Minecraft: Story Mode – Episode 2
Less than a month after the release of Story Mode – Episode 1, coinciding with the game’s physical retail release, Telltale is back with Story Mode – Episode 2. An uneven first episode left players with a band of adventurers ready to rescue the girl and save the world. A mixed bag, yes, but Episode 1 had potential and took great pains to set up future action. Here so soon, Episode 2 is a refinement of the Story Mode formula plagued by similar problems, but still delivering a fun, albeit short, hour long continuation of the Minecraft story.
Right off the bat, Episode 2 makes choice more significant. Whoever Jessie opted to go after at the end of the previous episode is who you’ll spend half the second episode with trying to convince to rejoin the Order of the Stone. Making tough choices, or at least choices with tangible repercussions, is the Telltale trademark, but Episode 2 again falls a little short. The biggest choice of Episode 2 is actually made in Episode 1, and the decision to split the arcs comes at the cost of gametime. It’s a damn shame too, because both questlines are fun and I’d want to play in the same playthrough. What’s worse is the game tricking you into believing your choice matters as whichever hero you didn’t recruit joins you later anyway.
Choice aside, Ellegaard and Magnus both have strong sequences. Magnus’ storyline, as the Griefer, is an action-packed jaunt through Boomtown, and Ellegaard’s sequence, as the Redstone Engineer, cuts explosive moments with puzzles. Episode 1 had more exposition and less gameplay, but Episode 2 puts control in the hands of the player. From fighting Ghasts to chase sequences to battling mobs to stealing repeaters, Episode 2 engages at every turn, beginning to end. Hardly to be unexpected from Telltale though, with the set-pieces being huge and the action frequent, there is regular slowdown with the engine buckling under its workload and dropping frames – more so than in Episode 1.
I had fun playing the opening(s) of Episode 2, but they felt almost out of place (Magnus’ in particular), especially in the larger context of the episode. Taking time to interact with the inhabitants of Redstonia or competing in Boomtown lacks a sense of urgency; adventuring out through the night to find Soren or navigating through his eerie castle feels more appropriate. The world, as Jesse and his friends know it, is actively being destroyed. Petra and Gabriel, at first, are missing, maybe dead. The game does justify the need for these opening sequences (it takes some effort to convince these heroes to join you) and the stakes are by no means entirely forgotten (particularly in Ellegaard’s section, the Witherstorm makes an appearance), but at its heart Episode 2 has, to a lesser extent, the same identity crisis as Episode 1. Story Mode is still trying to figure out what it is, trying to find the right tonal balance. The episode wavers in tone from the first to second halves, with the second balancing moments of levity with darker ones more successfully.
Episode 2 admirably keeps conflict at the forefront by bringing back old characters with new twists and pitting our heroes in direct competition with the villainous Ivor; however, like Ivor himself, the plot is no less clichéd. All of it feels done before. Evil appears in the world. A hero emerges to save it. The hero experiences an early setback in his quest. An incredibly powerful item to defeat the monster must be retrieved. The villain escapes. Story Mode doesn’t tread any new ground, and even the more compelling plot points feel like things Telltale has dealt with before – like Wither sickness being the equivalent of a zombie bite. Nonetheless, done before doesn’t mean done poorly; polished execution and a solid cast of characters do keep the player invested, if wanting more.
Story Mode – Episode 2 ups the action and engages with its characters, making for a short but enjoyable hour; however, Telltale still struggles to give the player meaningful choices, balance tone, and create a unique story – though they’re well on their way.