Minecraft: Story Mode is Telltale’s first attempt at a more family-friendly game in a long while, and unfortunately, in its second episode, the cracks from that transition begin to show. Ultimately, “Assembly Required” is a perfectly decent episode that continues to pay extraordinarily realized homage to its source material, but fails to really pay off in the more important story of the characters and the threat they face.
With two episodes under its belt, its safe to say Minecraft: Story Mode, as different a tone as it takes, excels the same way the other recent Telltale games have, by focusing on the drama of the characters and their relationships to each other. While touched upon during “Assembly Required,” a few notable instances of friction between characters setting up potentially great moments later on, it never felt as if the episode took the time to delve into the relationships at play.
Which brings me to Episode 2’s biggest problem. It is really short. Running just under an hour and a half, the episode simply feels truncated, the usually much longer lengths of Telltale episodes generally offering more narrative meat to latch on to. This is only highlighted by the grand journey our heroes go on.
At the end of Episode 1, you are presented with a map showing the locations of the remaining members of the Order of the Stone. Hoping to reunite the Order, the player must choose which member to go find, and it is a big choice considering each marker is on the literal far edges of the map. What that journey ultimately translates to however is a quick scene of riding in a minecart to get there, and a loading screen to get back, making going to the edge of the known world feel more like just taking a quick trip to the next town over.
While its true, in Minecraft it doesn’t take all that long to run from one side of the area shown on an in-game map to the other, it is one element of the source material Telltale would have been good to stretch. The single scene, or non-existent, journeys have the negative effect of just making the world seem small, and therefore the epic quest to save it just not quite as epic.
Depending on your choices at the end of Episode 1, the first third or so of “Assembly Required” plays out very differently. It was fun to see a choice have such a huge, immediate effect. It adds a hearty chunk of replayability, but in the end actually has an unfortunate side-effect. While you are off with one friend, finding the Order member of your choice, your other friend goes off and finds the second Order member and proceeds to regale you with stories of the great adventure they had doing so.
As odd as it sounds, this made me feel as if I had actual missed out on something in the episode, skipped an entire part of the quest, and it’s therefore unfortunate that the only way to ease that feeling was to play through a second time. The fact the episode was so short overall did not help matters, as finding the second Order member was something I would have been perfectly happy getting to do myself.
Ultimately however, “Assembly Required” is at its best once both Order members are introduced. The mysteries of who the Order members were and what drove them apart are interesting and well worth coming back for. And, though only introduced in a limited way, the tensions between them ended up being a driving facture for the episode and the main element I am most intrigued by for the future.
The later part of “Assembly Required” also sees the aftermath of other decisions you made in Episode 1, most notably who you chose to save from the Wither Storm, leading to the beginning of a possibly very heart-felt, dire conflict for the characters to overcome. And despite the episode’s faults, that’s where the game’s potential truly lies.
Even given the family-friendly tilt of the game overall, Minecraft: Story Mode is still at its most engaging when it chooses to take itself at least bit more seriously. Tales from the Borderlands, for example, succeeded so outstandingly because it mixed comedy and emotion, and the same could be true of Minecraft: Story Mode, but only if it doesn’t shy away from the more serious emotions and drama in favor of more shallow laughs. “Assembly Required” was a short episode that moved the story along, introduced characters, and set up some potential future conflicts, but eventually just didn’t do much else. With the majority of the character introductions out of the way, and the story now, hopefully, to the point where Telltale can take a breath and really dive in and get to the core of the narrative, the rest of the series could be great. It might just have taken sprinting through a quick episode of more set-up to get there.