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The Wolf Among Us

12:0516/07/2014Posted by Dave Stuart4 Comments

Now that the first season of Telltale’s adaptation of the Fables graphic novel is finally complete, I wanted to write a follow up to the initial review of episodes 1 and 2 that ran a few months back on the site and take a view on the series as a whole. So did the story manage to maintain the early momentum? And were Telltale able to stick the landing?

With the season complete it is easier to parse The Wolf Among Us for what it is, rather than to be tempered by expectation (from the looming shadow of The Walking Dead) or speculation as to what the end game was going to be. Taken in this way The Wolf Among Us is a bold and mostly successful step forward in terms of narrative storytelling, that actually approaches the topic in a very different manner to the games Telltale have made in the past. By the time Episode 5, Cry Wolf wraps up any pretension to call these ‘adventure games’ has long been lost. These are character and dialogue driven interactive stories, with enough player agency and interactivity to keep you feeling a part of the action.

In my initial review I praised the look and feel of the world, and this remained one of the series’ strongest factors right to the end, in fact the last episode features a couple of action sequences that are amongst the visually interesting and enjoyable as anything Telltale have done. Elsewhere the strong art-style works best at illuminating character emotions and interactions, without which the emotion of the story would be lost. It’s easy to overlook something as seemingly simple as this, but the odd moments of stiff animation or out-of-sync animation are jarring enough to emphasise how well it works most of the time. As this is such a plot and character driven story The Wolf Among Us does a good job for the most part of giving your choices throughout some weight by the end, and also servicing all the characters featured and giving them, if not a full arc then some closure to their stories.

When the season started it was difficult to predict how important the choices you made were going to be to the story, or how divergent the branching paths would become. A mechanic only occasionally used that gives you the option of visiting two places seems like it might work well at having you miss out on information and dealing with the consequences of not being able to be everywhere at once. As it is though these are somewhat disappointing in their use, with the order you visit places in not actually mattering much to the overall plot. In fact the story as a whole feels very linear, the main influence you have revolves instead around Bibgy’s reputation within the community. As such the result is a game in which you don’t ever feel in control of the story, but instead have more of a personal connection to the protagonist, where each questionable decision or bout of anger is thrown back at you come the conclusion. Often though the deck feels stacked against you, the embittered nature of the Fabletown residents leaves Bigby between a rock and a hard place, never able to please everyone. For the most part this works well, as social commentary but also as a way of presenting two sides to nearly every issue. But at times it can be somewhat dispiriting, instead having the effect of making your actions feel meaningless, and your well intentioned gestures misinterpreted, ignored, or even not catered for in the options you are presented at all.

For the most part though the solid writing and intriguing mystery were enough to keep me engaged with the game, even when I felt little more than a passing observer, and the series as a whole kept me eagerly anticipating each new instalment. The short length of the chapters did help the game feel focused and helped maintain momentum, but also meant that some aspects felt under utilised, with many characters suffering from limited time in the later stages (Snow White in episode 5 is a prime culprit of this). So whilst the short length of episodes lends itself to more easy replaying of certain chapters, it makes the game feel slightly thin in places. Whether any cuts were made to maintain a more consistent release schedule it’s hard to say, but there are times where a bit more depth and content might have gone a long way.

As it is the ambition and world often overshadows the underlying game, but only because the standards were set so high from the first episode. What we are ultimately left with is a very good first season that does a fantastic job of establishing a world and characters that you want to spend more time with. There are endless stories they could tell from here, the liberation from the graphic novels gives them a certain amount of free reign. I just hope that some of the lessons are learned and Telltale are able to double down on making the player feel a part of the investigation, and that their choices actually mean something. There are so few studios releasing such character focused and personal games right now that I can only hope Telltale don’t spread themselves too thin, and lose track of what made them stand out in the first place.

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