SPOILERS AHEAD. You have been warned.
In the past I’ve frowned upon the episodic model of releasing games. I had often seen it used to sell unfinished games broken up into pieces rather than giving you a complete product worthy of your time and money. In some cases, these games would never even be fully realized, leaving a fraction of an unfinished game available to the public, while the rest of it remains in developer outlines and abandoned pieces of code (but don’t worry guys, Half-Life 2: Episode Three is totally going to be announced at this year’s E3, or maybe it’ll be at PAX Prime, or maybe…). At the best of times, it seemed to be an obnoxious fad that would eventually die off.
But then, Telltale Games went and did something crazy: they actually figured out how to make this silly idea work, and the way they made it work is so seemingly obvious that it’s a wonder no one beat them to it. They’ve essentially taken the episodic format and used it to craft the video game equivalent of an HBO series. Instead of feeling like you’re getting cheated out of a full game, the release of each episode is exciting in the same way that it’s exciting to watch the next episode of your favorite show, and wouldn’t you know? They’ve actually managed to make this model benefit the game rather than detract from it.
For my money, they’ve just about perfected this model with The Wolf Among Us. We’re on the third episode now, and the series has taken enormous strides with every entry. The way each episode fits into the larger structure of the season is impeccable, and every episode is a rewarding story unto itself as much as it is a part of a larger narrative. In episode one we were introduced to this world and these characters and given a general sense of what the season’s core mystery would be, then in episode two we got to more deeply explore Fabletown, flesh out the mystery, and then finally have the rug pulled out from under us with a game-changing reveal. Now, in episode three, we’re in the meat of the central conflict. Crane is on the run, allegiances are being questioned, and the stakes are becoming increasingly clear.
Telltale is operating at the absolute top of their form with this episode; there is not a single unearned moment in the entire thing. Like the first episode, the bulk of the time is spent choosing between a handful of parallel objectives, but unlike the first, each one offers you something different to do, and the order in which you complete them seems much more relevant. I actually went back and replayed these sections in a different order for the sake of collecting an achievement – something that The Walking Dead wisely discourages – and unlike Telltale’s typical illusion of choice, certain character interactions and story beats are exclusive to each path. This gives the choices in this section much more weight, and when combined with the (literal) ticking clock element, everything feels much more urgent. When the first episode went with the parallel investigation tracks, it felt a tad redundant since the game was essentially asking you to do the same thing in each location (search for clues, have character interactions based on what you find). Here, though, each of the three locations offers the player something different to do. The investigation at the Trip Trap (the location I visited first on my initial “canon” play through) is primarily driven by dialogue and character work, and features absolutely killer writing and performances. Visiting Crane’s apartment serves to reveal a seeming betrayal from Bluebeard, while the Tweedles’ office returns to the traditional adventure game task of hunting for clues, broken up by character interactions. Each of these scenes works, and has distinct, memorable things to do, making each one feel exciting and necessary rather than a chore. It’s also worth noting that this section of the game features a hilarious joke that comes from the mechanics of the game rather than a line of dialogue or a sight gag (something that I will ALWAYS applaud).
Finally, the game climaxes with two major decisions that each feel extremely important in their own way. The investigation at Aunty Greenleaf’s apartment culminates in the choice of whether or not to destroy her livelihood, despite the fact that it’s illegal and indirectly being used for evil purposes; and the final confrontation with Bloody Mary leads to a choice of whether or not to murder Tweedle Dum. Neither of these decisions are easy to make, and each one feels likely to have major repercussions in the final two episodes. For me, I chose to spare Aunty Greenleaf’s tree, but when it came to Tweedle Dum, it would have felt like a betrayal of the character I’ve built for Bigby not to rip his throat out. Here Bigby – a man who never hesitates to solve his problems with punching when it comes to people he doesn’t like – is at the end of his rope, cornered, with the wolf completely exposed. Killing one of the Tweedles was the only way he realistically would have reacted.
That itself is one of the most wonderful things about these games. They allow you to shape a character within a certain set of parameters, so a choice that may have been a breach of character for my Bigby, might be a totally natural choice for someone else’s.
Telltale has been on an incredible winning streak, and The Wolf Among Us is turning out to be their best game yet, which by extension makes it among the best games I’ve ever played. There’s always the potential for this whole thing to be bungled in the next two episodes, but at this point I find that extremely unlikely. It’s an absolute thrill playing this series as it’s released, and I’m incredibly excited to see where it goes next.
- Decided not to interrupt Snow’s eulogy (along with 82.3% of players).
- Investigated the Trip Trap Bar first (along with 43% of players).
- Offered Flycatcher a job (along with 96.7% of players).
- Did not burn Greenleaf’s tree (along with 81.5% of players).
- Killed Tweedle Dum (along with 47.2% of players).