Telltale Games has gained a lot of attention recently, after winning several game of the year awards for the first season of their Walking Dead adventure game, they also just released the final installments in the second season of that same game and The Wolf Among Us. They've got episodic adventure games based on Borderlands and Game of Thrones coming out soon, as well. All of these titles being episodic, though, I think it's time to assess the effectiveness and current state of episodic games.
Full disclosure: the first season of The Walking Dead was one of my favorite games in recent memories, and easily my favorite game of 2012. Prior to that, I was a fan of Telltale in general, having enjoyed some of their Sam and Max games. Needless to say, I was definitely anticipating season two of The Walking Dead, and was definitely interested in The Wolf Among Us, Telltale's game adaptation of the Fables series of comics.
Having now gotten a chance to finish the "seasons" for both games, I'm starting to wonder about Telltales' stringent use of the episodic format for their titles. It feels, to a certain extent, as if these games are just plugged in to the episode format rather than the design team actually taking time to consider whether or not the games make sense as episodes or how the games should be structured to take advantage of their episodic format.
Spoilers for The Walking Dead and The Wolf Among Us follow.
The first season of The Walking Dead really felt like it utlizied the format to enhance how it told its story. Lee's character arc was nicely concluded by the end of the fifth and final episode, while the final fate of Clementine was open to interpretation. Season two, though, saw the continuation of Clementine's story, and although the first season was already more or less about her, making her the main character clearly shifted the focus of the series on to her.
That being the case, The Walking Dead, seaons one and two taken as a whole, are really more just the continuing adventures of Clementine in the zombie apocalypse. I think the episodic format still works, as each episode is basically just "what's Clementine going to get into this month?" While season two does end climactically, compared to how season one ends, there's clearly more adventures for Clementine to wander towards.
The Wolf Among Us, however, is clearly going for a film noir vibe, with Bigby being a detective trying to solve a murder case. The whole adventure actually feels like one long film, rather than several seperate episodes. While each episode ends on a good cliffhanger, leaving the player in anticipation for the next installment, it still feels a little padded out, and like it probably would've worked better as a single game, honestly.
It's hard to say what to expect from Tales from the Borderlands and Game of Thrones, but I'm concerned that if Wolf Among Us is any indication, these titles might just be forced into the episodic gaming format just because that's what Telltale does. Of course, this isn't to say that Wolf Among Us is a bad game, or that Tales from the Borderlands or Game of Thrones will be bad, just that maybe Telltale needs to re-consider releasing episodic games simply because that's what they do.
End spoilers for The Walking Dead and The Wolf Among Us.
Of course, while I worry that Telltale Games might get stuck in the habit of releasing episodic games simply because it's expected of them, it's important to note that the reason I'm focusing on them so much is because they seem to be pretty much the only company successfully making episodic games.
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