets a similar deal. It’s true of others of course, Ellegard and Magnus as well, suffer from the pains of a good introduction spoiled by a complete lack of care for any character progression.
The other members of The Order of the Stone get a better deal. Dave Fennoy’s Gabriel seemed to be wasted in another exposition role, but things tie up nicely for the character here, and Fennoy brings a fine balance of pride and fear to Gabriel as he struggles to deal with being an outside force in the battle against the end of the world. Soren only appeared in the previous episode, and yet he is easily gets the juiciest part of all the members with some great quotes and walking a thin line between goofy and creepy. His short arc proves that time shouldn’t be a factor in how a character grows over the course of a story. He gets more interesting things to say and do in one and a half episodes than most of the other cast members managed from in four.
Safe to say, Soren is the best speaking character in Minecraft Story Mode, though Paul Reuben’s Ivor does run him close in A Block and a Hard Place, if anyone personifies the whole ‘shades of grey’ thing, it is surely Ivor. Your initial opinion of him may well have changed by the end of this episode. Then there’s Reuben, Jesse’s pet pig has outshone many of the speaking characters in Story Mode, there’s not huge depth to him (he is a pig after all), yet he never fails to put a smile on your face by being utterly adorable. Soren may be the most interesting, but Reuben will undoubtedly be the one character to get fan favourite status from this series.
If Minecraft Story Mode was to end here (and really, it has, as the final episode isn’t continuing this arc) then Telltale have done a decent job of bringing a proper narrative to the world of Minecraft. It serves to enhance to world of Minecraft as much as it does to enhance the reputation and standing of Telltale as a developer. They’ve finally tried to freshen up the winning formula with a bit of experimentation, even though it does have a knock on effect for the story at points. With a no-lose situation (let’s be honest,this would sell incredibly well no matter how terrible it could have been), Telltale has managed to do something different whilst retaining much of what people like about its games. The last part of which is probably the most intriguing, how will the final episode play out? I, for one, am actually interested to find out, something I’d not have believed after episode two.