The Expanse: A Telltale Series (PC) REVIEW – A Real Belter
July 27th, 2023
Telltale, Deck Nine
PC, PS5, PS4, XS, XBO
Telltale is back in full force after nearly shutting down for good back in 2018, and this time they have partnered with Deck Nine, the creators behind Life is Strange, to flesh out a prequel story to The Expanse. After nearly 2 months of its 5 episodic releases, Telltale’s The Expanse is finally fully out, but is it the comeback fans expect from the creators of The Walking Dead and The Wolf Among Us?
You play as Camina Drummer, portrayed again by Cara Gee, which will no doubt Drummer-up some excitement for fans of the Amazon TV series. Drummer is a strong-willed, pragmatic leader with a dark past that haunts her throughout the 5 episodes. Watching her story unfold is extremely enjoyable, as we get to learn her softer side, which allows us to really connect with her as a protagonist.
Like previous Telltale games, The Expanse is a character-driven narrative through and through, with each episode offering a different flavour in tone and experience. Episode 1 is slow-paced as we get to know the characters, Episode 2 is more action-oriented, putting those newfound relationships to the test, and Episode 3 is eerie and intriguing as you explore a new mystery in the universe of The Expanse.
In addition, each episode features new mechanics to keep the game feeling fresh and offers a variety of difficulty, ranging from easy drone dodging to more intense quick-time events as the episodes progress. There are even side missions that usually ask you to explore and find an item that a certain character requires. At first, they seem like pointless collectables, but don’t be fooled because they have consequences that can determine smaller outcomes in the game.
The player has greater control compared to previous entries from both developers, as you’ll be encouraged to explore various landscapes both in and out of space. The zero-g gameplay is a well-rounded experience, with you switching between floating around to objectives in out-of-reach areas to slamming down on any surface with your Mag Boots and walking like there is gravity. Large portions of each episode revolve around this mechanic, and it is very smooth with each transition. It’s especially fun to propel down longer corridors at high speeds as you make your way to the next objective while characters reveal nuggets of lore to you over comms.
However, exploration can feel a little shallow at times, despite how fun the gameplay can be. Drummer will speak her thoughts to the player about each little item of interest, which offers great world-building but can drag at times when you’re anticipating the next big story beat. There are moments that give you some downtime on your ship where you can interact with the crew onboard the Artemis to connect with them on a personal level. It’s these little moments that help raise the stakes for when the characters are in danger later on.
Like Telltale’s previous games, there is a small cast of characters in their version of The Expanse that can be hit or miss, with some severely lacking screen time during the roughly 6 hours it takes to beat, leaving a few characters with rushed arcs. Cox is a brilliant example of this, as someone who has such a strong presence in Episode 1 will either hardly appear for the rest of the game or won’t appear at all, depending on your choices.
Without spoiling anything, there is a character towards the end of Episode 4 who also feels rushed, offering some tempting choices to the player and some interesting depth, only to behave a little unrealistically in certain situations. Given that a large portion of the game is the player exploring every nook and cranny of every wreck Drummer comes across, it’s a shame that more screentime couldn’t be given to some of these characters to let their story and motives unfold at a more realistic pace. Regardless of the little screen time they do receive, Telltale did a good job of fleshing out their motives and adding some depth to each character, even if they tried to squeeze them into this short narrative.
Most do shine, however, and depending on your choices, you can learn of their troubled pasts and desires as the story unfolds, leading to some truly touching moments and hard choices as the characters you love hang in the balance of your own decisions. Maya is a standout who offers some of the game’s more heartfelt moments and is a clear fan favourite due to her charisma and relatable character motives.
This is the best Telltale has ever looked, with stunning vistas that make you feel so insignificant in the wide berth of infinite space. At times, the locations look more realistic than stylised. A few minor details, like characters speaking without lip movement in some of the game’s more open areas, are a little uncanny, but thankfully are infrequent enough to be a problem.
The game is well-polished and runs at a steady framerate on PC, which is a luxury these days. There were minor issues with the Deluxe Edition where players couldn’t download the later episodes as easily as you’d expect, and I personally had one crash towards the end of Episode 4, but neither was enough to disrupt the overall experience.
There’s a lot to love in this tight package, and while the game may be short, it does offer enough replayability to increase its lifespan to at least one or two more playthroughs. Choices are split between 2 or 3 different paths that affect Drummer’s character arc and all the characters’ fates and opinions of you throughout your 5-episode journey. The story is easy to follow for newcomers, and the worldbuilding offers a slice of what The Expanse universe has to offer. While Telltale’s The Expanse has a few shortcomings, the pros far outweigh the cons, and this delightful package is a slow burn to an explosive finale. One that both fans of the source material and newcomers will enjoy.
A PC key was provided by PR for the purposes of this review.
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Telltale’s The Expanse reinvents their mechanics while being a faithful inclusion to the lore that fans of the books or Amazon’s TV series will get the most out of.
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