Minecraft as a property, created by Mojang and now owned by Microsoft, has eclipsed its video game origin. The retro-looking, block-based building game is everywhere. There’s toys, there’s books, there’s short films, a potential full-length film, and, with no acknowledgement of the irony, there’s Lego sets. Oh, and there’s the game; like Tetris, it’s on every game console and your phone. Its original designer, Markus “Notch” Persson, who stepped away from the project last year, was profiled by Forbes, which made sure to note his $70 million purchase of a Beverly Hills mansion. Jordan “CaptainSparklez” Maron, a fan who holds over 8 million YouTube subscribers who are eager to watch his daily Minecraft videos, recently bought his own $4.5 million house in Los Angeles. Minecraft is so huge, it leaves millionaires in its wake.
That reach is large enough for both players and viewers that there’s a big enough community to warrant an entire annual convention dedicated to it, called Minecon. This year, the event, which now holds the Guinness World Record for being the largest convention for a video game, was held in London. This massive group of players has, as you’d expect, spawned its own in-jokes, tropes, and shorthand that only the game’s players would understand.
It’s impressive how well an authored story works within a world that never tried to support one.
These references are rooted in the game’s adventurous experience of building and destroying, exploring and battling. The frowning, green face of a Creeper is synonymous with fear and frustration because it’s known to sneak up on you and explode your carefully-crafted buildings. Diamond ore is praised as the game’s strongest and rarest defensive and offensive resource in its elaborate crafting system. Pigs graze the fields of the game’s world, and are frequently whacked with weapons or fists until they sprout pork chops. Elements like these are familiar to anyone who plays Minecraft, and are the most reliable parts of the game to market and base other products off of.
For the most part, Minecraft: Story Mode Episode 1: The Order of the Stone does its best to tell a story within the rules and iconic elements of Minecraft. The game opens with characters frightened by a Creeper mask, demonstrates the value and scarcity of diamond ore, and features a lovable, pet pig that almost gets turned into food. It resembles the pilot episode of Steven Universe in that way, focusing on a set of characters that make natural references to the fantastical world they live in, while letting you infer their larger purpose based on context and scenery, except, in Minecraft, there’s tons of people who already know what everyone is talking about.
It’s impressive how well an authored story works within a world that, from its design to its open-ended structure, never tried to support one, from its design to its open-ended structure. The concessions developer Telltale has to make are smart. The rectangular forms of the characters bend and emote as opposed to the original game’s robotic mannerisms. The crafting system is, at least so far, more an opportunity for a reference to the original one than it is a system on its own. In one scene, I made a fishing rod to cast and trigger a wooden pressure plate–something so strange that only an experienced Minecraft player would understand. And instead of placing blocks yourself, you watch the characters rapidly build as you hammer on a single button. It trades the game’s methodical creativity for a tightly-paced story, and the results are, well, fine.
Likely because of its younger-skewed audience, Minecraft: Story Mode Episode 1: The Order of the Stone discards most of the mature themes and imagery in Telltale’s previous games. Instead, the game tells a clichéd story of an unpopular group of friends who get derailed by world-ending catastrophe on their quest to becoming liked. It’s a solid foundation that starts into some complex themes, but does so in a way that is often undercut with a gag or two. The narrative’s real strength is its ability to hold itself together as the characters weave in all of the references and humor based on the source material. At one point, the friends argue over whether or not to build a hut made of dirt versus a tree house–again, another dilemma only a Minecraft player would recognize, but probably still funny for others given the comedy of the scenario. These moments briefly stick out, but don’t halt the flow of the storytelling. Best of all, they don’t feel like empty, Internet-style references. They have purpose.
There’s no way a game like Minecraft: Story Mode Episode 1: The Order of the Stone could exist without having to spend a fair chunk of its time establishing and referencing its widely-known world. There are millions upon millions of fans hungry for it, and a fantasy world as strange as Minecraft needs to establish rules for anyone unfamiliar. Now that it’s gotten most of it out of the way, the real thrust of what Telltale’s story can be within a world as popular and broad as Minecraft can hopefully be realized. If not, there are other options. Because the biggest challenge for Telltale is not going to try to find a reason for a game like Minecraft: Story Mode to exist, but to give the many, many fans a reason why they should want to experience it.
A PC copy of Minecraft: Story Mode Episode 1: The Order of the Stone was provided by the developer. To learn more about our score, read our review policy.