Games from developer Telltale Games have become their own niche in recent years. Hate them or love them, there’s no denying there’s an audience for them. There have been games in all sorts of franchises. From The Walking Dead to Batman and Game of Thrones. Their latest game focuses on the hit science fiction series The Expanse. Read on for our thoughts in our The Expanse: A Telltale Series review.
Before I start this review, I want to give a heads up first. We’ve been given a key form Telltale games to do our review. Our deadline was set before the final episode releases however. That means we could only do this review based on the first episodes. We feel this gives us a clear view of the game, provided the final episodes follow the same structure. But do consider this as a review-in-progress. While we generally don’t do this and want to finish our games, we were unable to with the given deadline.
For fans of the science fiction show The Expanse, the premise is clear. For those unfamiliar, The Expanse is a science fiction show focusing on a more realistic approach to science fiction. It’s based on our own galaxy, hundreds of years in the future. Space flight has been normalized and other planets have been colonized. Earth is ruled by the United Nations, Mars by the Martian Republic and various planets and Asteroids by a faction called Belters. Neither of them like one another, which creates a lot of political tension. And then there’s all sorts of pirates, mercenaries and more. A dangerous galaxy for sure! But no aliens.
Prequel to the TV Series
While The Expanse TV show, based on a series of books, focuses on Captain James Holden and the crew of the Rocinante, The Expanse: A Telltale Series is set as a prequel to the TV series. The show centers on Camina Drummer as she captains her own ship. Camina Drummer was one of the more interesting side characters from The Expanse tv show, showing complex morality. Perfect for a Telltale game.
I have been a fan of the Telltale games for a long time. I’ve played every game since the first The Walking Dead game. The novelty wore off the past few years however, so when a new game releases I am always curious whether they managed to do something different and innovate. The answer is yes and no.
A classic visual novel adventure game
The Expanse: A Telltale Series is a classic visual novel adventure game. Most of the game consists of dialogue. You follow along a story, making choices for your character. At all times, you’ll get a variety of options showcasing certain moods. Almost everything you choose to say impacts something in the game. A character’s relationship with you, it’s attitude towards others and even the course of the story. The best choices in these kinds of games are high stakes dilemma’s. You’ll often have to make hard choices sometimes even meaning life or death for people.
In between the conversations you sometimes get the chance to explore your surroundings. You can either gather clues or talk to people of your crew for more background information on them. However, that’s about it. Most of the exploration takes place on your own ship in between missions and to be honest you’ve seen all there is to see after pretty much the first sweep.
The cast of the game is pretty cool. In the first half hour, you get introduced to your various crew members. From a grumpy pilot to a doctor clearly hiding something, there’s plenty of intrigue. Additionally, to spice things up, they’re all from different factions originally. While they have a common cause, considering these factions are all at war with each other you can imagine this sometimes puts them at odds. It’ll be up to you to ignite the flames or extinguish the arguments. As the game progresses, you’ll notice your choices start having an impact. As they should. By the time episode 3 kicks in, things can already look different for you and a friend. This is well done and promotes replayability. However, I don’t really see people playing through these games more than two times.
Now this all feels familiar to fans of Telltale games and there’s definitely no innovation in terms of the core gameplay. However one cool thing they have done, which fits the game thematically, is zero G missions. During the course of the episodes, you’ll explore various space wrecks in your space suit. This will allow you to explore a giant open area from high to low. You can approach the wrecks as you like and enter them on any vector. It brings a nice touch to the game.
Everything you expect, nothing more
However, that’s about it in terms of novelty. Generally speaking, The Expanse: A Telltale Series is everything you expect from a Telltale game and nothing more. Sure, there are great dilemma’s in terms of conversations but 15 years later a bit of novelty would be great. Especially since other games in the genre did manage to innovate a little. While The Expanse: A Telltale Series delivers a compelling story which should please fans of The Expanse, the gameplay loop can become repetitive.
This is even more of an issue because the first three episodes follow the exact flow in terms of story. You start on your ship, go space walking through some wrecks, return to your ship and that’s about it. Episodes are extremely short. While exploring every nook and cranny, it took me about 1,5 hours per episode. If you simply go through the story, while not looking for collectibles, you’ll be done within the hours per episode. This is way too short in my opinion, as previous Telltale games were much more varied in terms of environments and lengthier. It feels like a lazy entry in their catalogue.
Lights and Sounds
Graphically, their engine has improved a lot. There’s still a cartoony artstyle, however it looks much more detailed. This gives them more options in terms of facial animations, which is basically something we’ve come to expect nowadays. There’s a lot of cool details in the environment too. One thing that did seem off however was the walking animation of Camina Drummer. It looks very unnatural. I can usually get over it but it was weird enough for me to notice.
Additionally, once you boot up the game, fans of the series are sure to be pleased. You’ll be greeted by the Expanse’s theme song. It was immediately recognizable and instantly pulled me in their universe. There’s also great voice acting present in the game, with Camina Drummer being voiced by the original actor, Cara Gee. An amazing get! Sadly, at times there’s a little too much pause between sentences to keep it fluent, but that’s not on the voice actors.
The Expanse: A Telltale Series follows the classic Telltale formula. You’ll have to decide for yourself if that’s a good thing or a bad thing. In my opinion, some innovation is needed to avoid series fatigue. While the setting and story are great (Which are most important in these games), they’re incredibly short. So much so I’m not sure it justifies the full price. The structure of the episodes is also very predictable and repetitive. I enjoyed my time with the game and will definitely finish it up (And update the review), but if they don’t turn things up a few notches for the last episodes, I don’t see The Expanse: A Telltale Series making a lasting impact.
- Great setting and story
- Excellent voice work
- Varied characters
- Short episodes
- Repetitive mission structure