At a glance, the reasoning behind a second season of Minecraft Story Mode seems an entirely cynical cash-driven one. After all, Minecraft sells, and you can say with confidence that it rakes significant cash in for all involved, certainly more than a Walking Dead, Game of Thrones or Wolf Among Us could manage.
That does Story Mode a disservice, though, as despite some inconsistency in tone and storytelling, the first season was a thoroughly pleasing surprise and a great use of the Minecraft universe to build a fresh story in a game world that doesn’t have one. Season Two’s opener feels like a good, if a touch by-the-numbers, continuation of that story, while tweaking and fixing a few of the problems with its interactivity.
Season Two picks up a while after the events of Season One’s bonus episodes, and sees our hero Jesse now running Beacon Town, a settlement where people are free to express themselves, including living in custom made houses (a highlight being a rather impressive-looking squid house). It becomes quickly apparent that Jesse’s new responsibilities are denying him the opportunity to go off adventuring with his buddies in The Order of the Stone, and the group is slowly, but surely, drifting apart to live separate lives. Jesse running the town, Lucas writing a book, Ivor off on his own adventure, and the others doing their own thing. It’s during a catch up with Petra that Jesse finally sees just how uninvolved he is in his friends’ lives now, and his mini-adventure with Petra is the catalyst for Season Two’s overarching story.
After following a rogue llama into the depths of a cave system, Jesse and Petra find a mysterious gauntlet, which ends up stuck on Jesse’s arm. This kickstarts a trip to find a great adventurer, a journey together to reach an underwater temple that holds the secret to the gauntlet.
The most pleasing thing about Jesse is that despite all the adventures, heroism, and new responsibility, he’s still delightfully square, in personality, not just because he’s a Minecraft character. The central story revolves around Jesse using his dorky leadership skill to run a town, rather than be the glorious defender of the realm he was, and despite several claims of ‘missing the action’, it seems more like he is happier to have his current life rather than face mortal peril. Once Jesse is back into the fray however, his noble, heroic side kicks in, yet it runs parallel to his uncool side, and the character is all the better for it. Jesse may not be the most dynamic videogame hero, but he is an eminently likeable one.
The supporting cast has been shuffled for a fresh start, While Petra remains, and there’s brief appearances from the likes of Axel and Lucas, not to mention a few cameos from previous cast members (including a couple of YouTubers), the focus has shifted to the new, and there’s some genuinely enjoyable new additions for Season Two. Jesse’s agitated, excitable assistant Radar is terrified of Jesse leaving Beacon Town in his hands any time he rushes off to do some adventuring, but still idolises The Order of the Stone. Adventurer Jack is a cocky, cynical swashbuckling hero for hire who is also haunted by the failure of a previous adventure at the very underwater temple Jesse needs to visit. Nurm, his companion, is a villager who talks in an amusingly unintelligible tone, and then there’s the Llama, who is a bolshy little bugger, and looks set up to take the role of pet sidekick later in the series. They make up a fun new group to hang out with, and there’s a nice amount of character development and dynamic-building between them that solidifies them as part of the gang (even the llama gets an arc!).
The villains of the piece are the most intriguing part of this episode, though. Jesse encounters a rival town leader, Stella, who blackmails and manipulates people into working on her ‘perfect’ town, and desperately believes Jesse is her bitter rival (much to Jesse’s bemusement). A little after meeting her, you get to see another side to her, and it’s a pleasing change to see someone shown as being monstrous then a bit silly, and while this pushes Stella into a background villain role for now, there’s plenty of room for her to take the Ivor role of misunderstood baddie with a comedic side, and I’d be hopeful of seeing that as she’s a delight.
The main villain is a touch more mysterious, purporting to be a God, and seemingly interlinked with the gauntlet on Jesse’s arm. While not much is known about the how and why of this big bad right now, the story suggests there’s an interesting twist to who or what they really are.
The story itself holds a bit of mystery, comedy, and harmless charm, a perfect brew for a family-friendly Telltale adventure. There’s no hugely apparent moral quandary presenting itself, even though the game is very insistent about telling you your choices have just made a significant impact on the future of the story. It does character-building well, and the locations hold the customary imagination found within the Minecraft community, but the story threads are fairly formulaic. This isn’t a terrible thing, but in a world where anything can happen, it’s a little disappointing to go a bit paint-by-numbers for so many plot beats.
On the upside, Story Mode sees a more tactile Telltale adventure. The mini crafting exercises from the first season return, with a notable introductory one here allowing you a bit of freedom of expression that Minecraft is famous for. It may not be quite on the scale of the main game, but it’s a nice nod to it, and a change from the talk-heavy antics of Telltale’s recent titles. Beyond that, the action and puzzles are fairly standard.
On a technical level, Season One of Story Mode was one of Telltale’s best performers, and Season Two does mostly carry that on, the only notch against it is that lip-sync is noticeably weaker here, and it wasn’t exactly accurate to begin with.Otherwise, it’s as bright and cheery as it should be, full of vivacious color and invention.
This is a solid start to the second season, stronger than the last at least, and it sets up some intriguing threads going forward. If there’s criticism to be had, then it comes from the fact that it’s overly familiar, especially the cliffhanger finale of this episode which mirrors the opener of the first season. Hopefully there’s a better level of consistency to this season.