After a pretty fun and quite long Minecraft: Story Mode Season 1, Telltale returns to the world of Minecraft with Episode 1 of Season 2 (Free), and although it has some fun new ideas, I wasn’t too crazy with the direction of the narrative and, especially, with the decision to add complex fighting sequences in a game that can barely handle simple swipes. I have to admit that I died more times in Hero in Residence than in pretty much any other Telltale game ever, and that wasn’t because I’m not good at swiping at the right time. I had fun getting reunited with some of the characters from Season 1 and seeing how things have turned out after those events, but Hero in Residence didn’t really impress me, and I’m hoping the rest of the episodes deliver a more coherent narrative and fewer action sequences.
Hero in Residence begins with the gang from Season 1 all famous and successful after saving the world from the Witherstorm, and Lukas is writing a book about all those adventures. While the story starts with everyone (other than Petra) together again, the gang quickly parts ways as each one goes their own way, leaving Jesse alone to head to the mines and find Petra. This is where the story of the first episode starts in earnest, and Jesse follows Petra deeper into the mines as they try to capture a cute llama. On the way there, Jesse bumps into the most important artifact of the season, a glove on top of a pyramid, and that glove whispers Jesse’s name. And, of course, he can’t resist putting it on. And then all hell pretty much breaks loose.
While the first season had a pretty straightforward narrative—with the whole gang fighting against the Witherstorm—Season 2 has a hard time find its narrative focus, at least in the first episode. The glove is at the center of the narrative, with the artifact leading Jesse, Petra, and others to a hidden ocean temple filled with enemies and dangers. However, there are some digressions that might be tying into later events in other episodes but end up hurting Hero in Residence‘s flow. I’m hoping all the strands come together more neatly in future episodes, but overall I felt Hero in Residence was a bit all over the place in terms of narrative and character development.
Visually, Hero in Residence is probably better than the Season 1 episodes, and the fact that you get to visit an ocean temple, which you don’t do in Season 1, makes it visually distinct from what has come before. And I liked how falling water visually works like in Minecraft, which was a nice touch. I didn’t encounter any visual glitches—like the infamous Batman ones—but I did encounter a few slowdowns in fast action scenes, and given that I have the latest iPad Pro, that wasn’t very encouraging.
Speaking of the action scenes, Season 2 introduces a stamina bar that forces you to be much more careful when you take on mobs. In the previous season, you could swing away recklessly, but this time around you will end up panting and unable to swing if you just start swiping away at enemies. And you can even roll to the sides to engage enemies without taking damage. It all sounds fun, right? Well, the problem is that swipes don’t always register and, more generally, Minecraft: Story Mode isn’t Infinity Blade; the game engine wasn’t made for these kinds of action scenes, and I ended up dying quite a few times during battle scenes. I wish the game focused more on narrative and puzzles (to a lesser degree) than on fighting because that aspect of it really didn’t work well.
Overall, Hero in Residence didn’t deliver the same kind of entertainment Season 1 did, and I’m hoping the rest of the episodes give us a stronger narrative and fewer fight scenes. Telltale games are at their strongest when they give us entertaining and challenging narratives rather than puzzle and fight scenes, so I’m hoping to see more of that kind of a Telltale game in the next episodes.
After a disappointing first episode that suffered from a lack of focus and a lack of understanding of the strengths of its current engine, Minecraft Story Mode Season 2 is back with episode 2, and I’m glad to say that it’s definitely an improvement over the season opener, even though it still suffers from some weird design decisions and an increasingly confusing control scheme. The first episode ended with the Admin threatening Jesse’s town in the form a giant statue, and episode 2 picks up from where the opening episode left. The threat of the Admin is much more immediate in episode 2, and that helps the episode find a narrative focus the previous episode lacked. Instead of jumping from place to place trying to set up the story, episode 2 spends most of its time in the Admin’s crazy “palace of despair," and it’s much better for it in terms of coherence.
Spoilers from here onward, so beware. After defeating the giant statue in a pretty good action sequence, Jesse finds himself victorious, but as is the case in this whole season so far, Jesse’s triumph is brief. Jesse and the group briefly believe that the Admin is gone, only for him to quickly return but not before casting Beacontown in endless darkness. And since this is the Minecraft universe, darkness means mobs. There is, of course, one way for Jesse to get rid of that darkness, and that way is, as to be expected, a quest. All he and the rest have to do is head to the Admin’s icy palace and destroy the huge clock at the top. And, as you would expect from an episode in this series, Jesse has to solve different puzzles and make all kinds of choices in order to reach the end and break that clock.
Speaking of the clock, episode 2 continues its metatextual kind of take on Minecraft, with, of course, the figure of the Admin as well as the clock, both of which come from outside the everyday world of Jesse and the rest of the inhabitants. You will feel like as if you’re just another Steve playing within a Minecraft world created by a human, and that’s a fun and interesting take on the game. Telltale has been doing a good job bringing into its stories ideas created not just by the game’s developers but also the game’s many players, and I like how the developer is now going one step further and making us players into someone else’s world.
And, true to form, the ending of the episode contains a major twist when we discover that Vos is really the Admin after all, which gave the episode a Matrix kind of vibe and made me wonder whether the Admin can take the form of any of the characters; that would be quite fun and unexpected. The Admin, formerly known as Vos, has some pretty clear ideas about the way a winner and a loser should behave, and when Jesse fails to conform with those ideas, he’s exiled to a jailhouse, and that’s where the episode ends.
There’s isn’t that much character development in the season so far, although Petra does seem to be struggling to find herself at a moment where the rest of the gang seems to be more confident in who they are. I do think the developers have some interesting ideas when it comes to how the series’ characters will evolve, but given that this is going to be a long series, we don’t get to see much of that evolution in one episode. Episode 2 does set up some interesting conflicts for later episodes, but it remains to be seen how those will play out.
As you can see from the description above, the plot of episode 2 is much stronger than episode 1, which makes sense given how the first episode needed to set the scene for the whole season. However, episode 2 suffers from some issues that will remind you of episode 1, namely some new clunky mechanics and the way some quick-time events are designed. Once more, Season 2 of Telltale’s Minecraft sees itself as an action/RPG and has you dodging enemy fire while trying to get your sword swings in without depleting your stamina. Yes, it’s as out of place in that universe as it sounds like. There’s a moment in the game where you have to fight three skeleton archers at the same time, and the camera is so bad that you’ll be getting hit by arrows from beyond without the ability to dodge or evade. It’s truly baffling why the developers thought adding these kinds of fight scenes to an engine as clunky as this one would be a good idea.
The other issue I faced was inconsistent quick-time events. There are moments where you have to tap an on-screen prompt as fast as you can and others (more rare ones) when you have to time those taps because of various obstacles. However, both prompts are exactly the same, so I found myself a couple of times tapping the screen when I should have waited, but the only way I would have known if I had to wait was to actually wait and see. Different prompts would have made navigating those scenes better. We talk about Telltale’s engine needing improvements, and with every episode of its various series, I feel that even more.
Some fun puzzles and an interesting storyline make up for some of the episode’s missteps, but I do wish the developers focused on what they know works in the Telltale formula and stopped trying to turn these games into something they are not. Minecraft is all about exploration, puzzles, and simple fighting, and the series should really stick to that.
Overall, I enjoyed episode 2, despite some clunky moments and unnecessary deaths. The story is starting to pick up nicely, and I like the sense of dread and darkness of episode 2; it’s definitely not what most would expect from a game about the Minecraft universe. I’m looking forward to playing episode 3, and I’m really hoping we see more story and less fighting.
Jailhouse Block, the third episode of the second Minecraft Story Mode season, is a peculiar one not because it feels too different from the previous episodes of the season, but because it made me realize something about season 2: there’s just too much violence in the game. Now, I’m not usually the type to make an argument that video games are too violent; there’s a place, I believe, for those kinds of games, and I’m fine with that. However, Minecraft has always been beloved for its sandbox nature, the ability to play the game as if you’re a warrior trying to kill anything in sight, or are just a builder focused on building your masterpiece, and anything in between. Part of what I enjoyed in the first season was how the writers pulled stories and ideas from the wider Minecraft community and didn’t focus only on the PvP side of the game.
Jailhouse Block, as well as the previous episode of these seasons, seem overly focused on the sword-swinging part of Minecraft, which, let’s be honest, was never the game’s highlight or the reason it became so popular. I talked in my review of the first episode of my disappointment with the addition of fighting mechanics to the game, especially since they were clunky at best, and wondered why the writers felt the need to emphasize that part of the universe over the exploration and building parts. Unfortunately, that tendency not only continued in episode 3 but actually got even worse, with the biggest portion of my playthrough consumed by clunky fighting sequences, including a boss fight that was probably the five most boring minutes I’ve ever had with the series. It’s disappointing that the writers decided to jettison most of what makes Minecraft so special for the sake of swinging a sword over and over again.
Jailhouse Block‘s setup is perfect for character-based puzzles and challenging decisions, but most of the actions you’ll take during the episode are just short interludes between fight and action sequences. I’d have much rather spent more time interacting with the hilarious characters jailed by the Admin in the euphemistically-called “The Sunshine Institute"—including an obvious Bob Ross stand-in who paints happy trees—than rushing from plot point to plot point, trying to (spoilers) rescue Prisoner X and escape the Admin’s prison. At one point in the story, one of your friends appears to be on the side of the Admin now, but instead of pausing on that moment for effect, the writers quickly resolve the tension with, you guessed it, a fight scene.
What I did appreciate in this episode was the humor that stemmed from all the euphemisms and the complex characters (the Warden convincingly oscillates between being on the side of the Admin and being just another prisoner). These complex characters make Jesse’s choices much trickier than usual because you don’t get a clear sign of what would work best for your character; do you want to try and game the system from within, or do you stick with the rest of your friends on principle? So yes, the episode has some interesting twists and turns and some choices that will surely have repercussions in later episodes, but the hectic pace and the constant push towards the action scenes took away most of the impact of those choices.
Visually and technically, the episode was another example of how Telltale is mastering the formula of turning Minecraft‘s boxy world into a lovely spectacle. I would sometimes forget that these believable characters stem from those barely moving box-shape characters in Minecraft, and that’s to the credit of the artists and animators at Telltale. However, all that mastery was undermined by the seriously clunky fight scenes, whose poorly-designed mechanics made me want to stop playing.
As you’ve probably figured out by now, I’m not happy with the direction of the current season. Minecraft is more than just boxy figures fighting each other. For me, part of the reason I consider Minecraft one of my favorite games is because it moves beyond the usual sword-swinging of other games and lets players be creative in a number of ways. And yet, the writers of this season insist on reducing that universe into a story where the hero has to constantly fight his way through his troubles. Add to that how the fighting mechanics are by far the weakest parts of this season, and you’ll understand why I’m puzzled by the decision to move them to the forefront. Let’s hope (beyond hope, I think) that episode 4 will do away with this emphasis on fighting and bring back a bit more of the spirit of Minecraft.