Telltale Games has already proven that it’s comprised of masterful storytellers with its episodic take on The Walking Dead franchise. The series was beloved for its emotional and gripping narrative and the daunting and consequential choices the player was forced to make. While the premiere episode of The Wolf Among Us shifts focus to a more action-centered mystery tale in a new and intriguing universe, the studio is still courageously leading the pack in this unique era of story-based gameplay.
The Wolf Among Us is as beautiful as it is dark. The gorgeous cel-shaded art, moody color scheme, and that perfect comic book feel only mask the grim reality that Sheriff Bigby, the player character, finds himself in. You play as the Big Bad Wolf who acts as the protector of Fabletown, a neighborhood populated by disguised fairy tale characters. Using a magic substance called “glamour,” fables can disguise themselves as “mundies” (the normal–or mundane–people that inhabit our planet). Those unable to afford the item are sent to a secluded part of town called The Farm where they live in solitude in their natural forms.
In the two-hour episode, a whodunit plot quickly surfaces, leading to a string of significant and stressful decisions with lasting impact. The Wolf Among Us takes player choice to a whole new level. In The Walking Dead, decisions mattered, but they mainly dictated how others felt and thought about you. While that mechanic is still prevalent in Telltale’s latest game, what you do matters just as much as what you say as entire chapters may pan out differently depending on split-second decisions the player is forced to make. For instance, if two different characters in two different places are in trouble, and time is a crucial factor in both cases, who do you help out first? Choices like this aren’t rare and may change aspects of your game for the entire season, making these decisions incredibly tense. More than once I found myself with the controller on my lap as I pulled at my hair, tormenting myself with the possible outcomes of choices I had only seconds to make. I loved these moments, and I hope Telltale makes the most of them going forward.
Perhaps the biggest improvement since Telltale’s last series is the addition of thrilling action sequences. In my time with the game, I spent several minutes beating up characters and chasing suspects through multiple buildings and alleyways. These aren’t cheap quick time events, either; choice matters even in these instances. Do you throw a character into a bookshelf or smash his head on a sink? Did the perp you were tailing run through a doorway or climb out a window? Player choice is at the core of every interaction of The Wolf Among Us, and the beautiful thing is that, like in real life, I didn’t always know the ramifications of my actions until they played out. Telltale did a brilliant job of teasing what may have happened had I done things differently without making me regret my choice outright, meaning the consequences of my decisions never felt unjustified. It goes without saying that many curious players will beat the game multiple times.
Bigby interacts with plenty of characters throughout the episode, each one as unique as the stories they originate from. These fables are crass, vulgar, and struggle with personal vices, a stark contrast to what their respective fairy tales want us to believe. However, this only solidifies them as actual personalities, as real as you or I, and, as a result, instantly pulled me in. As the player, it’s your job to build a relationship of sorts with these gritty characters. Considering there are different ramifications down the road depending on how I treated others, I made sure to tread carefully. Still, more than once I said the wrong thing and cringed at the idea of what that person must now think of me. Again, this is much like real life (despite the fact I was interacting with talking pigs and flying green monkeys), which made the whole experience resonate with me even more. Although there is no Clementine clone or huge emotional attachment to any specific character right off the bat–which may be a turn-off for some–the episode does a good job at introducing the large cast in a natural way. By the end, I had already grown fond of a handful of characters.
A few things about the game irked me–the requirement to stop moving entirely before being able to interact with an object and the frequent and unforgivable framerate lag are particularly frustrating–but nothing pulled me out of the experience. The voice acting is top notch, the action sequences are infinitely better than anything Telltale has done before, and the transition between gameplay and cutscene is seamless. The ending of the episode forced an audible gasp out of me with a cliffhanger that will make any fan count the days until the release of the next installment. Telltale has created another enthralling and engaging tale I need to see more of. It may not have the emotional bonds I felt right away with The Walking Dead, but it is every bit as masterfully crafted.