Wolf Among Us Review: Bite The Hand That Feeds

Oh, TellTale.

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.

A picture of one of the blurbs about one of the characters in Wolf Among Us.  This particular bio is for The Woodsman and contains a picture of him.
Each Fable has a bio

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.

This is a picture showing the quick time events in Wolf Among Us.  In this scene, Beast is laying into Bigby over a misunderstanding.
Beast! I just want to be friends!

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.


  1. I know where you’re coming from here, but I think people mistake what they want from the game from what’s advertised for the game. With TT it’s always been your choices AFFECT the story, not change it. Your story is going to be different from mine. Sure, we all end up at the same end point. It was an entirely different gaming experience though. I can forgive a game for that. It’s kind of like games that let you customize your avatar so you can connect with them better. TT lets you customize your story so you can better connect with the characters. Really if you want you can look at it as a study of fate and free choice – How choice is an illusion and we’re all bound by predetermination. So I can enjoy the ‘choices’ they give with no problem because I’m not looking to alter the ending. I’m looking to enjoy the story as it unfolds. Allowing a few tweaks here and there to change up how I connect to the characters is a welcome experience. Even more so when you consider the general landscape of games. For example, you’d never fault adventure games for only having one solution to a puzzle or one path to victory. It’s missing the point of those games.
    With the story and gameplay not meshing that makes sense. I haven’t played Wolf so I can’t speak to specifics, but maybe him losing control is supposed to be represented by the player losing control? It’s kind of like in Shadowrun (tabletop) – You could take negative traits for additional character build points… Stuff like OCDs, phobias, addictions. If left up to the player to decide when to implement those, it misses the point. They’re supposed to be points when the character doesn’t have control. Unfortunately the only way to reinforce that is to strip control from the player. It can be frustrating but I think that’s kind of the point.

    1. Your points are valid and I agree with them.

      My trouble was with the fact that Telltale often set themselves up in this situation where it seems like you’re going to affect – if not the arc of the story, then at least what happens at the end – even in little ways.

      For example: Let’s say I interact with a character early on in the story and I have two choices: “I like you a lot and hope that when this is over, we can hang out” versus “I’m sorry, but this isn’t going to work out between us.”

      At the end of the story, my interaction [and reinforcement of those actions] should lead to them either being there or not being there. This is what I have been expecting all along as a result of what I’ve been doing, but because Telltale often hijack the plot, my character’s actions end up having zero bearing on the long-term outcome of that relationship.

      This is why I say I feel like I “failed the characters” in the review. I want to be the good sheriff and it seems like TellTale are giving me the tools towards that end, but then…they hijack my choice and substitute their own.

      To be fair, it is their story and not mine, but then I feel like they shouldn’t have included those actions. They shouldn’t have me building a “relationship” with that character if all they’re going to do is throw my actions in my face.

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