When it comes to writing reviews for an episodic game I learned my lesson from my attempt to review each individual episode of The Raven, despite differences in each episode, at the end of the day you do just end up saying the same thing about each episode. It made my vocabulary feel a lot more limited than it already is. That’s why after writing my first impressions, way back when the first episode was released, I have gone completely silent on my progress of The Wolf Among Us by Telltale Games. However, my lack of reporting on my progress should not be mistaken for a lack of progress, for I have indeed recently finished the game’s final episode and am now finally ready to provide my thoughts on the game as a whole.
Now I could start off my review with all the usual praise I have for Telltale Games. I could talk about how much I continue to enjoy their unique comic book-esque art and graphics style (which, if anything, feels closer to the comic book side of things for The Wolf Among Us). I could talk about how much I love their story-telling abilities, their writing and their ability to immerse you in a story, the decisions of that story and the world around you. However, it’s all been said before, and I’ve been amongst those saying it all before. So I want to start this review with my biggest complaint about the game.
I said it back in my impressions that I wasn’t certain how I felt about Telltale simply taking a pre-existing story and all it’s characters and making a game from it. At the time I said it felt a little like cheating and now I want to expand a little on that. It’s not “cheating”, obviously, but there were issues I have, since completing the game, discovered with it.
When I first finished the game I was, as I all too-often am, very much under the game’s spell. I was seeing everything through the rose-tinted goggles of someone who has had a very enjoyable experience and therefore can’t see any of the issues with it. So in a way it was like having a one night stand. And, also like a one-night stand, it’s only later that I start to think of all the things which actually might have gone wrong with it (and I think the comparison can stop there).
You see, even though when you play as Bigby Wolf (the Big Bad Wolf, still can’t believe how long it took me to realise the significance of his name) and you make the decisions so that he feels like YOUR Bigby Wolf. He is still very much Bigby Wolf. He’s a pre-existing character. He might have varying morals and made a variety of choices depending on who plays him, but at the end of the day he also is always the same character, which somewhat defeats the purpose of a choice-based RPG where you are supposed to identify with the protagonist. I’m not saying I didn’t identify with him, naturally because of the choices I made Bigby seemed to become essentially a nice guy throughout my playthrough, but he also still had those darker elements within him that seemed to suggest that none of the choices I made were actually lasting. It was just an act for him, a character in a game putting on a different persona. It’s all because regardless of what choices one made, there is a pre-determined outcome to the story. It feels weird describing it that way, and don’t I feel pretentious right now, but that’s how it felt.
In fact, now that I think about it, I think that this same reason might be why many of the choices within the game felt very narrow. Worse than that, regardless of the choices you made, one always ended up in the same situation as everyone else. I know that’s also true of other RPGs, but it just felt a little more noticeable here, like you had no real power over the story.
There are other aspects of the game which troubled me a bit as well. First, I think it was paced just a little too quickly. I personally thought that the world of the comic series Fables, in which the game is set, was a fantastic and extraordinarily imaginative one. However, there never really seemed to be any time to explore it, never any time to get to know the various characters who populated it. Sure you spoke to many of them over the course of the game, but it was always in connection to the over-arching plot and the case Bigby is working on. There was never any time to stand back and simply appreciate what was going on, which was a shame. This same reason actually made each episode feel quite short as well, even though they averaged at about 3 hours per episode.
And my complaints don’t stop there either. See every episode within the 5 episodes of the game seemed to essentially follow a certain pattern. Bigby investigates the case and the conspiracy, which shrouds the whole of Fabletown and the entire game, then he makes a choice to investigate two different places. Then there is a chase and a fight. And then, just as things are looking bad, “Oh no, whatever shall we do?” Bigby hulks out and turns into his “Wolf” form (which means shit is going down son!) and destroys the opposition. I exaggerate, of course, but there is an element of truth in this. Plus it robbed the game of some of it’s tension. You are often warned that you are over-doing it, by a variety of characters in the game, but Bigby never REALLY feels like he’s in danger.
Finally, I also started to feel that they were taking the whole “Someone will remember that” mechanic a little bit too far when you had people who would be remembering things towards the end of of the final episode. I mean, I don’t mind that they are already planning ahead for future games, but I don’t feel they should be making us already invest in that instead of focusing on the game we are already currently playing (if that makes sense).
I say finally, because I am running out of critic-y things to say about The Wolf Among Us (critic, critic, smarm, smarm), largely because it’s just so damned good. It’s a Telltale Game so the story is fantastic (even if it’s kinda, sorta stolen), the characters are well written, the graphics are awesome, the dialogue is believable. Hell, it’s just an excellent game. I also want to say it again, even though I’ve said it before and WILL say it again, that the dialogue system used by Telltale is simply the best system I have ever come across for any RPG. Like before, I’m not saying it would suit every game, but for something like this it is quite simply perfect. Every piece of dialogue seems important because you have to make the decision on the spot, within the allocated time, every single line you say feels like a choice. Thus it feels like a real conversation and so you remember a lot more of it, simply because you invest more.
As well as this we give the writers their fair share of credit, and don’t they deserve it, but honestly I would say that not enough credit is given to the voices of the characters who really succeed in bringing them alive. Adam Harrington’s Bigby is a genuinely excellent performance and the entire cast of co-stars also all carry off their roles with style. In a game which hinges so heavily on choices made in dialogue, and indeed in the dialogue itself, it’s vital that the voices themselves work, and they most definitely do here.
Like always, they succeed in immersing you in the world and it’s characters, which I don’t think I quite praised enough earlier. Reading fantasy novels and playing fantasy games can occasionally become a little tired when you realise that essentially everyone just copies Tolkien these days, so to come across a world so unique as the world of Fables was something of a treat for me. The whole dark, gritty and despairing feel of the world combined with Harry Potter-esque magic and lore makes the world just seem so alive and exciting.
It is worth noting that some extra credit is definitely due to the writers for actually taking an existing story and then tweaking it in such a way that you can make your way through it making your own choices along the way. It may feel narrower than The Walking Dead, and the choices may feel like they carry less weight, but the fact that they pulled off the conversion from written to video game format with not only ONE story-line, is worthy of no small amount of respect. I hope Hollywood were taking notes, because that’s how it’s done!
The conspiracy and the case is also pretty awesome actually. The slow reveal of information, the gradual adding of pieces to the puzzle (while the overall picture slowly gets bigger, and a bunch of other clichés), it all allows the player to make their own conclusions throughout the game and then see those conclusions either debunked or confirmed. It actually brings me back to what I was saying about The Raven earlier because it does the murder mystery thing right as well. In fact I would say that The Wolf Among Us, actually does the whole mystery thing better. This is because there is a slow gradual build up to a final reveal, however the reveal happens only towards the end of the game and then the last episode is spent in capturing the culprit. This allows a constant build up of tension towards a big release and then the thrill of the chase towards a satisfying conclusion.
For it was indeed a good ending as well, which seems to be a surprisingly difficult task in the world of RPGs. It tied off loose ends in the story whilst keeping the world open enough for new problems and new stories to come through (and I do suspect we will be seeing more of Bigby in future).
Overall, The Wolf Among Us is, frankly, an excellent game. If you like The Walking Dead then you really have absolutely no reason to not buy this because it is more of the same high calibre interactive story-telling. It, perhaps, does not quite carry the same impact as The Walking Dead did and it may have it’s fair share of flaws, but these are mostly fairly easy to overlook whilst exploring the world of Fables. My most hearty recommendation does still lie with The Walking Dead itself, but you would definitely not go wrong in buying this.