Two Telltale Tales

I’ve been playing through Telltale’s A Wolf Among Us, since the first episode was released last fall. After my great experience with The Walking Dead, I was ready to continue my ride on the Telltale train.

A Wolf Among Us is a gorgeous game with the same, heavily-outlined, cell-shaded art as TWD. But it also has some of its own style, with an atmosphere that looks like a cross between Heavy Rain and Vice City. The story (based on the graphic novels Fables), what I’ve seen of it so far, is good. It’s filled with interesting characters and situations. I love the premise of having fairy tale characters living, in secret, in the real world.

The game is usually referred to as an adventure game but in reality it’s more of an interactive story, with quick time events. Ninety percent of the game requires no interaction at all; it’s mostly watching characters interact with each other. I don’t necessarily have a problem with this, as the characters are very watchable and the writing is well done. When you do actually get to play the game, it mostly involves walking through a room and examining things, or making dialogue choices (plus the quick time events whenever you end up fighting someone). Really, the formula is identical to TWD. Heavy on narrative, light on game play.

So I’m left wondering… why did I love The Walking Dead, while my experience so far with A Wolf Among Us is only mediocre?

I think part of the problem is the episodic nature of the games. TWD fit into episodes very well. Though they were all part of the larger story about Lee and Clementine, each episode had a logical endpoint which wrapped up the smaller narrative. Episode 1 was about the characters dealing with the initial zombie outbreak and finding a safe (for now) place to stay. Episode 2 dealt with finding another group of survivors on a farm, etc. Episode 4 was the only one that ended with a real cliff-hanger, something that wasn’t wrapped up within the episode. Wolf, on the other hand, is not so neatly broken up. There are no smaller stories; it’s all about Bigby searching for a serial killer within Fabletown. So when an episode ends, I don’t feel as if I’ve really completed anything, I just feel frustrated that I’ll have to wait another 3 months to get the next part of the story.

Time between episodes is also a big problem. Whereas I didn’t start playing TWD until 4 episodes were already out, I’ve been playing Wolf as it’s released. With TWD I felt like a got a solid 8 hour game, followed by a short wait for the finale, while with Wolf the ratio of game time (episodes take about 90 minutes to finish) to waiting time seems insane. My interest level has gone down with each episode.

There’s also a problem with the characters. The Wolf story and characters aren’t gripping me like they should. This is odd, as the atmosphere and story of Wolf are way more appealing to me than TWD on a surface level. But for some reason it’s not grabbing me. With Lee in TWD I felt very close to his character – decisions he (I) made had an effect on me, and how the rest of the characters saw him was important. With Bigby, I’m just an observer. Whether the other characters respect the tactics he uses to get what he needs doesn’t really matter to me, I just want him to solve the mystery. TWD’s decisions felt like moral decisions. Wolf’s feel somewhat less than – is it really immoral for a wolf to rip out someone’s throat? TWD, for me, was a role-playing game. Wolf is a story, and one I could get through much faster if I just read the graphic novels.

Another aspect that makes Wolf feel more like a story than a game to me is that I’m not finding any of the decisions I make or conversations paths I choose make much of a difference. I know that in TWD the ending was set – your decisions didn’t change what ultimately happened; only who was with you in the end, but regardless of that, the choices felt important. I wanted to make decisions that would make Clem strong, so she would survive (side-note: having a child character so prominently featured in the game who I wanted to save rather than knock off was quite a writing feat). I wanted the other characters in my party to trust me. I wanted to save as many people as possible. In Wolf, I don’t feel any of these things. When the text pops up “Toad will remember that,” I think “so?” he’s going to give me the information I need whether or not I backed him up in the previous chapter. Choosing to visit one location over another makes me think I’m going to miss a small scene, but I don’t think it’s impacting the outcome in any meaningful way.

Even the quick time events aren’t as exciting to me. In TWD I was afraid that being slow meant that I (or someone else) would get eaten by a zombie. Wolf’s combat is much more prolonged and there’s a lot of spamming of the A button, which often doesn’t even feel like it’s doing anything. You also need to fail a number of actions before you face any consequence (i.e. death).

To make a long story short (too late), I’m disappointed. TWD was one of my best gaming experiences last year, I got totally immersed in it, and the end left me choking back sobs for a good 10 minutes. Wolf just isn’t doing it for me. Perhaps my expectations were too high. I’ll finish the game – hopefully the final chapter will elevate my experience a bit since there will be some closure and no more waiting. Chapter 4 is out next week, so I’ll let you know if it changes my opinion at all.

Have you played both of these games? What do you think?

Footnote: As a life-long inverter of y-axes, I’d really appreciate the ability to do this in future Telltale games. My quick-time responses could be much quicker.

4 responses to “Two Telltale Tales

  1. This is weird, because I had totally the opposite experience. I really disliked how TWD would frequently kill people off, often for no real reason. The last straw for me was when the daughter of the old asshole randomly decides to kill the reporter lady (at least that’s what happened to me). What possible purpose did that serve?

    And then all of these people that I had actually kind of liked since EP1 are gone and suddenly replaced with randoms because the game needs more people to kill off? How does that make sense? Loss only works when you’re attached to a character. Adding people just so they can die later (and you know they’re going to die later) is just boring to me.

    Plus I never really cared about Clem. Like. Ever.

    On the other hand, I really like a lot of the characters in Wolf. I care about Bigby and how he solves a situation. I actually agonize over the choices a lot in Wolf, whereas in TWD it really came down to “Who annoys me the least?”

    /shrug

    • I thought that in a zombie apocalypse scenario killing people off made sense. Though I agree about the reporter’s death.

      I worried more about decisions in Wolf Among Us in the beginning. But, for example, at the beginning of chapter 3 I made a decision at the funeral, people got shot and I went “oh my god, could I have saved them? Maybe I should start over!” then 2 scenes later there they were, alive and not much worse for wear. The decision I made didn’t seem to matter at all. When I see that a character is remembering an action or a decision I made, it’s hard to imagine how it will affect things for me later in the game, since I haven’t seen any of those effects yet.

  2. I think part of the difference/problem is that Lee is a blank slate and we don’t know anything about him, so over the course of the episodes you are free to make him “your” Lee. Where as Bigby, even if you don’t know anything about the Fables universe, he’s already established in-world and has a reputation as violent, as a loner, as disliked in the community, etc. So already your choices are limited to either fighting this pre-established reputation or embracing it. Which I suppose they had to do – they couldn’t make Bigby completely non-violent or it would obviously not align with the comics – but it does take away from the player “narrative freedom” compared to TWD.
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    • That’s a good point. I like how in TWD they used the world, but gave you completely new characters and story (besides one or two from the comics/show that show up). So as far as I knew, the story could really go anywhere. With Wolf, though I know nothing about the graphic novel, I feel like the story is pretty much set.