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Thursday, 12 November 2015

Minecraft: Story Mode E2: Assembly Required

As with episode one, I actually have a Let's Play of Assembly Required, so go check that out.

Minecraft: Story Mode
Episode 2: Assembly Required.

Well, this one caught me by surprise. Since Telltale almost always works on a one-episode-every-two-months schedule, with deviations from that schedule almost always being episodes taking longer, I was not remotely prepared for this episode to come out two weeks after the first one. It would have been the middle of November before I realised if somebody hadn't told me - which would have been unfortunate, since in another break from their usual schedule, Telltale apparently plans on releasing episode three towards the end of November.

In the second episode of Minecraft: Story Mode, Jesse and his companion of choice head off to find one of the members of the Order of the Stone - either Ellegaard, the redstone engineer, or Magnus, the rogue, depending on your choice at the end of the first episode. After convincing them to help and returning to the Order's temple, the group sets out for Soren's mountain fortress, intending to find the Super TNT, or Formidi-bomb, that he keeps there, which they believe may be the only thing able to destroy the Wither Storm.

It took me a while to realise why this episode was so short. There is a reason for it, and it's not a good reason, but at first I thought it was just a fluke - the general slight variation in play time that Telltale's episodes tend to have taken to its logical extreme with an episode only slightly longer than your average Star Trek episode. That's not it, though: It's so short because the first thirty minutes of the episode are different depending on what choice you made - either you're going after Ellegaard, and you get that story for thirty minutes, or you're going after Magnus, and you get that story.

Disco is not dead. Disco is life.

The episode is short because Telltale is trying to create the sense of meaningful choice, but without actually putting any extra work into their episodes. That's not great, to be honest: While I am constantly saying that Telltale's choice mechanic needs to be more weighty and meaningful, it really shouldn't come at the cost of their games' already short playtimes.

Apart from that, I just felt a little underwhelmed with this episode. I didn't hate it, and actually I can confidently say that I enjoyed it, but it didn't leave much of a lasting impression. It was just kind of there: Not terrible, but almost aggressively standard. Apart from the length, it is exactly what I've come to expect from every single game by Telltale Games, and with the novelty of the concept fading, that's more noticeable than ever.

I realise that 'formulaic and same-y' is a charge I level at pretty much every game Telltale makes, but with each new game they release it becomes more and more noticeable, and so the pressure ramps up on Telltale to either change up that formula (as they tried to do a few times in Tales of the Borderlands) or to throw in a story so amazing that I forget that I'm pretty much playing The Walking Dead with a different set of character models.

Redstonia, where the redstone lives.

This is not a story that amazing, however - or at least, it isn't in this episode. It's an odd thing: Telltale presumably pursued this IP, the same way they pursue most of the IPs they end up making games for, but the story feels less like it's set in the world of Minecraft and more like it's a generic fantasy story played out by Minecraft-esque character models. I made a comparison to The LEGO Movie in the last review, but that comparison no longer seems apt: The LEGO Movie lived and breathed its being Lego, complete with one of the most ridiculous and unexpected, yet at the same time totally obvious in hindsight plot twists I've ever seen - a plot twist that only worked because everyone was made of Lego, and because the storyline was so entrenched in the idea of playing with Lego.

Minecraft: Story Mode, meanwhile, feels like it started off as a completely different story, hastily stuffed into being a Minecraft story on short notice, and that's a real shame, actually, because Minecraft: Story Mode had potential to be one of the most interesting games of the year.

This is moderately apocalyptic.

That having been said, I am interested in seeing what happens next: The game does have me invested in finding out what Ivor's deal is and how the Order of the Stone wronged him, as well as what Soren's been up to all this time. I'm invested in Jesse and Lukas' burgeoning romance (I'm sorry I'm so cruel to you, Petra, it's only because I don't want Jesse to accidentally end up in a romance with you). I'm invested in seeing Axel's mangled, broken body be feasted upon by alsatians.

There's a lot, in fact, that I do like about this game, it's just not everything I hoped and dreamed. It didn't help that I encountered several bugs while playing this episode - minor bugs, definitely, but still bugs that could have been dealt with with another week or two in development. Still, bring on episode three.

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