Minecraft burst onto the stage in 2009 as an indie project from an unknown Swedish developer nicknamed Notch. Early versions of the game went for only $5 with the promise that updates would be free. Those that bought in early got a heck of a deal as the game has evolved into a massive, procedurally generated open world with limitless possibilities.
In the time since those early days, Minecraft has become a $2.5 billion franchise that is now owned by Microsoft. The game can be found on virtually every platform imaginable from Windows to PlayStation and Xbox, as well as mobile devices.
The big appeal of Minecraft has always been the exploration and creation elements. It’s not a mistake that Minecraft is a favorite of YouTubers as each world is unique in its own right, showing off the talent of their creators. While some may enjoy the survival aspect as well, the center of the game’s universe is the freedom to set your own path including having the ability to simply create works of art without worrying about monsters that may destroy it.
Which is why it’s weird that Minecraft: Story Mode even exists. Taking the beloved open world sandbox and fitting it into a mostly linear story-driven adventure game is a strange direction. Story Mode seems out of place in a game world that is defined by individual choice and creativity.
If anyone could make it work, though, it would be TellTale Games — the makers of countless hit adventure franchises. TellTale’s track record is solid; the company has pumped out quality products ranging from The Walking Dead and The Wolf Among Us to Game of Thrones. Less stellar attempts include the disastrous Jurassic Park game and a Back to the Future game that received mixed reviews.
So far Minecraft: Story Mode seems to fall in the middle of the pack, closer to Back to the Future than a modern adventure classic like The Walking Dead. Episode 1 introduces you to Jesse, the lead character who is either female or male depending on player choice. You are quickly acquainted with Jesse’s closest friends: Axel, Olivia, and Reuben the pig. Jesse and friends set off to a building competition but things go awry fast as their build is intentionally destroyed and Reuben scampers away into the woods. Events slowly spiral out of control, devolving to world-threatening by the end of the episode.
The funny thing is that all of that sounds more interesting than it felt across the entire two hours of gameplay. Episode 1 does little to stand out as an exceptional adventure game. It feels like an extended introduction without offering much in the way of gameplay or character development. You spend far more time listening to forced melodrama than you do exploring the world, solving puzzles, or interacting with characters on a visceral level.
The parts where the game feels more like Minecraft are genuinely fun. Story Mode allows you to build items at various points. You will also encounter zombies, which you can fight off with a sword. The few puzzles scattered about serve as a decent distraction from the uninspired dialog and generic story.
I will say that the voice acting is top notch. Comedian Patton Oswalt voices the male Jesse while the female Jesse is voiced by Catherine Taber. Other notable actors include Ashley Johnson and Brian Posehn. It’s just a shame that you never really get a chance to interact with any of the supporting characters in a meaningful way.
The story also falls flat. You find yourself on a quest to find a mysterious object known as the Order of the Stone in the hopes of saving the world from evil. Even though this game is geared at a younger audience who might not care all that much about compelling narrative, it’s still a tired trope. Despite the serious ramifications for their world, you never really feel at the edge of your seat.
One thing to keep in mind is that this is just the beginning of a five part episodic series. Each episode will run you about $5 and last roughly two hours — slightly cheaper than the price of a movie ticket. I hold out hope that things will begin to pick in future episodes but The Order of the Stone just does not get things off to a great start. It’s serviceable as an adventure game but Minecraft should not aim for mediocrity.