The Expanse: A Telltale Series Episode 1 - Archer’s Paradox Review
Telltale Games is back from the dead and whilst it’s not the same studio as it was before, the opening episode of its first game since 2019’s The Walking Dead: The Final Season gives a strong impression that it may have found its mojo again. It’s too early to tell for sure but upon hearing Cara Gee reprise her role as Camina Drummer and walking around the decks of the Artemis you get a sense that care has been taken to get things right from the get-go. It may also help to have some knowledge of the universe it is set in, especially knowing some of the politics involved in James S.A. Corey’s vision of the future, however it’s not essential.
Set before the events of the hit TV show, Drummer has left Ceres station under a cloud, with her name on OPA liaison Anderson Dawes’ hit list. However, rather than cashing in on the bounty, Cox - the captain of the Artemis - has taken Drummer under his wing. Not only that, but he’s made her XO under the belief that someone who isn’t afraid of making Dawes angry is someone who could be useful to him. Those who have read the books or watched the TV show know that he’s not too far off the mark and whilst Telltale has done a good job making things accessible to newcomers, there’s plenty here for fans with more to come I’m sure.
The opening of the first episode is bold. We see someone being dragged to the airlock with Drummer following behind. At this point we don’t know who’s who but this sets the tone for the episode before we’ve even taken control. Things shift to hours before what we have just witnessed and we learn that not only was the airlock’s guest our captain but that he had picked up an unanswered distress call from the UNN Urshinabi. He believes it’s going to be the big score they’ve been chasing that will set him up for life. Cox needs this to work out as it’s hinted at quite heavily that the crew are losing patience with him. Whatever has happened before we join them, it has not been happy hunting in the salvaging game for the crew of the Artemis. Given what we saw at the beginning of the episode you sense that things did not go well.
Once I could take control I spent a good amount of time familiarising myself with the Artemis and its crew. There’s a good range here alongside Captain Cox with Maya, the ex-MCRN engineer; the Morozon twins, two born and bred belters; the acerbic pilot Khan Tran and Virgil, the ship’s medic. If you know your Expanse lore, you know that’s quite the melting pot. As this is set before the events of the TV series, tensions between the MCRN-led Mars, Earth’s UNN and the OPA in belt are at their highest so to see them all in one crew leads me to think that, as we make our way through the episodes, prejudices and mistrust between each faction will play their part.
Fans of previous Telltale titles will notice immediately that this isn’t the same engine that was used in the past. Unreal Engine has been chosen this time around and it helps make things feel like it belongs in this generation of gaming. That’s not to slight previous titles as the Telltale Tool gave its games a particular visual style. However, I don’t think it would suit something set in The Expanse universe. Moreover, as this was a co-development (Deck Nine of Life is Strange: True Colors fame joining in), having a known platform will no doubt have made things easier for both studios. The addition of zero-G based navigation benefits from having a modern engine drive the game. It’s not perfect and finding the right landing spot to engage your mag boots can be tricky but it’s fun all the same.
What’s especially nice is the crew interactions you get if you take the time to look at everything you’re able to and interact with your surroundings. There are parts to be scavenged and, a bit like some other interactive stories, the more you find and explore, the more options you’ll have open to you at key moments. These don’t occur in this episode as this feels more like an appetiser, a set up for what’s to come. A criticism that was laid at the door of Telltale games of the past was that decisions didn’t seem to matter. It’s far too early to tell here but with weight being put on finding items as well as dialogue choices you sense that you’re not being given the illusion of choice and that some decisions may actually matter.
Ultimately what happens in the following four episodes will decide whether or not The Expanse will be a hit for the reborn Telltale games. The early signs are promising with care taken to realise the universe of The Expanse and some great voice acting, especially from Cara Gee as our protagonist. There’s also a brief audio cameo from Shohreh Aghdashloo as Chrisjen Avasarala, a character who never ceases to make me smile or laugh. The first episode throws up two rather large choices to kick things off and the cliffhanger of an ending sets things up nicely for episode two that arrives in a couple of weeks. I’m genuinely looking forward to its release, so that must be a good sign.
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