Months after the last episode (and the oddly short wait times between episodes), Telltale has delivered the “conclusion” to Minecraft: Story Mode. But is it really the end? In some sense, Story Mode ended with Episode 4 and the end of its primary arc. The world was saved. Our heroes emerged victorious. Whatever Episode 5 was meant to be, it was destined to be some kind of addendum to an already finished story. Well at least it was, until Telltale announced another 3 DLC episodes, which, in fairness, had to be in planning for some time as to justify Episode 4’s finale-feel. But still, marketing Story Mode and its five episodes as a complete package almost feels misleading, because the end isn’t really the end. Telltale’s schizophrenic pacing of Story Mode is but another issue in the long list of Story Mode’s problems.
The good news is, otherwise, Episode 5 fixes most everything that plagued Minecraft: Story Mode in its earlier episodes. Choice (largely) feels meaningful, even if moments of moral significance are undercut by weak characters. Tone is balanced well — we’re no longer saving the world, so laughs feel more appropriate. Action and puzzles meet exposition in smart ways; nothing feels artificially created to pad out gametime. Fights are awesome and expertly choreographed. Settings are huge, dynamic, and never get stale. Even with intense action, Telltale manages to keep the framerate steady (a few minor slowdowns aside). The one thing the concluding episode of Minecraft: Story Mode neglects is the actual narrative, and, in the end, however compelling the sideline components might be, a bland narrative in a narrative adventure game is simply unforgivable.
Episode 5 resumes some time after the events of Episode 4. Jesse and the gang (including Petra, who’s Whither sickness just happened to go away) are now heroes-turned treasure hunters since there’s no longer an overwhelming evil to fight. Episode 5 covers a lot of ground. Each chapter brings with it a new segment of the journey. As a result, Episode 5 feels like the complete package, with its own self-contained adventure, but being full-fledged is not the same as being interesting. As it stands, Episode 5’s actual story has less substance than the background of a Clue character. Our heroes seek an ancient artifact of untold power forged by a forgotten people. Okay, well, pretty standard, but they need it to save the world or something awesome, right? Nope. They want it because it would be cool to have. The people who currently have this artifact are fairly anemic themselves. Residents of Sky City, led by the Founder, are faceless inhabitants, and the Founder herself might be a nice lady with solid voicing, but she hardly displays charm, wit, or intelligence enough to separate herself from the pack. And don’t worry, if you thought this wasn’t enough action, they’re competing to find this artifact with, perhaps, the most one-dimensional group of “bad guys” I’ve ever seen.
The villains of the episode, Aiden and his “Blaze Rods,” don’t like Jesse because, well, he has some treasure and they don’t. They’re essentially just jerks, and that’s really all the player needs to know. They do jerky things because they’re jerks. What else do you need from villains? If you’ve found yourself saying, “Well maybe in the end they need to be somehow forgiven for all their crimes because they’ve instantaneously done a complete turnaround and now think they’ve been wrong the whole time,” then you’re in for a real treat. In terms of the other characters, Episode 5 doesn’t introduce anyone overly interesting, and the best it can do for pre-existing characters is keep them steady and inoffensive. While Axel and Olivia largely disappear this episode, Petra, Lukas, and Jesse do just that: they are themselves and they don’t do anything particularly annoying. Ivor, on the other hand, is a completely different person. He’s still sarcastic, but he’s silly, prone to excitement, and is willing to show off his human side when someone does right by him. In short, he’s a lot better, but nothing of the previous episodes made me think he could act like this.
Episode 5 really should have been better. Ending the main storyline in the last episode might have been weird, but it allowed the writers to try something new, and to Telltale’s credit, they seem to be learning: they’re balancing the components of each episode much more successfully. Choice is important, but it doesn’t wildly stratify arcs. There’s not too much action or too much conversation. Lighthearted moments don’t feel out of place in dark times. But for all that they’ve learned, Telltale still feels like they’re out of ideas. Rehashing cliched, garden variety fantasy tropes and giving them a PG coating doesn’t endear Minecraft: Story Mode to anyone except children.