At one time, the announcement of The Expanse: A Telltale Series didn’t really intrigue me, but at least it gave fans of the books and/or the series of the same name hope to get a good interactive story in their favorite setting. The trailer looked interesting, it was developed by Deck Nine, which had previously released the successful Life is Strange: True Colors, and the publisher was Telltale, which was reassembled after working on the bugs. The prospects looked good. The last fifth episode was recently released (yes, it’s an episodic game again), so it’s time for the final verdict.
|Game||The Expanse: A Telltale Series|
|Platforms||Windows, Xbox One / Xbox Series X|S, PlayStation 4/5|
Let’s start with the good news. The Expanse: A Telltale Series is aimed at the audience of fans of the series and the books (in that order), and if you are one of them, you can be sure that you will get your share of fan service. The atmosphere, style, and themes here are generally consistent with the original. The plot – a risky adventure in the Belt – does not sag or stall. And the opportunity to play Kamina Drummer (voiced by Kara Gee, of course), who is often called one of the coolest female characters in modern fiction, is worth a lot in itself.
However, if you are not familiar with Expansion, we should warn you: the game does not care about such ignorance. Despite the fact that this is a prequel in terms of chronology, you will not see a full-fledged plot summary and detailed story exposition. The game doesn’t even try to explain itself and throws around terms, names, titles, and abbreviations without any doubt that you know the context. So just note: this game is not suitable for a first introduction to setting.
The plot of The Expanse: A Telltale Series starts in the Belt aboard the ship Artemis. Its crew (along with Kamina, of course) finds a United Nations battleship that has been destroyed by pirates. What it was doing so far from Earth is unknown. Instead, it quickly becomes clear what the pirates were looking for on it – mysterious coordinates that lead to an incredible treasure. Now the only thing left for the Artemis crew to succeed is to find the jewelry and sell it to a reliable buyer.
Of course, everything that can go wrong for the characters in this story does go wrong. Mutiny, betrayal, dirty secrets of the team members, unexpected alliances, etc. Even the treasure turns out to be not what it seemed at first. And, by the way, if you feel like the plot is using him as a banal muggle, wait for the third, undoubtedly the best episode of the series. It temporarily transforms the story into a space horror format and at the same time successfully connects The Expanse: A Telltale Series with the events of the first season/book.
Unfortunately, there are few moments when all the elements of The Expanse: A Telltale Series add up to a truly immersive experience, there aren’t many of them. On the contrary, one often feels the inappropriate conservatism and economy of its design and narrative.
The episodes are short: about 45 minutes per episode. Because of this, the plot is constantly in a hurry and regularly overtly imposes drama (sometimes without regard to your choices). Some events, such as Kamina’s romance with the flight engineer, are presented in a rude, rushed manner. At the same time, when the game lets the player go and allows them to freely explore the environment, it turns out that there is no necessary content. Optional dialogues are clumsy. The locations are small, monotonous, and not very interesting.
The game has one (1) trivial puzzle for all five episodes, which requires minimal attention. There are very simple scenes using stealth mechanics, which are completed without any hesitation on the first try. And the mechanic of collecting various small trophies (salvage) exists only to support the plot feature of all the real inhabitants of the Belt – they will definitely use any resources they find. But you don’t actually use these finds in any way, and at some point the game completely forgets about them.
The Expanse: A Telltale Series occasionally turns on battle scenes: fast and brutal, as befits the setting. Only they are presented using absolutely standard Quick Time Events – you’ve seen them a hundred times in other games. These QTEs… work. That’s all that can be said about them, because the design of these mechanics has long since reached a dead end and does not stir up any emotions.
Skepticism is also caused by some plot attempts to spin up the tragedy around the Drummer Fireplace. Here, the prequel status hinders the game, because you know what will happen next. The heroine cannot die because her future role has already been determined. She has, as they say, “plot armor”. At the same time, the fate of characters without such “armor” is often easily guessed in advance. And this spoils the intrigue.
That’s how it turns out if you evaluate The Expanse: A Telltale Series as a whole, by the sum of its impressions rather than by its individual successful scenes, it turns out to be just an acceptable short entertainment for fans and a completely passable product for the rest of the players. This game sets a good precedent, showing that the Expansion can and should be developed in a video game format. But such attempts require much more resources and more space to get a really good result.