Over the last year I finished both of Telltale’s most recent episodic, interactive stories (not counting the ones which are not finished yet). I immensely enjoyed my time in both of them and have reviewed both as well to explain why I did. The Wolf Among Us features the adventures of Bigby Wolf in the world of Fables, attempting to solve a series of brutal murders which lead to a deeper and darker conspiracy. The Walking Dead: Season 2, the difficult sequel to Telltale’s critically acclaimed and commercial success The Walking Dead: Season 1, follows Clementine from the first season, now looking after herself without her protector to care for her.
There is one thing which I wanted to mention about both The Walking Dead and The Wolf Among Us, but did not want to include in the actual articles because it isn’t exactly something that relates to my opinion of the game itself. Allow me to explain…
Over the past few months (since late 2013 to be precise) I have been conducting an “experiment” involving the games produced by Telltale. I was playing The Wolf Among Us as it was released, awaiting the release of each episode eagerly and then playing it within a few days of said release (so I had to wait over a month between playing each episode). I was also letting The Walking Dead: Season 2 sit in my Steam library gathering dust until episode 5 was finally unleashed upon the world, allowing me to play the whole game through, only pausing when I wanted to (and frankly I did not want to judging by the fact that I played it straight through in one sitting).
The reason I did this is because I have become extremely disillusioned with Telltale Games’ consistent use of “episodic games”, that is to say that I have started to really dislike that they release all of their games in 5 separate chunks instead of as one cohesive package. Now when I first played the first season of The Walking Dead, the game which put Telltale on the map for me, I actually had no problems with playing it in episodes. It provided natural breaks for me to get up, stretch my legs, have some tea or food or get some sleep. Since then I have played these two new games and the episodic The Raven, and my opinion on the format has quickly devolved from contentment into dislike.
First of all, the outcome of the experiment. Now I suspect that I would have enjoyed The Walking Dead Season 2 (TWD) more than I would have The Wolf Among Us (TWAU) regardless of how I played them, and the rating in my reviews ought to attest to that. However, that niggling thought aside I have to say that I infinitely preferred playing through TWD at my own pace instead of having to wait sometimes months before being able to continue. I had more fun with the game, I felt more at ease with it, I felt more attached to the characters and in general I felt far more immersed in the world.
They say the simplest solutions are the best, and here is the simplest reason for why it is that I would enjoy my experience with TWD more than TWAU: I had no time to forget any of it. Each time I started an episode in TWD I had just finished the ones prior to it, the choices, characters, story, hell even the dialogue, it was all still fresh in my mind. This carried over from each episode to the next allowing me to draw closer to each character and the world because I felt I had been with them throughout their journey. Meanwhile, each time I started the next episode of TWAU, I would have to take a few minutes to remind myself of the story thus far. I would have forgotten most of the less important choices, side-characters will have disappeared from my memory and my relationship with Bigby will have dwindled to almost nothing again, forcing me to build it up from scratch once more. The cold, hard truth is that by playing it in the spread out fashion, I forgot large chunks of the game and this prevented me from becoming as immersed as I could have been (what’s worse is that TWAU occurs over the space of a few in-game days whereas TWD is over a bit of a longer period, making the wait between each episode much more noticeable).
There’s more to it as well. Having to sit through the unskipable credits and “Next time on:” bits of each episode was incredibly frustrating. I know I ought to be fine with sitting through the credits of a game I like, but you know what else? I really, REALLY, do not need to know the names of all the pets owned by Telltale employees…
I honestly don’t understand why Telltale insist on releasing their games in this staggered fashion. If they are doing it to be unique that’s all well and fine but they should know that “unique” does not always mean “good”. The games feel unfinished until the final episode is released and this puts people off. Telltale do this, even though they must have much of the story and components of the game completed, after all they already have “next time on” scenes to use and will obviously have the story in mind. There’s also, really, no increase in hype between each episode, which one suspects is another thing they try to achieve what with their regular updates of “oooo the next episode is juuuuuuust around the corner”.
On the other side there is an actual DECREASE in hype. You know why episodes works well in a Television format? They are released on a weekly basis. A week is a short enough time period that everything with still be fresh in one’s mind whilst also allowing people to have that brief chat of “Oh, what do you think will happen next?” After an average of almost 2 months of waiting that chatter of “Oh, what do you think will happen next?” has turned into, “Oh man, I completely forgot about the existence of that game, is the next episode coming out soon?” It’s simply too long a waiting period and people, including me, don’t have the attention span or patience for waiting that long.
It’s a genuinely baffling thing, I’m absolutely certain I’m not alone in disliking the format but Telltale never really address why they do it. It’s simply “what they do” in the same way that they make interactive, character-driven stories with a cartoon-y vibe.
Of course, because their consistence with producing quality games you can be certain that folks will continue to buy their games upon the release of the first episode and I will most certainly be among them. I will say, though, that from now on I will only be playing their games after the release of the final episode in order to maximise my enjoyment of the experience. This includes both of their most recent releases, The Tales of the Borderlands and their Game of Thrones game. While both of these will most certainly be excellent, and Tim already assures me that the first episode for The Game of Thrones is indeed top-notch, I will not play either of them until they are actually FINISHED with all episodes released, so that I can play through it at my own leisure.