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Monday, 18 January 2016

Minecraft: Story Mode E4: A Block And A Hard Place.

Minecraft: Story Mode
Episode 4
A Block And A Hard Place.

I had actually thought that I'd already reviewed this one, but it turns out I hadn't. Possibly what was confusing me was that I have, in fact, already Let's Played it. Possibly it was that while I'm enjoying Minecraft: Story Mode, each episode doesn't really give me anything new to say, resulting in reviews that are essentially nigh-identical copies of each other. Maybe it just got lost in the New Years rush.

After their failure to take out the Wither Storm, instead merely splitting it into three, the gang flee. With Petra's condition getting worse and Lukas desperate to go and find the other Ocelots, Jesse is forced to choose between doing what's best for the mission and respecting his friends' wishes. When Ivor arrives, telling them of his laboratory located in the Farlands, the group sets out, meaning to find Ivor's lab and an enchanting table that will enchant any weapon to destroy Command Blocks - but on the way, they also discover the Order of the Stone's terrible secret. Meanwhile, Axel leads the Wither Storm on a merry goose chase, in order to draw it into an ambush by Endermen.

If it feels like I'm padding out that synopsis, it's because I kind of am. As is always the case with Telltale Games' work, the gameplay is totally interchangeable with every other game they've put out, and the only real difference is the story - and the story for this episode is, tonally, very similar to that of previous episodes. It's wacky adventure fun times with ominousness looming in the distance.

Orderly Sentai Stonenger.

That's not a criticism, you want to have consistency of tone in any work, but especially in episodic video games, where the episodes are spaced far enough apart that too much variation in tone can make it feel like you've suddenly switched games, it just doesn't make for hugely fertile ground for a review.

(One interesting thing about this episode, though, is that it has the customary 'your chickens are coming home to roost' moment that most Telltale Games eventually have, and rather than it being a concrete effect on the world, it mostly comes in the form of whether your friends are still your friends by the time the final battle hits. Apparently, it's possible to get Lukas to consider himself Jesse's sworn enemy, even though in my run, Lukas is clearly Jesse's boyfriend best friend.

That's arguably a better way to do it than, say, Game of Thrones, which tried and failed to convince players that their decisions were having meaningful impact on the world around them. It means that your choices still feel like they have some weight, while allowing for Telltale's almost totally linear stories to play out. Telltale lacks the deftness that, say, Until Dawn developers Supermassive Games have with a branching narrative, after all.)


In terms of story, at least, this is at least a slightly meatier game than some of the previous episodes. While it's artificially padded out at points, with such charming distractions as a maze filled with dead ends that you can spend a decent twenty minutes trying to navigate, for the most part this is an action-packed episode, one that sees players getting pay-off for a lot of storylines set up early on.

For example, we finally find out what the Order's secret shame is, and the (sort of) origins of the Command Block (which, as you'll recall, I noted was a bit weird, since Ellegaard was trying to create one and didn't seem to know how). It's a pretty well-handled pay-off, actually, fitting with the tone of the series: They aren't mass murderers or anything like that, but they are frauds, with their fame built on lies and good fortune, who functionally bribed Ivor into keeping quiet and then surgically erased him from history books. It's a crime of sufficient magnitude that Ivor's ire at them seems warranted (even if it does require him to be completely unhinged, no surprises there), while also not making them necessarily bad people, and the game gives you the opportunity to let them redeem themselves and reveal their lie to the world.

The Farlands.

(It also makes Ellegaard dying in my run feel that much more meaningful, I think, since a few characters note her as being the best of them, who didn't even need the Command Block - but then, they might well have done the same to Magnus if he died, I don't know. One nice moment involves Ivor offering Jesse several different armours, and the game providing the option to keep the armour of whoever the deceased Order member is, which is a nicely emotional touch to the game as well.)

Overall, a fun episode, but I'm a little apprehensive about where episode five will go. With the Wither Storm defeated, I imagine it will involve facing the returned Ender Dragon, and possibly the new Order of the Stone collapsing in on itself and dissolving - and the fact that I don't want that to happen says a fair amount of Minecraft: Story Mode's character writing, that I am actually invested in these characters' friendships with each other.

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