Telltale has made no secret of the fact Minecraft: Story Mode’s fourth episode is meant to bring a conclusion to the ongoing whitherstorm storyline, but “A Block and a Hard Place” does so in wonderful fashion. Funny, refreshing, and heartfelt, episode four offers a fitting end to the conflict, and, in the process, manages to become the best episode of the series so far.
Directly following Jesse’s rather disastrous attempt to take out the whitherstorm in episode three, episode four capitalizes on that chaos with a fun action-filled opening, but soon finds a new focus. One of the ongoing problems Minecraft: Story Mode suffers from, is that nothing ever feeling like a real journey. Though this problem comes back later in the episode. The earlier portions of this episode establishes not only a new goal for the team, but the fact that there will be a long, long journey to get there.
Once more building off of the immense culture of Minecraft, Telltale sends Jesse and everyone else on a search for the Far Lands. Much like the grinders in episode three, the Far Lands is an endearing nod to any deep fan of the source material. Simply put, the Far Lands is the name given to the point in any Minecraft map where the algorithms responsible for the randomly generated environment begin to break down, and the game itself begins to glitch.
Incorporating this into the realm and lore of Minecraft: Story Mode was a nice touch, giving the world itself just that much more depth and yet another interesting place to go to and see. More than the inclusion of the Far Lands though, what made “A Block and a Hard Place” standout from previous episodes was the fact there were interesting things to do there.
With secret doors, traps, and even a maze that makes an appearances in the episode, it is a welcoming, albeit simple, change. It gives variety when puzzles dot the entirety of the roughly two hour-long episode. Best yet however, these puzzles are paired with learning more about the Order of the Stone, and this is where the episode shines the most.
From the beginning it has been clear something happened to drive a wedge between Ivor and the other members of the Order. The cryptic hints dropped throughout Elligaard’s and Magnus’s arguments only made it that much more bothersome to not know what was really going on. Subtly however, “A Block and a Hard Place” finally pulls back the curtain and we get to see just what makes the Order of the Stone tick, and why it all went wrong.
Piecing out the background narrative naturally as Jesse ventures deeper into the Far Lands, the pacing is never knocked off track and every puzzle feels rewarding even if generally straightforward. While the maze, in particular, falters due to poor lighting and an atrocious camera angle, its not enough to detract from the experience as a whole.
Playing the troubles of the Order off the rising tensions between Jesse, Olivia, Axel, and Lukas sets up a satisfying look at all the characters and their growing relationships as they fight to save the world. Overall, the result is an episode that simply feels more complete and well rounded than any before it.
Telltale then caps it all off with not only a climactic final confrontation, but also with a touch of surprising, well-handled emotion that belongs alongside some of the developer’s best.
While it is left largely up in the air what exactly the final episode of Minecraft: Story Mode will entail, there is plenty of context given to set up the next story. And after the strength of episode four, there is still hopefully a lot to look forward to.