I have a very serious love/hate relationship with you and your products. On the one hand, I think your storytelling is great – Wolf Among Us is proof of this, as it has a quite mature narrative that it handles very well, but then…
…well, we have several things that are very badly wrong.
Because of your model, there are games that simply will never get a second outing and completely deserve it. This particular game is one such.
Let me tell you why.
I’ve already mentioned the story telling. So let’s talk about that for a little. In this particular outing of Fables, which is a comic book series written by Bill Willingham, we meet Bigby wolf who is – of course – the Big, Bad Wolf. Bigby has been set up as the sheriff of Fabletown, a place where all the fables you know from your childhood – Little Red Riding Hood, Snow White, the Little Mermaid – have all come to settle to make a better life from themselves, far away from their original stories.
In this particular version of the world, it’s important that Fables lay low, so that the mundies – regular, mundane people like you and me – don’t spot them. Naturally, when gruesome murders begin to take place, Bigby has to investigate, before the mainstream police find out what’s going on.
This is the narrative strand that carries the game – a slow-burn noir-like detective story that spans five episodes which clock in at about an hour and a half to two hours or so per episode. It’s very much like a TV drama where you’re driving the action.
There’s a lot to like about the narrative: it sometimes yanks the rug from underneath you just as you’re getting comfortable. It’s a genuinely adult story, with all the complexities that brings to the table. Absolutely everyone has an agenda and you need to keep that in mind while you’re investigating. From the crass Bluebeard down to Bigby’s “room-mate” Colin, everyone has an angle. For Colin this is simple: don’t go to The Farm. Bluebeard has greater ambitions and a quite sadistic streak.
The problem with the narrative is where it fails. Because this is a TellTale game, it has very Telltale problems.
The first, glaring problem is that your choices won’t matter. Not a lot, anyhow. The story has a very scripted arc which can meddle with your choices. A very early example of this comes when you meet Toad and his son TJ. Toad has various problems – most of which are story-related and that I can’t go into here, because I don’t want to ruin the plot, but near the end of the game it seems like you can solve them, however no matter what you do, Toad’s problems always become insurmountable, and he’s always in the last scene and always in a bad situation.
Upon initially finishing the game, I went searching for forum threads and the like detailing how you could solve Toad’s problems, but you can’t. That outcome is the only outcome there is. It feels cheap of TellTale to do this, because it absolutely feels like you’re failing the characters.
The second problem with Wolf Among Us and it’s narrative is your complete lack of agency in some spots.
Until I discovered that you can pause the game to make conversation decisions, they were flying by too quickly, because Telltale feels that you should only have a handful of seconds to decide what to say or do. This is problematic for various reasons, cardinal of which is that your actions and words dictate what sort of Bigby you are.
You can either be the Big, Bad Wolf, tearing people limb from limb or you can be an understanding, reasonable sheriff, searching all of Fabletown for some answers. However, the pause function is absolutely pivotal here, as a result of the short time frame you need to make decisions.
But this doesn’t even begin to address the greater problem with this system: the complete lack of input you have in certain situations that absolutely demand it. At several points throughout the game, Bigby’s life will be in danger and at almost all of these, TellTale decided to strip you of choice, instead opting for Quick Time Event-driven fight scenes. Were you playing the benevolent Wolf? Too bad. You have to beat these people to a pulp.
It cheapens the central hook upon which the game lies: can you stop your wolf from escaping? It’s so problematic, especially because a lot of the narrative exists around this central hook. Many Fables even remark on it in some way or another. I understand and accept that it costs money to create each individual fork in the road for each particular choice, but this is a TellTale problem: sell the idea that your choices matter when, sadly, they don’t.
These are the two biggest problems with the game, though. Everything else is wonderful, from the slightly VNV-Nation-like electronic soundtrack to the crisp, hand-drawn locales, the world of Fables will draw you right in and hold on right until you finish the last chapter.
And that ending? You might see parts of it coming, but your mind will positively reel at the final conversation.
So, my take away? TellTale have created a fantastic game that has some of the same problems they’ve had with every game they’ve made to date, but the story, characters and world of this particular outing are interesting enough to absolutely warrant your time.