Order of the Stone? More like Order of the Liars.
[Mild Spoilers: The following review assumes you’ve finished up to Episode 3.]
The Witherstorm is approaching. The remaining members of the Order of the Stone are assembled. Will the world be saved? More importantly, has Telltale’s experiment in the mega-popular universe of Minecraft paid off? At a meaty two hours, the fourth episode, A Block and a Hard Place, comes close to (finally) delivering the goods.
Episode 4 begins right where the last ended, after the death of either Ellegard or Magnus (Magnus, in my playthrough) and with the return of either Gabriel or Petra (Petra, in my playthrough) who has no memory of what’s transpired since being sucked up in the Witherstorm. Like most great quests, this is the time when the main group of characters must separate to do different tasks. Jesse must make the call on who goes where, so there are more decisions that must be made by the player. It's a good thing since this meant, as a result of my choices, Lukas and Axel went off to do their own thing. Face it, those two were dead weight.
The main plot of A Block and Hard Place is to find the base of operations for Ivor, the least friendly member of The Order of the Stone. The kicker—and a strength of the writing that this works at all—is that Ivor ends up being more right about his old pals than previously imagined. Disillusionment is the main key that Episode 4 plays. As a result, Story Mode is stronger, even at times, poignant. Who would have thought such a happy go lucky tale would be better with a hefty dose of darkness? Even the Enderman didn't foresee that.
Ivor’s lair is in The Far Lands, a place fans of Minecraft know all too well. (For non-fans, imagine a mountain version of Tetris.) Here is where a big revelation takes place. I won’t spoil it, but to mention the amulet, a book, and a fabled tale about dragon-slaying is vital. The fallout from all this is handled extremely well. I may have had issues with the lack of characterizations in the past, but each and every reaction by the group makes total sense.
In fact, while this chapter includes a lot of moments where gamers must decide how to reply, this scene was one of the times I thought this wasn’t really needed. It’s akin to playing Mass Effect as a paragon so much that there’s no way you’re gonna suddenly be a jerk. I tend to play my RPGs as (mostly) good adventurers, so it can be out of place, even a tad insulting, when such a 180-degree reaction is even offered as a dialogue option. Again, I won’t spoil it, but by this point, the way my Jesse would react should be pretty obvious to the game. Alas, we haven’t gotten to that point in these adventure games yet… by that I mean, the point where your choices clue the game into how you would act in a future scene.
Regardless, the big surprise is actually quite moving. In a wise move, there’s not much time to ponder about it, as this is when the big battle between against the Witherstorm takes full effect. This moment has a lot of quicker than usual QTEs. So much so that I died. A lot. Fortunately, the checkpoints were ample so it's no big deal.
Prior to the big finale, Jesse gets to craft a new outfit and in my playthrough an enchanted diamond axe. Like a boss. Still, the highlight of A Block and a Hard Place (heck, all the episodes so far, really) is a scene that features only Jesse and his loyal pig Reuben. Jesse needs to attack various tentacles of the Witherstorm (don’t ask) upside-down. How his pet fits into the situation is adorable. Reuben, like R2D2, grunts in sounds only understood by his owner. It concludes in a moment that, in keeping with the world of Minecraft, is utterly touching.
Overall, Episode 4 is a strong outing for Minecraft: Story Mode. By the end of the two hours, I was ready to begin the final chapter. And yet, as good as this next-to-last episode is, including an emotional goodbye to one of the best characters, the bulk of the cast still don’t leave much of an impression, which has been my main complaint in past reviews. That said, by the time I finished, I realized I did have genuine feeling for a few of them, namely the original members of The Order of the Stone, who are older and wearier than our heroes. As for Jesse, Axel, Olivia, and Lukas? Not really. This makes the supposed direction of the upcoming final chapter a bit of a quandary: Can Jesse and his friends finally come out from the shadows of the older crew for Episode 5? We’ll find out soon…