Xbox One, PS4, PC, PS5, Xbox Series X
July 27, 2023
Telltale Games, Deck Nine
Following the studio’s majority closure 5 years ago, Telltale Games is back with its signature brand of point-and-click adventure games with The Expanse: A Telltale Series. Co-developed with Deck Nine, the game is a prequel to the hit Syfy/Amazon Prime TV series The Expanse, which itself was based on the series of novels by James S.A. Corey. The Expanse: A Telltale Series offers a good amount of fanservice for fans of the show, with a killer central performance by Cara Gee, however, it suffers from being disappointingly short and feeling oddly small and low-stakes and maintaining many existing flaws of Telltale Games’ old formula.
The Expanse: A Telltale Series is set a few years prior to the events of the first season of the TV show. In the 23rd century, when humanity has colonised Luna, Mars and the asteroid belt, Camina Drummer (voiced by Cara Gee, reprising her role from the TV show) is serving aboard the spaceship Artemis, eking out a living scavenging wrecked spaceships alongside a motley crew of Earthers, Martians and Belters. By the end of the first episode, the crew is propelled onto a treasure hunt after discovering the location of something very valuable, in a race against a band of vicious pirates, the Europa’s Bane.
Camina Drummer was a particularly fascinating character from the TV series, and giving her the spotlight in a narrative-driven adventure game like this is a particularly interesting way to give her more depth. Drummer was always very pragmatic, having been part of several different factions in the show. With a cynical and aggressive exterior belying a more tender and caring personality behind the front she puts up in front of others, it was intriguing to be able to make choices between, say, saving a piece of valuable salvage or her crewmate’s limb, as neither option felt necessarily out of character for her. Whether you prefer a more personable or utilitarian Drummer is in your hands, depending on the choices you make throughout the series.
“…I was very impressed at the extent to which The Expanse: A Telltale Series nailed the show’s atmosphere.”
Despite the show having ended over a year ago, I was very impressed at the extent to which The Expanse: A Telltale Series nailed the show’s atmosphere. From the thick Belter slang peppered throughout Drummer’s and the other Belters’ dialogue to the familial camaraderie among the Artemis’ crew mirroring the strong bonds between the crew of the Rocinante in the TV series, this Telltale series feels very authentic to the show it is adapting. It doesn’t hurt that it has some strong vocal performances; in addition to Gee and a few other actors from the show reprising their roles, the newcomers are no slouches either.
That said, the series’ overall brevity made my time with those characters very limited. The 5 episodes of The Expanse: A Telltale Series range from around 45-60 minutes each, depending on how much exploration you do and if you get stuck on one of the game’s handful of puzzles. Considering most of the TV series’ seasons had 10 episodes each, it leaves the Telltale series feeling oddly small in comparison to the show it is adapting, with disappointingly few scenes between Drummer and the rest of the crew as the series progresses. The episode breaks also felt strangely placed in some areas. The first and third episodes in particular felt like they ended a few scenes before a natural ending point, and thus just kind of abruptly stopped before the plot has come to a proper conclusion or at least a tense cliffhanger. It’s the sort of thing that results in the plot having some pacing issues, even if you aren’t playing them one episode per fortnight as they were originally released.
In addition, despite some compelling performances and snappy dialogue, the narrative itself felt disappointingly small-scale and uninteresting compared to the series’ high-stakes plots about interplanetary political power struggles. Admittedly, The Expanse: A Telltale Series’ status as a prequel likely precluded it from mixing up the status quo too substantially. That said, the story doesn’t really evolve much from a cliched “chase the MacGuffin” plot, even if the eventual reveal of what said MacGuffin actually is may result in some “ah-hah!” reactions from fans of the show. It was when the series slowed down and focused on the character interactions, like the playful rapport between Drummer and potential love interest Maya or the Belter Creole-laden banter between brothers Arlen and Rayen, that I felt myself immersed in the setting and not struggling to find myself invested in whatever it was that Drummer is trying to obtain.
In regards to how the game plays, fans of Telltale Games’ prior output will find themselves right at home with The Expanse: A Telltale Series. Gameplay typically features the player walking or floating through various environments, scanning things to unlock optional database entries, completing occasional puzzles and talking to other characters, with the occasional Quick-Time-Event thrown in for good measure. The dialogue trees felt especially pared down this time around; most times, there were only two dialogue options to choose from, often differing quite slightly in what was actually said. Despite the studio’s signature “X will remember that” warning message often popping up, only a handful of rather signposted major choices appeared to have a meaningful impact on the plot.
Admittedly, that illusion of choice has always been an element of Telltale’s earlier games. The studio’s balancing act of keeping the plots railroaded enough while rewarding player actions was what fans found so compelling about its works. In this case, it was perhaps the smaller number of dialogue options that made the experience feel less flexible and more linear than previous Telltale titles, and as such I didn’t feel like it mattered what option I picked most of the time.
In terms of visuals, The Expanse: A Telltale Series does feel like a meaningful improvement over Telltale’s previous output, which was somewhat infamous for reusing the same stiff character rigs and aging engine for all of their games. While the environments are mostly limited to a succession of samey grey space stations, the game can certainly impress during many of the establishing shots of any of the spaceships, as well as most of the times you are given the chance to explore in zero-G. A new game engine has been utilised, which has allowed for characters who are generally quite a bit more animated and expressive than those in other Telltale games.
Many of the series’ zero-gravity action scenes are a good deal more exciting and elaborate than anything the live-action TV series could likely have pulled off. That said, the engine is still quite limited in regards to actually melding the action and gameplay. Aside from occasionally pressing one of the shoulder buttons to fire a gun or throw a punch during a scripted sequence, most of the action is confined to cutscenes and only marginally interactive. I know it’s not what most players come to a Telltale game for, but if you were hoping for a more hands-on experience, you may be disappointed.
- Character dialogue and performances feel very authentic to the TV series
- Moral choices were an interesting way of exploring Drummer's character
- Elaborate zero-G action scenes at least look quite exciting
- Episodes feels disappointingly truncated and oddly paced
- Despite fun character interactions, the actual plot is quite small-scale and uninteresting
- Limited dialogue options and minimal interactivity during action scenes leave the experience feeling quite linear
The Expanse: A Telltale Series feels like a fairly decent return to form for Telltale Games after its temporary closure. As a fan of The Expanse, I can attest that this Telltale series represents the show, and the character of Camina Drummer in particular, very authentically, and it was a joy to return to that setting and explore it from a different perspective. Despite those positives as a fan, the series also suffers from feeling especially short, linear and low-stakes. While The Expanse: A Telltale Series certainly has its high points, diehard fans of The Expanse or Telltale Games’ previous output are likely the only ones who would get much out of the experience.