Well, that was a quick turnover. Normally finding out how long the wait for the next episode of a Telltale series is a mystery fit for Sherlock Holmes, but here is the second episode of Minecraft: Story Mode, mere weeks after the original, rather than an indeterminate amount of months (Game of Thrones finale, for instance, is coming nearly four months after the penultimate episode). Is it a rush job? Devoid of fresh ideas?
Startlingly, no, this episode does the one thing fans of Telltale (and detractors too) always wanted to see, which was a properly branching story. A story that could go to new different, new and exciting places dependent on your choices. Assembly Required; the second episode of Telltale’s Minecraft: Story Mode, does just that and comes closest to what a Telltale game should be evolving into. So why, despite all this, is it one of the weakest episodes of any of their series to date?
At the end of the first episode, your hero/heroine Jesse had to decide which member of The Order of the Stone to fetch first to aid in the quest to rid the world from the evil entity that was unleashed by the villainous Ivor. Whichever of the two you choose drastically alters what you see in this episode, with a good chunk of Assembly Required playing out before the story settles back on the regular path again. This had to happen at some point, Telltale has made small tweaks to its formula with each passing series so it was only a matter of time before the oft-requested true branching storyline made an appearance. It’s a welcome addition, and coupled with the fact you need a second playthrough to see and do everything means Story Mode has a bit more meat on its bones than any of Telltale’s previous output in terms of replay value, although going by the remarkably short length of Assembly Required, it doesn’t look like it’ll add much in the way of longevity.
This episode clocks in at around an hour, half the length of most Telltale episodes. Whether this is due to the branching path or not is ever so slightly questionable, but it does make for a particularly weak episode when it comes to plot progression, character building and set pieces. Much of Assembly Required feels like a retread of the first episode, with the jokes and conversations echoing previous efforts a little too often. As a result, we don’t see any filling out of the supporting cast, and this was an issue I had with the first episode, but then I had thought we’d get more depth to them as the series went on. Currently it looks unlikely we’ll get to see the best out of this cast before the series wraps up. Even those who were a bit more fleshed out go nowhere here, with Jesse’s worth being drowned out by the petty squabbling of characters lacking any depth or gravitas to deserve centre stage in the first place. It is telling that the episode’s best character is a pig who doesn’t even speak.
The fleeting nature of Assembly Required is, without doubt, the main cause of these issues. Nobody has time to grow. I found I had the same problem with the second episode of The Wolf Among Us and Game of Thrones, where everything is obviously leading somewhere, but not much of it impacts the second episode, so it feels very much like filler that could have been divvied up between episode one and three. Thing is, those series already set up more interesting characters, and had the backup in pre-established casts and lore to further flesh it out. Minecraft: Story Mode has the lore, but none of the personalities to compliment it. Everything feels muted, safe, and ordinary from a narrative perspective. Dangerous situations for the group feel unlikely to occur and incredibly tame and toothless when they do. This storytelling failure is really at odds with the beautifully-crafted world Telltale and Mojang have given us.
As with the first episode, Assembly Required is at its strongest when showing off what the world of Minecraft can do. Be it nonsensical contraptions for launching farmyard animals or making bipedal mechs with slime, such detail has gone into making everything about Story Mode’s setting the centrepiece of the series. Arriving in Redstonia for instance, you find a building that ties into all manner of redstone devices in clever, inventive ways that are found so often in the Minecraft community. As I mentioned before, it only serves to highlight how lacking the story side of the game is by comparison when you have this much effort put into the visual side. It was always going to be a big ask to implement a story into an IP that wasn’t designed with one in mind, you only have to look at how gloriously stupid most beat ‘em up’s stories are to know that, yet the first episode showed potential and promise for a decent family-friendly romp. It almost seems like that initial solid plot intro was all Telltale had and looked to stretch it out over five episodes while filling in the gaps. Previous form would say that things will undoubtedly get better in episode three, but there will have to be some major improvements if this series isn’t to go down as the weakest from Telltale since Jurassic Park.