[Mild Spoilers: The following review assumes you’ve finished the Minecraft Telltales series through to Episode 4.]
The very best Telltale Games are about something. Season One of the gripping The Walking Dead and last year’s hilariously on-point satire Tales From the Borderlands weren’t just a collection of randomly amusing dialogue options with rudimentary action scenes. There was always something just below the surface: a comment on how we treat each other in dire circumstances, or how being so self-involved becomes a trait we have to laugh at from time to time.
Whether by design or perhaps due to a hasty schedule, the first four chapters of Minecraft: Story Mode consistently came up short in this department. Characters Jesse, his pig Rueben, and the rest of the new Order of the Stone are likeable enough, and the quest that spanned those installments varies in quality, but nothing really resonates over time. If you’re a fan of Minecraft, or just looking for an inoffensive adventure to play with the kids, Story Mode was merely “good enough” far too often.
All of that changes, for the better, with the arrival of Episode 5: Order Up!, a self-contained adventure where everything clicks. The character beats and plot situations intertwine wonderfully, adding up to a critique on the very nature of the Minecraft universe. And it helps that it’s by far, the funniest, best episode yet.
Originally believed to be a five-episode season, Telltale recently announced that four more are in the pipeline. From a story arc perspective, Episodes 1–4 could be taken as a kind “season one” as, by the end, the story was resolved with our heroes defeating the Witherstorm and becoming the new Order of the Stone.
Order Up! picks up with Jesse, Petra, Axel, and Elizabeth battling monsters, finding a treasure, and generally kicking butt. They, like Avengers Captain America and Tony in Age of Ultron, are a well-oiled machine. They’re also loved by nearly all their townsfolk. “Nearly,” that is, except for Lukas’s old teammates Aiden and his two sidekicks, who have rebranded themselves Blaze Rods, formerly the more menacing sounding Ocelots.
After a discovery of an enchanted flint and steel object, their old nemesis Ivor (still so funny, as voiced by Pee-Wee himself, Paul Reubens) tells Jesse this could lead to a long-rumored but never found legendary item known as The Eversource. As the name implies, it promises an unlimited amount of whatever resources the owner wishes. This is the perfect kind of treasure that any fan of Minecraft would understand: it’s all about resources.
What’s really compelling is the way the writers of this episode play with the whole notion of building whatever you want versus the good of the community. Early on, Jesse must make a decision about what to do with a crazy cool but extremely dangerous construction that Ivor has erected: a skull-shaped residence that includes lava pouring out of its mouth. Ivor argues that it’s his right to build what he wants. Why should he have to limit his creativity for the whims of those who lack vision? That’s right, Telltale has taken Ayn Rand’s objectivist philosophy, most notably critiqued in Bioshock, and put this topic front and center in a kids game. And it totally works.
Obviously, whatever choice you make—I chose to have Ivor’s place torn down, and thus felt like a jerk— impacts how Ivor respects you. And you’ll need his expertise to make the trek to Sky City. (Another fun nod to Bioshock, this time, Infinite’s setting in the clouds.) This city is ruled by a woman known as The Founder who doesn’t speak like Rand (who was Russian-born) but her grumpy face and dark hair are probably not a coincidence. And hey, the blocky art style helps!
By the end of the episode, no one is really all that terrible, and young players are encouraged to do what they feel is right, as it should be. Older players might complain the conclusion is a tad too “I hope you learned from this experience”—a "THE MORE YOU KNOW" moment—but in the world of the sunny, well-meaning Story Mode I couldn’t help but smile.
With three episodes left, Telltale is considering Episode 5 a sort of bridge between the end of the Witherstorm finale and post-season tales. While I’m looking forward to Episode 6 more than I was before, Order Up! greatly benefits from being self-contained. Aiden makes for a solid adversary and The Founder is a terrific character I hope to see more of. There’s not really a lot of new depth to cast regulars like Lukas, Elizabeth, or Axel, but Ivor really comes into his own. His enthusiasm to obtain The Eversource is infectious. (Petra has a nice moment of faux memory, a fun callback to Episode 4.) This is the first Telltale episode in ages that I look forward to replaying.
Oh, and the reveal of what The Eversource actually is? Priceless.