Enter the Enderman.
I think it’s time I realize that Minecraft: Story Mode will not reach the emotional heights of this year’s superior Tales from the Borderlands, to say nothing of The Walking Dead. It came to me slowly (I’m only realizing this three chapters in), but I’m not sure Story Mode can captivate me fully while the humor, characters, and plot twists are solely aimed at younger players. Minecraft is, after all, immensely popular because of the under-ten-years-old crowd. At best, kids will like Story Mode as a diversion from their time playing Minecraft proper.
Pixar doesn’t have this problem when it comes to making Toy Story smarter than most other animated features regardless of the intended audiences, but for Telltale Games, a company that has thrived with dark themes like profound loss for a kid named Clementine, or the sexual politics between Bigby and Snow in The Wolf Among Us, the writers seem unable to grasp anything but the most obvious jokes and character traits in their version of the Minecraft universe.
That said, The Last Place You Look is the strongest installment yet. After a quick opening sets up Jesse and his crew off to find the last remaining member of The Order of the Stone, this quick chapter (maybe an hour to finish) focuses on exploration rather than dialogue. A quick use of the amulet leads them on a quest to find Soren (voiced by the dependable John Hodgman). There are a few dialogue options along the way, but mostly those are just about whether or not you entrust new-to-the-group Lukas with being a leader, which is not very interesting.
Eventually, Jesse along with his pet pig Reuben reach Soren’s home and the fun begins. Turns out Soren has been conducting tests on the series-long-feared creatures, the tall, wordless, cloaked-in-black Enderman. Players will recall that you can’t even look at them, which makes navigating an escape route especially tricky considering the basic controls in a Telltale game.
The Enderman are the best baddies in Story Mode so far. Like Mario’s ghosts or the Weeping Angels in Doctor Who, you’re better off not engaging them. Soren even made himself a few Enderman outfits. Naturally, Jesse gets to wear the extra one so he can head out into a field full of Enderman. I’m not gonna say too much more about what happens, but the exchange is illuminating to say the least. (Glitch note: There was a moment where Jesse is still in his black-garbed Endersuit and another character says he should put it back on. Weird.)
Crafting, as little as it is here, is still a highlight. There has been a fun running gag about how most items made by Jesse are just TNT mixed with gunpowder. Soren was believed to be the master of creating a weapon known as the Fomidabomb, and the punchline to that joke pays off. For the most part, you’re hitting 'A' a lot for whatever or so reason; Telltale's games are not about reactive skill so the moments of mindlessly pulling the trigger or a pressing a button can be strangely satisfying.
Another aspect that makes this the best chapter so far: The finale actually feels big. Even better, there’s a real sense of player agency as this time (finally) Jesse becomes an active participant in how an immense battle concludes. In fact, the moment is so big I’m not sure what more there is to do for the remaining two chapters.
On the downside, most of the other characters, like the oafish Axel, continue to feel underwritten. In fact, Soren’s brief time reconnecting with the other members of The Order of the Stone reminded me that none of them (save for maybe Gabriel) are very memorable.
That’s the lingering problem with Story Mode in general. There's only a "fun enough” feel to most of it. So while Episode 3 really nails the tension and thrills of coming face-to-face with the Minecraft-staple Enderman, I’m still not convinced this adventure adds up to much more than a mild diversion.