When last we left our cubular heroes, the central plot was, for the most part, neatly complete. We experienced success, loss, and a sense of accomplishment as the pre-adolescent journey came to a close. However, the looming, nebulous epilogue — Episode 5 — remained untouched. For a few months. I have to admit that after enduring a lackluster, childish adventure through the Minecraft universe, I had hoped Telltale would have somehow forgotten about Episode 5. Cue a trailer last week boasting not only Episode 5’s impending release, but three additional episodes on top of it, and I dreaded my upcoming obligations. The truth now, though? I kinda like the new story.
What initially struck me upon starting Episode 5 is the sense of place. Although it had been months since I experienced what Notch, the creator of Minecraft, had inspired, a distinct vibe and a rush of memories came back to me. I knew these characters, their trials, and what they had fought for. The outset of Episode 5 expertly summarized what had transpired, giving a sense of time passed as the new Order of the Stone enjoyed continuous accolades and leadership after they pretty much saved the world as we know it (or at least this “instance” of it!).
Following a predictable and time-honored plot trajectory, Episode 5 offers little innovation in the way of story-telling and themes, but the sense of wonder established through imaginative use of Minecraft’s material makes for a satisfying tale of conflict and redemption. Is the dialogue geared toward a younger audience? Sure, but that’s probably what most players expect at this point. Fortunately, the eye-roll-worthy insults and petty comebacks are kept to a minimum. Further, the dialogue choices offer varied approaches at several junctures, though most likely lead to the same outcomes.
Critics of Telltale have long complained about choices that don’t make a difference, and the same is true here. I had tried to be as big a jerk as possible during the first four episodes, and the game kept referring to Jesse, the lead protagonist, as a revered leader despite my best efforts. With regard to one character, I was especially cruel. Episode 5 forced me to patch things up and made it difficult for me to continue my self-imposed rivalry in the face of his best efforts at open-mindedness and kindness. While mildly frustrating, I managed to enjoy the bigger picture and didn’t allow myself to get hung up about the linearity of yet another Telltale title.
Some odd presentation occurrs throughout Episode 5. I noticed on a few occasions that character “lips” don’t always sync up with audio, though this is a minor complaint. The Minecraft universe hasn’t changed much since the first four installments, though Telltale seems to have had a little more fun with the newest episode by constructing imaginative buildings and creations. That said, Minecraft still presents as large, blocky pixels that won’t raise many eyebrows.
The voice acting is serviceable as usual with appropriate intonation and delivery despite the basic script. At several junctures throughout Episode 5, the subtitles don’t match what is spoken, oftentimes offering more character and flowery language than what is actually spoken. The written dialogue definitely seems more fleshed-out than what is said, with allusions to the Minecraft world and manufactured slang that could only serve to personify this otherwise two-dimensional rendering of a three-dimensional world.
Episode 5 hosts the beginning of what I presume is a new four-episode saga. While the skeletal structure of the plot won’t be presented in any collegiate writing course, the imaginative use of Minecraft’s toolkit is a cut above what we experienced in the first adventure. Although I haven’t come away with any chewy life lessons, I truly felt hoisted into a different world, and isn’t that what good storytelling should try to accomplish?