Telltale Games are once again putting their production machine into overdrive as, hot on the heels of A New Frontier for The Walking Dead Series and Guardians of the Galaxy, Jesse and friends return for a second season of Minecraft Story Mode.
Season 1 was a pleasant surprise with Telltale creating their own story within the narrative-free universe of the original Minecraft game, taking us on wild adventures, and even finding time to pull at our collective heart-strings (RIP Reuben – I’ll never look at a pork chop in the same way again…)
At the start of the game, you get the option to carry over all the choices and decisions you made in Season 1, which will affect the characters available and your relationship with them. Don’t have your Season 1 save on your device? No problem – if you have uploaded it to the Telltale cloud, you can sign in and pick up where you left off. Alternatively, you can use the new ‘recreate’ feature, a quiz about your choices and gameplay style that will tailor the game to you.
So, what does the opening episode of season 2 offer? Well, I am sure most of us are familiar with the Telltale episodic format by now. The game plays like an interactive animated story with the player being able to direct conversations and make choices which impact how events ultimately play out. An extra level of interactivity has now been added through ‘crowd play,’ an option first introduced in last year’s Batman series and aimed at live streamers. Viewers can participate in the action by voting on the in-game choices.
A common criticism remains, however, in that some feel the choices don’t really matter as Jesse will eventually end up at more or less the same point. Personally though, I always enjoy the chance to interact with the characters in the game. If I take a dislike to one of them (yes, Axel, I’m talking about you!) I let them know it. If I feel a particular affinity for one of the group, I’ll be much more likely to save them.
And that is one of the strengths of Telltale’s games, with Minecraft being no different – the characters. The episode opens with Lukas narrating a recap of Season 1 and we see Jesse in her treasure room with Olivia and Axel. They don’t hang around for long and that is one of the key themes of this chapter. Over the years, each character has grown attached to their own communities (Jesse to Beacontown, Olivia to Redstonia, and Axel to Boom Town) and their adventures have become fewer and further between.
Petra, on the other hand, is still playing the hero and it is her insistence that Jesse joins her for a quest that sets the new story in motion. New characters also join the fray including Jesse’s fretful but amusing assistant Radar, the wannabe ‘rival’ leader of Champion City Stella (who inadvertently supplies on of the episode’s funnier moments), and wily old adventurer Jack, who loves to embellish tales of his past adventures. There is even a villager featured and real-life YouTubers Stampy Cat and Stacyplays return, which is sure to get a pop out of Minecraft fans.
The game introduces new locations as well. The second half of the episode takes us deep into an ocean biome and underwater temple, neither of which we got to see in Season 1. We also get an up-close look at the communities of Beacontown and Champion City. As with season 1, the Minecraft aesthetic has been captured incredibly well with eye-catching scenes and genuinely expressive character animations despite everything being represented by pixelated blocks.
The main issue with the new episode for me came from the audio. While the Minecraft sound effects are all used to good effect in the game, I found the background music around Beacontown to be quite irritating, like something from a kiddies’ TV show. It improved as the action picked up but I was definitely glad to move on from the Beacontown scenes!
As mentioned above, the format for this latest season largely follows the established blueprint (or should I say crafting recipe?) Along with the dialogue choices, there are also plenty of QTEs (quick time events) ranging from simply pulling a lever or crafting a torch to running a gauntlet of mobs. These are not overdone, however, and add welcome scenes of action after periods of exploring, puzzle solving and dialogue.
There are also a few changes and tweaks to the gameplay this time around. Season 1 always gave the player an easy ride when it came to combat but this time things are a little different with the addition of a stamina bar and the ability to dodge attacks. This means no more button mashing on your keyboard or controller. Despite taking a few fights to get to grips with, the need to put a little more thought into attacks and defence makes for a more engaging encounter.
When it comes to player choices, significant game-altering decisions are now marked with a drop-down message and a sound effect on the screen. This certainly helps reduce potential frustration as you are less likely to fall victim to a seemingly unimportant event and you know exactly where to rewind to if you want to change your mind!
Overall, the new start of the new season meets the expectations raised by the first. Season 1 fans will love it and there are more than enough insider references for fans of the regular game. The tweaks to the gameplay have added a little more depth to the game, and it is all underpinned by an enjoyable adventure with a dramatic twist at the end (no spoilers… for now!) I am eagerly awaiting Episode 2!
REVIEW CODE: A complimentary PC code was provided to Bonus Stage for this review. Please send all review code enquiries to firstname.lastname@example.org.
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