So, after the second episode of Minecraft Story Mode brought the series down to earth with a bang, the third sees it reach new heights with the best episode yet. I’ll be glad to eat my words if the rest continues on this form, but why is ‘The Last Place You Look’ able to do this story far more successfully than the episode that precedes it? Well. There’s actually plot development and character building for starters.
After a solid start, Minecraft Story Mode took the customary second episode dip of nearly all Telltale series, but it dipped hard with a ridiculously short running time, scenes from the first episode churned out again in a slightly different way, and the plot went nowhere fast with new characters introduced badly, and the old ones ignored. Now though? Fixed, like it never happened. Jesse and the gang’s adventurous quest to prevent world annihilation has taken them back to the Nether again in search of another member of the Order of the Stone named Soren; a brilliant inventor who has secluded himself from humanity. His carefully constructed fortress brings yet more striking scenery to this series, full of imagination, like his recreation of the overworld made entirely from coloured wool. As ever, these uniquely Minecraft moments are a huge draw even if the narrative is going down the toilet, but luckily the story really picks up the pace here, with plenty of tension, humour, charm and even a nice twist and a cliffhanger cropping up. At points the episode evokes Telltale’s other series at their morality-debating best, particularly The Walking Dead. The established cast are given time and room to breathe in a much longer episode this time out, and Soren himself is introduced in a far less clunky manner than Ellegard and company were in previous episodes.
Soren is by far the most likeable member of the Order of the Stone so far. His crackpot wittering and childlike wonder are key to that. Whereas the others seem egotistical, stubborn and rude, Soren appears to feel unwanted and lonely, and relishes the chance to interact with Jesse. After the vapidness of character development in the previous episode, it’s great to see a character introduced and established in thirty or so minutes of screentime. Meanwhile, the the rest of gang generally start to get time to show their personalities, if not all of them.
Axel’s big dummy humour may be cliche, but it is at least pleasingly so and is delivered near-perfectly. He has two effective running jokes that have yet to get old despite their obviousness. Even though his role in this story is ‘big lug best friend,’ Axel has probably had the most to say and do over three episodes. His bitter jealousy over the idea of anyone new being pals with Jesse was sweet, and his obsession with grabbing loot gets a fine punchline in The Last Place You Look. Safe to say, he’s been the standout character in Story Mode so far.
Lucas, leader of the Ocelot Builders, started out being the leader of cretins, then became that ‘ I’m actually a good guy in a bad crowd’ archetype that would have been boring if allowed to stay that way. What has rescued the character from the doldrums is his cowardly streak and his bossy, moaning and sometimes aggressive, manner. In a Telltale character comparison, he is very much like The Walking Dead’s Kenny, with a lot less swearing and violence, but you can tell Lucas is angled to be a more family friendly edition of the prickly Florida native in the long run: the guy who wants to take charge of everything so nobody figures out what a lousy person he is. Still, Lucas will never be as fascinating to me as Kenny is, the tone of this series doesn’t quite allow for that level of well-meaning douchebaggery required to pull that off, but it is a nice reminder that things don’t have to be twee just because this is Minecraft.
Jesse him/herself is as solid as ever, my only complaint is that you seem destined to play Story Mode as the noble good guy or be a character completely out of sync with the story being told. Jesse is immensely likeable and awkward, but lacking an edge to make him/her unique enough to be as memorable in years to come as the likes of stablemate protagonists Lee Everett, Clementine, Mira Forrester, Fiona and Rhys. There’s still time for that to change, but with two episodes remaining, it seems unlikely.
The remainder of the cast are a mixed bag of half decent to severely underdeveloped characters. Petra seemed like a winner in episode one, but sadly here she’s reduced to grumbling and moping about being useless. Olivia says some things, but that about sums up the input she’s given for the episode. She’s yet to break out into anything beyond being the tertiary buddy character and that’s a shame considering the attention given to Axel and Reuben; a pig who doesn’t even talk. The other members of the Order of the Stone offer little to the episode beyond some exposition that does at least give hope that they will play a bigger part going into the penultimate episode.
As I previously touched upon, the episode itself makes up for any concessions to supporting characters personalities. A surprisingly dark tone envelopes the entire playthrough. A creepy encounter with Endermen and a bleak finale are the highlights that punctuate The Last Place You Look and help drag what looked like Telltale’s first creative flop in years back into the realms of highly enjoyable storytelling. I would have struggled to care about how this series panned out after the last episode, but such is the uptake in form here that suddenly I find myself looking forward to the next installment far more now. I still don’t believe this will be anywhere close to Telltale’s best, but at least it appears that it isn’t a lost cause.