If you only measure the success of a narrative game by how many regrets it can cause, then… sprawl: The Telltale series is top notch. After thrusting me into a tense confrontation at the end of the first three episodes, I made two decisions in the space game that left me in a state of extreme exhaustion. Ironically, I really thought I was helping prevent the one thing I wanted to avoid during my play in The Expanse, but in Telltale fashion, I was doing the opposite.
After being bankrupt and subsequently reactivated by LCG Entertainment, Telltale Games has returned to the adventure game scene, offering more licensed spin-offs from beloved franchises. First, the sci-fi series The Expanse had a prequel, helmed by Kamina Drummer, during her years as the costar of the starship Artemis.
Kamina and crew investigate a slightly ominous wreck, hoping for a payday that will set them up for life. What they find only sets us up for distress and heartbreak — but in a good way. Co-developed with Deck Nine, The Expanse: A Telltale Series recalibrates the familiar structure and feel of the genre-defining action-adventure games The Wolf Among Us and The Walking Dead.
Through a mixture of dialogue trees and exploration, you can check out Artemis as a central hub, and move between decks to chat with your shipmates. Conversations flow through two-choice offshoots, providing only basic context before providing a notification that someone will remember something you said.
After a certain amount of talking, you head out to scavenge, spacewalking in zero gravity through fields of debris. There’s some light bewilderment and the occasional point of sneakiness, all still rooting for Kamina and her teammates or foes back and forth. Like previous Telltale projects, The Expanse shines most when it comes to character and mood.
Most of the characters are “Belters” – people who originated in colonies within the asteroid belt on the outer fringes of our solar system (for example, The Expanse takes place in the 1300s AD). They have a little irreplaceable accents, their own dialect and slang. There’s a group of four who do all the dangerous things together, featuring Carmina, Maya, and twins Arlene and Ryan. They trade barbs on each other’s past, a testament to their writing and vocal performances, and it’s worth finding it all just to hear more from them.
Others are less charming. Pilot Khan’s rage and constant insults wear out some scenes, and Virgil, the doctor, doesn’t get enough time to make you want to know more. Listening to the Belters could be the focus, since Camina appears in both the books and TV series and is portrayed by on-screen actress Cara Gee, but the rest of the cast could still use a little more attention.
Wander suffers from a similar glitch. You can propel your suit any way while floating, giving you just the right amount of steering until a combination of deceleration and a rogue cam crash into a section of broken grating. I’ll feel a gentle stretch, flipping the flag nuggets in my head, before having a solid minute trying to get myself right again.
However, the chatter as you float from one floating metal island to another among the wrecked space cruisers overcomes these problems. Since episodes are about an hour long — give or take time for Wheels of the Galaxy — the chats have to drive the narrative at the same time and rely on your empathy. I was surprised at how interesting it ended up being, because the right impulses were pushed at the right moments.
There aren’t a lot of surprises if you know the genre or the property, but when you’re the one making the choices, the plot twists have the added sting of being self-inflicted. The Walking Dead crushed a lot of us, and now The Expanse, which is the best of Telltale’s looks or looks, can do the same.
I’m in love with the beautiful starry background, and The Expanse captures that certain stillness that makes quality sci-fi games such as they come. Watching the credits, I had the urge to play Mass Effect, which is a huge compliment to what the team has done here. I can’t think of any better way to wait for Episode 4.
The Stretch: The Telltale Series
The Expanse: The Telltale Series brings one of video game’s finest storytellers back to the fore, resulting in a prequel that delights fans and opens the door for newcomers.