(Posted to my Facebook page on August 27, 2014)
So I just finished Walking Dead Season 2, Episode 5.
I did certainly enjoy it, it managed to raise the stakes quite a bit, you see any scrap of child left in Clementine die and be replaced with something… stronger. It ends with an earth-shattering decision, a terrifying revelation, and a future that can look hopeful, grim, or anywhere in the middle.
However… Well, I have to admit that the series as a whole has an issue with its choices. It gives you a lot of choices and claims that the game will change to reflect your choices, but that really isn’t the case most of the time. Most of the time, your choices will only change the occasional bits of dialogue; the actual path of the story, who lives and dies, those are more or less set in stone.
Let me give an example using season 1, to provide as few spoilers as possible (Though if you haven’t played season 1, now might be a good time to stop reading for spoilers sake)
There is a character named Ben who is encountered at the beginning of Season 1 episode 2. With him are two other characters at the time. You have to make a pretty gut wrenching decision due to one of them having their legs caught with walkers approaching, but regardless of your choices, two of them end up dead by the next scene, and Ben joins your group. This is utterly set in stone. This is also a pretty good time to mention that Ben is the most useless character in a video game that I’ve ever seen. I cannot honestly think of one time he did anything to improve the situation. His contributions either did nothing (As a result of him doing nothing or doing something useless) or made things worse. At the end of Episode 4, you have a choice to try and save Ben or let him die, with him letting you know that he’s willing to die for the group. I opted to let him die, only to later learn that if you save him, he just dies early on in Episode 5 anyways, also without doing anything of note.
(SPOILERS FOR SEASON 2 BELOW)
They do this in Season 2 as well with a character I was desperately trying to like (They were clearly trying to make this character the new Clementine), but with her being a crybaby and unable to grow and toughen up like Clementime managed to do (While making a meaningful connection to the player), Sarah just becomes an anchor. A whiny anchor that I feel obliged to help because nearly everyone she knew is dead. In episode 4, There’s a point where Luke and Sarah are trapped by walkers, and you go to help her. Sarah is paralyzed with fear and depression (Her father being dead), and Clementine has the option of forming a stronger bond with Sarah and finally getting her to react by slapping some sense into her, giving me hope that Sarah could grow. However, as I noticed, there was an option to leave her for the walkers, which made me immediately realize that Sarah would die soon regardless of my choice here (Otherwise, they’d have to write the script much further assuming Sarah was alive and not alive is my main assumption for why they do this, which makes sense but also annoys the hell out of me.) Lo and behold, if you saved Sarah in the scene I just described, she dies in the Episode 4 Climax regardless of your actions. In all, it makes a game that seems to pride itself on its tough choices (Which certainly still exist) lose a lot of impact once I realize that most of my choices don’t really have an impact in the long run.
Now, this is the point where I say SPOILERS FOR EPISODE 5 TURN BACK NOW YOU HAVE BEEN WARNED because there’s a lot of this in Episode 5 as well.
The first being Luke. Luke is the only remaining character met in Episode 1 of season 2, and if we know anything about The Walking Dead, well…
So, pretty early on you come to a river you need to cross that has frozen over in the dead of winter. Rather than, I dunno, LOOK FOR A WAY AROUND, the group insists that they will be fine if they just spread out and move slowly.
Hear that click? That was the sound of the lightbulb over your head lighting up because everyone knows where this is going. Lo and behold, the ice under Luke’s feet begin to crack. You’re given the option of listening to Luke and just covering him as he tries to get out, or going out to try and save him yourself. No matter what you choose, Luke dies. All it changes is the tone of one conversation you have later in the episode. Seriously. A character we’ve known and grown with for the ENTIRE SEASON croaks, and that’s all we get out of it.
And with the final choice… well, there are actually quite a few ways that the final choice can go, and it will change the epilogue depending on that choice. The problem here is that the endings are so wildly different I find it hard to believe a season 3 can come out of this. I suppose that’s something of a good thing; leaving the audience to come up with their own ending can work as a story telling decision, or season 3 might include a large time skip, which could also be interesting.
So, the big question. Did I like episode 5? Yes, but the problems I see aren’t ones that I see going away, which leads me to the next, BIGGER question: Did I like Season 2? Again, yes, but it leaves me nervous for the future of this series. As much as it pains me to say it, I kind of hope it just ends here, because the problems with the story I’ve mentioned I don’t see going away any time soon.
Telltale, I wish you great luck with the future of your point-and-click adventure games, many of which I’m very excited for (Wolf Among Us season 2, Tales from the Borderlands, a rumored Game of Thrones game, ect), but it may be time to put this particularly series to rest.