Telltale returns with a big new license in The Expanse. Though it doesn’t change much in terms of the company’s formula.
The fall and rise
Telltale Games are renowned for their solid, if repetitive, gameplay involving narrative choices that the player makes. Their games have made a habit of prioritizing the relationships between the player characters and NPCs (with The Walking Dead regarded as the pinnacle of their gameplay design).
Following a dramatic tumble from prestige in 2018, the studio has been revived as part of LCG Entertainment. The acquisition continued the Telltale brand and, hopefully, would spark anew Telltale’s creative reputation.
For its comeback, Telltale turned its focus to The Expanse, based on the novels by James S.A. Corey and the subsequent Amazon Prime adaptation thereof. Speaking as an Expanse fan, who is doing his upmost not to write this article in Lang Belta, I’m glad the franchise is starting to move into video games. But does it fit the developer’s staple gameplay?
Has Telltale risen like a phoenix, or is it shambling like a decaying zombie?
I fix ships, not people
The player takes control of Carmina Drummer, Belter captain, before the Expanse series-proper begins. She is the executive officer of the Artemis, on a straightforward salvage mission her captain swears will be the find of a lifetime. Leading her crew of oddballs and malcontents, she dives into a wrecked Earther ship, where she finds something that will lead to unimaginable profits… or attract formidable danger.
If you’ve played a Telltale game, you know what you’re in for: there are certain moments where you have to choose between two options, which will affect your relationship with the game’s characters. There is also the occasional context-sensitive combat or action sequence, and you get to float around the wrecked ship via your jetpack.
The characters are quite engaging, with permanently cranky pilot Khan, Martian marine washout-turned-engineer Maya, Virgil the medic, and the twins (one of whom is a hopeless klutz). I genuinely did my best to do right by them, and the story intrigued me.
It’s a solid experience, and from what I gather, it’s along the lines of what Telltale is best known for. I wouldn’t say I was bored or disinterested. Though this was my first Telltale game, and even though I knew what their titles offered, I was attracted by the novel gameplay experience.
Veterans of Telltale’s previous games hungry for a new experience won’t find one here however. And for any gamer for whom this style of gameplay may not scratch their itch, The Expanse probably won’t change minds, and might not be what they’re looking for.
You can tell a lot about a place by how they treat their people
The first episode can be wrapped up in a couple of hours. Afterwards, you get to wait for the next (Episode 2 drops on August 10th). In a way, this review is incomplete with that in mind. With future episodes forthcoming, I can’t say definitively this would be a worthwhile purchase since for all I know, the game will go down the tubes with the next episode.
Furthermore, I really hope that Telltale decides to mix their formula up some in the action to come. Part of the reason they went down several years ago was that they genuinely believed that they had a killer formula they didn’t need to change, but then learned, to their displeasure, that this wasn’t the case.
The Expanse suggests that the Telltale formula is coming back from the dead. But whether the Telltale magic returns is still up in the air.
A copy of episode one of The Expanse was provided by Telltale for this review
The Expanse: A Telltale Game Series
Release date: July 27th, 2023 (Episode One) | New episodes will launch every 2 weeks thereafter
Platforms: PS4 (Reviewed), PS5, Xbox One, Xbox Series X|S, PC
MSRP: $39.99 USD (includes all episodes) for standard, and $49.99 for Deluxe (includes all episodes, plus a bonus with “Archangel,” focusing on Chrisjen Avasarala