The Expanse: A Telltale Series – Episode 1 is a welcome return, but big on setup

Posted on August 1, 2023

After a five-year hiatus following the studio’s majority closure, Telltale Games is back, in partnership with Life is Strange: True Colors developer Deck Nine, with a new episodic adventure series, this time based on Syfy/Amazon Studios’ The Expanse. Focused on the popular supporting character Camina Drummer and exploring her history before the events of the show, the season’s first episode does a great job of reintroducing fans to The Expanse’s futuristic setting and establishing a strong foundation for events to come, even if it’s big on setup without much payoff at this stage.

In the series, Camina Drummer, voiced by Cara Gee, her portrayer from the show, is XO on the Artemis, a scavenger ship exploring the Belt searching for salvage. After discovering a mysterious wrecked ship near Io, Drummer and her crew arrive to find it has been raided by Europa’s Bane, a vicious pirate crew originating from the Belt. With the ship having been blown apart and its crew mutilated, the crew of the Artemis must investigate to find out what happened, and what was hidden on the ship to have attracted Europa’s Bane in the first place.

From the start, The Expanse: A Telltale Series drops you into the setting without any preamble or opening narration to catch people up. While Drummer’s Belter creole is easy enough to glean from the context, there is little help for you if you don’t already know who Anderson Dawes is and the significance of his previous relationship to Drummer, or the intricacies of Earther, Martian, and Belter societies and how they relate to one another.

As with all Telltale games, you can learn a lot about the setting from exploring every nook and cranny and exhausting every dialogue option, but despite what the developers promised, there is also a lot that the game expects you to already know going in. For fans of the show, those references are great and do a lot to hint at character backstories. However, if you’re new to The Expanse, it is recommended to become familiar with the TV show or the books by S.A. Corey if you want to get the most out of the Telltale series.

Despite their half-decade break, Telltale is still in fine form. As with their previous games, you can expect a lot of inspecting things, quick time event-laden action sequences and moral choices. The writing and performances feel as sharp as the show ever had, with Drummer’s acerbic narration presenting a fun contrast with the varied personalities of the Artemis, comprising of an eclectic mix of Belters, Martians, and its hotheaded Earther captain.

In terms of unique gameplay, The Expanse features zero-gravity navigation, with the player able to disable Drummer’s mag-boots and explore the derelict ship in three dimensions, as well as walking on walls and the ceiling. The controls for this are relatively intuitive, and the player can toggle a navigation icon to show where you need to go so that you don’t get lost or too discombobulated. The game’s visuals are also great, with characters seeming quite a bit more expressive than the often wooden character models from Telltale’s previous output.

“‘X will remember that’ warnings popped up often, giving me hope that there will be some substantial payoff to my decisions later on.”

Drummer typically only has two dialogue options to choose from during interactions compared to the more varied selection from previous Telltale games, making the experience feel a little binary. The studio’s customary “X will remember that” warnings popped up often, giving me hope that there will be some substantial payoff to my decisions later on. There are only two big choices in the first episode, but it will remain to be seen what the consequences of them will turn out to be as the season progresses.

That said, it’s rather difficult to critique the series based only on the first episode. At a bit over an hour long, depending on how much exploration you do, it’s on the short side and feels like it ends too soon just as it’s setting up the direction for the rest of the season. As a fan, I was left wanting more, and will definitely be following the rest of the season as its episodes drop over the next two months. That said, more casual fans might not have got enough out of the first episode to warrant following up, and it could have stood to provide a bit more of a tease for what’s to come.

The Expanse: A Telltale Series – Episode One is out now on PC, PS4, PS5, Xbox One and Series S/X. New episodes will be dropping every two weeks, with the final episode coming out September 21st 2023.