The Expanse: A Telltale Series on PC
After I rolled credits on the first three episodes of The Expanse: A Telltale series, it hit me that this isn’t the same kind of experience Telltale Games was once known for.
To be sure, all of the usual elements are there. The episodes had choices that impacted the outcome of a longform narrative, and brief gameplay segments broke up the dialogue dumps to keep the experience breezy. There were even some scant moments where it was unclear what the best course of action would be, and I had to step away in order to weigh the consequences of what I could do.
But at the game’s core, The Expanse wasn’t another cookie cutter offering which could blend in seamlessly with Telltale’s many other titles. And for the most part, that’s a good thing.
Granted, this won’t be readily apparent. The narrative kicks off much like any other Telltale game, with players taking the role of Camina Drummer in her earlier years. After her captain Cox uncovers the scavenging opportunity of a lifetime, her and her crew are sent to claim the trove for themselves before it can be scooped up by other prospective scavengers.
Once she finds it though, it becomes clear that it’s far more than they bargained for. She’ll then need to navigate her way through a brutal contest with pirates, personal relationships and allegiances with her crew, and ghosts from her past in order to use this bounty to etch out a better life for herself.
It’s fairly standard stuff for a Telltale title, but it’s written and balanced surprisingly well regardless of how much experience players have with the property. Longtime fans will have a blast exploring Drummer’s past and getting to mold how she came to point she’s at in the show and books. Newcomers, meanwhile, will find an incredibly approachable entry point for the wider franchise alongside a solidly-built narrative adventure experience.
The same can be said of the gameplay. Outside of dialogue-driven portions of the game, players are tasked with exploring wrecked ships and navigating hostile areas without being detected. These segments feature items which can prove valuable later on as well as collectibles tied to side missions, and taking the time to gather them all can mean the difference between having a bevy of choices or very limited options during certain portions of the game.
This only makes up a small portion of the title however. The rest of the game sees players tasked with helping Drummer make decisions based on the events they watch unfold. These can range from selecting which line of dialogue she uses to deciding how to solve problems that crop up, and players will be forced to watch the outcome of their decision for better and worse.
Unlike past Telltale titles, The Expanse isn’t as clear cut with which decisions or actions will have long-term consequences. Whereas series like The Walking Dead would bombard you with notifications about people remembering what you said or being disappointed by something, this game only does so during more intense decisions and scenes. Smaller interactions and choices won’t be met with clear consequences, and might not become important until much later in the series.
It’s far from perfect, and there are still instances where choices feel inconsequential to the wider plot. Overall though, this new approach serves to add tension into the gameplay loop and lends more weight to the choices a player makes. More than once, I was left on the edge of my seat thanks to a past decision coming back to haunt or help me. A punch thrown in anger or revenge for a betrayal impacted my playthrough hours later, and I could only do what I could to deal with its consequences.
I was even hesitant to immediately jump on new decisions thanks to the thought that a short-term advantage could end up biting me hard in a later segment.
Then, there’s the audio and visual presentation. Visually, The Expanse follows the lead of Tales From the Borderlands 2 with a more traditional graphical style instead of Telltale’s former cel-shaded aesthetic. It works well for the tone and style of the sci-fi series’ universe, and serves to give the game a more modern appeal that feels at home on modern consoles.
It’s a respectable choice, and the new visuals help to keep it from feeling too similar to the studios’ past works. At the same time though, it does feel less distinct and can make the different environments one visits blur together.
Sound-wise, the game is a little hit or miss. While Cara Gee does a great job in her return performance for Camina Drummer, other performances can warble between impressive and passable. The sound effects and score follow suit, with the more impressive bits of sound effects and music accompanied by occasional audio glitches and ambient tunes which aren’t too memorable. None of this is deal-breaking though, and merely holds the title back from reaching greater heights.
When taken together, all of these elements create a game which is familiar yet different from everything that came before it. It’s not a perfect experience, but it’s solid enough to do right by its source material and draw players into the engaging narrative it’s piecing together.
The Expanse isn’t the best Telltale-style experience ever made, but it’s a commendable return outing for the studio. Longtime fans of the studios’ work or The Expanse’s source material will find enough to be excited for what’s to come, while newcomers can get a solid look at what the studio can offer moving forward. With any luck, they’ll be able to build off of this to finish the series strong and set about starting a new age that surpasses the heights of their previous works.
Visuals Are a Little Bland