Tales of the Rampant Coyote

Adventures in Indie Gaming!

Quick Take: Block Story

Posted by Rampant Coyote on May 26, 2014

BlockStory1I get dumped on some deserted shore out in the middle of nowhere. Apparently I’m not alone… there’s some viking dude wandering around here too. Cool. That’s different.

My first task – my quest – is to… gather wood. Then I am to take the wood that I gathered from the trees, and I am tasked with… making planks out of them. And then, for my third quest, I am tasked to build a… toolbox. With the toolbox I can construct more complicated items. My next quest, in fact, is to construct a pickaxe.  But the clock is ticking, and it soon gets dark… and the monsters come out at night.

Is this sounding familiar? It does to me, too. But I’m not playing Minecraft. I’m playing Block Story for the PC.

On paper, this sounds like a totally awesome game. Take the open-world, gathering, and crafting of Minecraft, but add RPG elements like character development and questing, and a very wide variety of enemies. If you were to ask me what I’d like to see done to Minecraft to make it more awesome for me, personally, that’s almost exactly what I’d ask for. Okay, I’d ask for a huge number of magical items that I could craft or loot, but hey, on paper, that’s awesome.

That’s the theory. In practice…

I really wanted to like Block Story. And as this is a “quick take,” just giving some early impressions rather than an exhaustive review, I can’t say that if I were to continue for 20 hours or so, I might not find myself loving it. To be fair, the early alpha version I initially played of Minecraft didn’t impress me much at first, either.

The issue is that the game is too much of a Minecraft clone… a poor one. The world doesn’t display as well, there’s not as much solid feedback to your actions, and the block graphics are largely plain-vanilla. In Minecraft, the enemies were given the same kind of pixellated look as the blocks, in order to maintain a consistency of style. Block Story doesn’t have that, which makes it feel uneven.

Now, Minecraft has been around for several years now, and for a good chunk of it has enjoyed an awesome budget and team. I wouldn’t normally want to rip on a Minecraft-style game for the fact that it isn’t Minecraft. The problem is that this game is literally too much of a clone. Even many of the recipes for Minecraft work in this game. There are certainly some differences, but often the differences are either cosmetic or feel like a downgrade in quality.

Blockstory2Unfortunately, the RPG side of the game isn’t stellar, either. As you gain levels, you gain skill points you can use to improve a number of abilities. You can add to things like walking speed, melee weapon damage, the amount of time you can hold your breath underwater, hit points, etc.  The quests are not much to write home about either. Most of them seem to be oriented around the tutorial to teach you how to play the game (which is reasonable). But then there’s one of the early quests where the viking will give you a sword and ask you to pay for it with a number of gold and coal blocks. Considering how easy it is to make a sword (I actually made one before given the quest, because the weapon quest had been superseded by an event-based quest to gather lumber by the time I’d talked to the character), this is kind of a ridiculous request. You could build a hundred swords in the time it takes to pay for the freebie.

If the quests are only there to force you to chew up time, I guess they succeed. They do give you some goals to work for (something which is often lacking in Minecraft), but there’s very little by way of story or much feeling of progression towards any kind of end-goal. It’s very much a case of running and fetching for the sake of keeping you busy. Now, granted, in a wide-open, randomly-generated world, there are definitely some serious constraints to what the developer can actually do with quests.

Then there’s the port. This game was ported from the Android (it’s in Unity, so that’s not a major task). This can be kinda cool – you can actually move your world data over between platforms. But it feels very “mobile-y” in flavor and interface. Some of the help screens have not even been rewritten for the PC, still offering touch-screen instructions.

So you have a poor Minecraft clone, poor RPG mechanics tacked on, and a poor port from a different platform. This does not sound like a recipe for success.

The biggest problem is that the only thing really original added to the mix is the quick-and-dirty RPG aspect. If he’d deviated a bit more from his inspiration and created a block-world that felt less like the other game, it would be easier to take Block Story on its own merits. It doesn’t have to be as fully-featured. The world just needs to have it’s own creative theme or unique flavor. I am willing to forgive a great deal if I’m sucked in by how interesting the game world is.

Unfortunately, I fear my explorations into the world of Block Story may have come to an end already. I don’t see myself playing much more if it. I hate dumping on the efforts of other indies out there, but this does seem like a missed opportunity. More polish, more of a unique take on the word, getting serious about the RPG side of it, and making it a real PC game would have served it really well. Maybe there’ll be a sequel that really gets it right, and I’ll look froward to that one.

Fortunately, if you are curious, there is a free version that doesn’t allow you to save, but otherwise allows full exploration.  It could be that this is exactly the sort of experience you are looking for. In which case – have fun!


Block Story

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