The Expanse: A Telltale Series
It may not be expansive, but Telltale’s new game gets the job done
It may not be expansive, but Telltale’s new game gets the job done
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Review game The Expanse: A Telltale SeriesComments
I’m in front of an airlock door, looking through the glass at someone. I, or Camina Drummer, am on the right side of the door, but the person I’m watching is on the wrong side. I have to make a choice. This person is pleading with me to let them live. They are fools, greedy, bigoted, and incompetent, and they are a threat to me and everyone else on board. But this person says they will give me information that will help me. They swear they’ll make up for what they’ve done wrong. Do I press the button to let them back inside the ship, locking them in the brig and hoping they won’t find a new way to screw me over in the future? Or do I press the other button, send them into space, and live with the knowledge that I killed someone in cold blood for the sake of convenience posing as justice?
I decided what to do. The button is pressed. From there, the story goes on.
In The Expanse: A Telltale Series, not every choice is as big as this one, but even small choices matter. At least, the game wants you to think that. What I say to the people on my crew, which solution I choose, how aggressive I am or how nice I try to be—all of this is recorded, and it all has the potential to affect what happens next. Some of this is almost certainly an illusion, like when notifications say “[CHARACTER] will remember this” but don’t explain what that means. However, the detail is impressive, especially given how smoothly each episode moves from one point to the next.
Even worse, I don’t know which of the choices I make will matter and which won’t. The hook of The Expanse is that you have to make choices in the moment with limited information. The twist is that the story keeps going no matter what choice you make, so you can’t go back and change it to get a better result. There are screens that say “game over,” but they involve quick-time events or challenges that make you move. The most important part of the game is exploring your surroundings, finding information, and getting to know your crewmates. As you work towards each episode’s main goals, you can also do optional tasks to make their lives better.
You play as Camina Drummer, a badass who was born in space but was kicked out of her home and now works with a crew of scavengers. Drummer is a fan favourite from the TV show The Expanse, which was based on a series of books by James S.A. Corey. Here, Cara Gee, who played Drummer on the show, plays her again. The game’s story takes place before the events of the show. This means that Drummer is the only one of the cast that people will recognise right away, and Gee’s voice work gives the project credibility right away. Gee stands out among the cast, which has different levels of talent (no one is bad, but not everyone is great). Fans of the show are sure to enjoy hearing her step back into the role.
Even people who haven’t been following the story will be glad she’s there, though it might take them a while to catch up. The Expanse doesn’t take long to explain what’s going on. It’s a lot like the show it’s based on in that it throws you into a bad situation and expects you to figure out what’s going on on your own. I’ve seen the show, so I was able to keep up with terms like “Belters,” “Inners,” and “the OPA,” but they’re also not too hard to figure out from the context. A glossary of basic terms could have been helpful. It’s not necessary for the story the game is telling, but since we only see things from Drummer’s point of view, it would have been nice to know what the different groups she’s worried about are trying to do.
If you’ve played a Telltale game before, you should know how this one works.
Drummer explores wrecked or abandoned spaceships when she’s not talking to the rest of the crew. Her ship, the Artemis, is made up of people who live by, well, scavenging. She walks up and down hallways a lot, using her magnet boots to stick to metal or the thrusters on her spacesuit to move while in freefall. The controls work well enough, and it’s surprising how much fun it is to explore the space, look into different things, and find the occasional item that can be sold. The game looks great. It’s a good mix of cartoony and realistic, so it doesn’t fall into the “uncanny valley,” and there are lots of wide views to see between the corridors.
If you’ve played a Telltale game before, you should know how to play this one. For those who haven’t, the main way to move through the story is to have conversations with the characters and make big decisions when they come up. Even though we’ve seen them before, they still work well, and the writing, which is based on the book, does a good job of showing both the immediate danger Drummer is in and the larger forces that shape her life and the lives of those around her. The show was different from a lot of other science fiction on TV because it made sure viewers were always aware of the difficulties of space travel. The game tries to follow in that vein by making it clear how often these characters are close to dying.
Screenshots from The Expanse: A Telltale Series
The game does less well with the other things it tries to do. The fights are just a series of quicktime events where you have to click a certain number of buttons based on what you see. The time limits are flexible enough that it’s not hard to get through them, and it’s nice to take a break from exploring, but there isn’t much depth. A segment where you have to avoid drone lasers or get killed right away is more of a chore than anything else, and without quicksaves (which would make it too easy to change the story) or enough checkpoints, a mistake means getting killed and having to play the whole segment over again. It’s still annoying, no matter how many times you hear it.
It’s not a new problem for Telltale to have trouble coming up with ways to make its games more than just “walk and talk.” The Expanse fails at that, and the best you could say about its non-dialogue and collecting mechanics is that they’re not as bad as they could have been. The writing, however, makes up for a lot. The story takes a while to get going, but it gets more ambitious and a lot scarier as it goes on. By the end of the third episode (reviewers had access to the first three episodes in advance), it’s almost impossible not to want to keep playing to find out what happens next.
The Expanse: A Telltale Series is a good addition to the studio’s long-running series of story-driven games. The episodes look great, and Cara Gee does a great job as the main character. This helps bring back the feel of the TV show, even though most of the regular characters aren’t there. Outside of the dialogue scenes, the game has trouble coming up with interesting ways to play. It relies too much on quick-time events and average movement challenges. But the story and choices you make make up for these small problems.
FAQ for THE EXPANSE: A SERIES OF TELLINGS
Do the books or the show influence The Expanse: A Telltale Series?
It follows the show and gives you a look at Camina Drummer’s life before the events of season one. Cara Gee reprises her role from the show.
Did you work on the story for The Expanse: A Telltale Series with James S.A. Corey?
Working with the people who made the show was both humbling and great. We told them about our first story idea, and not only did they give us great feedback, but some of their ideas ended up in the final game. It also gave us a chance to fill out parts of the story that hadn’t been touched on before.
Do I need to have seen The Expanse for the game to make sense?
No. In fact, we wanted to make something that was a great way for people who hadn’t seen The Expanse before to start. Since this takes place before the first season of the show, you can start from scratch, but if you’ve seen the Amazon Prime series, you’ll get even more out of the game.
Will any other characters from the show show up in the game besides Drummer?
Bosmang, yes. At this time, we have nothing else to say. To find out, you have to play.
Episodes of the Game
Is The Expanse: A Telltale Series like your old Telltale games in that it has short episodes?
Our new games are made up of separate parts called “episodes,” but there’s a big difference: We’ve changed how we make games on the back end, so we can release seasons much faster than we could before. After Episode 1 comes out on July 27, we can promise that the rest will come out every two weeks.
Why go with episodes if you’re making the whole season of The Expanse: A Telltale Series at once?
Imagine your favourite TV show. You watch an episode, talk to your friends about it, and wonder what’s going to happen next. The next episode comes out about a week later. With our games, we want to tap into that. Because there are only two weeks between episodes, this is possible.
In the past, you could buy individual episodes or the whole season at once. Is this the same?
No, we’re not making it hard. We’re putting out the season in episodes (every two weeks, starting July 27! ), but you can only buy the whole season at once. The only choices are the Standard Edition or the Deluxe Edition, which comes with an extra DLC episode about which we will talk more in the future.