Telltale Games reinvigorated the point-and-click genre by injecting a narrative driven focus, heavy emphasis on choices and consequences, and adoption of beloved IPs that spanned film, television, comics and other video games as an episodic series. With earlier works such as CSI, Sam & Max, Monkey Island, Jurassic Park and Back to the Future, it wasn’t until the launch of their original take on The Walking Dead in 2012 that catapulted the studio to household name status. Following a string of critically acclaimed and fan favourite titles, Telltale suddenly shut it doors in October 2018.
Less than a year later, Telltale was resurrected in August 2019, and with the exception of a highly anticipated sequel to The Wolf Among Us, would be working on new titles from new IPs, seemingly leaving the future of some of their biggest titles in the past. Fast forward to July 2023 and their first new title since their resurrection, the first of five episodes of The Expanse: A Telltale Series, has finally launched.
The Telltale formula has returned with all new bells and whistles, featuring significantly improved visuals and gameplay. Players are once again reintroduced to a variety of choices that may have minor or significant consequences throughout each individual episode, and the broader scope of the entire season. While it’s incredibly exciting to see Telltale Games back in the fold, The Expanse is not without its issues.
The Expanse: A Telltale Series serves as a prequel to the 2015 television series of the same name which ran for six seasons. Players find themselves in the role of Camina Drummer, who is voiced by Cara Gee who plays the character of the same name in the show, aboard The Artemis. In this first episode, titled “Archer’s Paradox”, the player is provided with very little information in regard to the world the television series takes place in.
Immediately there is a disconnect between player and character, further extending to a disconnect with the world and events taking place around them. There are dozens of instances of what can only be assumed is slang in presumably alien dialect that disrupts character conversations and inhibits the flow and connection between the player and the cast of characters we are supposed to care about.
Despite being the protagonist, it feels difficult to form an emotional attachment or investment in Drummer. An absence of personality, character depth and emotion are traits not just present with her, but with the broader cast at large. The Expanse, only one episode in, is by far the first and only episode from any Telltale title that fails to feel interesting, meaningful or as though our choices have weight.
An unlikeable cast of characters isn’t the only glaring issue present in The Expanse as the story itself is also the first and only instance in my experience of Telltale’s earlier work that is uninteresting, lacking any sense of direction or purpose and completely fails to provide a hook or anticipation for future episodes. The events that transpire in episode one provides extremely minimal details on the world we are playing in, the purpose of our character and crew, and reaches its conclusion in as little as 45 minutes. Admittedly, the playtime can be longer for those who explore thoroughly for data logs and collectibles, though an argument could be made the playtime shouldn’t need to be bloated by exploration when it doesn’t contribute to the story in a meaningful capacity. Not only is this first episode short, considerably shorter than previous Telltale titles, but it is absent of any plot points or cliffhangers to maintain player interest before the next episode arrives, with each new episode arriving every two weeks.
Improved visuals and reinvigorated gameplay work wonders in establishing the new visual tone for Telltale Games in 2023 and beyond. There is no denying how slick the first instalment of this interstellar adventure looks, and the refined gameplay is certainly a welcome addition. The introduction of zero gravity gameplay mechanics are excellently used, allowing the player to walk into walls of certain sections only for the screen to readjust its orientation as it becomes the new “ground”. Floating through wreckages is also a fun new twist to the traditionally grounded gameplay from the Telltale Games library, pun intended.
Much like the aforementioned catalogue of Telltale titles that came before, the gameplay loop primarily consists of exploring locations and interacting with characters and items of interest. It’s simple but it still works well in traditional Telltale style. The simplicity allows the narrative to take centre stage and draw the bulk of the attention of the player. A helpful ping system has also been introduced that further accommodates players that want to prioritise the narrative flow without wandering aimlessly throughout the explorable vessels and wreckages.
As can be expected, choices made by the player either in conversation or through their direct actions are remembered by the characters, tucked away for later reference within the episode and undoubtedly throughout the season with the release of each new episode. Some of these choices are simply to determine what type of relationship Drummer has with the other characters, whether that be pleasant and respectful or rude and assertive.
Larger decisions are also in play and without going into spoilers, one of these decisions I made was seemingly undone minutes later. Let’s just say someone was walking around perfectly fine despite a decision I had made that should have rendered that impossible. Unless this is somehow explained in later episodes, the passage of time between my decision and the impossible sight of witnessing it undone is an absolute blunder, almost as if the game had decided I had made the opposite choice. This shattered what little immersion my playthrough of the first episode had managed to establish completely.
Review by Games of Dayne
Games of Dayne’s written works can also be found at his website here.
The return of Telltale Games is a moment I am incredibly grateful to experience though I’d be lying if I said the resurrected studio’s grand re-entrance was anything but a disappointment from a narrative, emotional resonance and character connection point of view. The improved gameplay and audio-visual presentation is an absolute delight but the lack of story and attachment to the characters is crushing, especially when considering how strong the back catalogue of Telltale Games stories and characters have been. I’ll be returning to the Artemis every two weeks to further Drummer’s story in the hopes this premiere is just a misstep.
- Beautiful visual facelift
- New gameplay mechanics are solid
- Story lacks any sense of direction or interest
- Unlikeable cast of characters, specifically the protagonist
- Ridiculously short compared to previous Telltale titles