After an annoyingly long wait of four months, Telltale has finally cranked out Episode 2 of The Wolf Among Us, entitled “Smoke and Mirrors”. Without going into spoiler territory too much, here are my thoughts after the jump.
This episode feels rushed out the door
Yes, it’s been four months. FOUR months! And yet this whole episode feels lacking in some important aspects. Script wise it’s about as long as the first episode, yet it’s probably a good hour shorter in play time. The reason is that in “Smoke and Mirrors”, the player is shoved along a quite linear path. There is no branching middle section as there was in episode 1. The regular breaks in the story where you get to control Bigby and just explore your surroundings, maybe solve a simple puzzle or two – such as the one in Toad’s apartment before – are practically non-existent. There are these moments in the game technically speaking, but they are so short and there is so little to do, it defeats the purpose.
One could argue that this is done on purpose, as there is less introductory exposition needed now, and that the story needs to pick up the pace at this point, but it feels like a let down. More than ever, this feels like Telltale distancing itself from its adventure gaming roots in favor of a movie like experience. What I’m hoping is that this is a one-off, and that this episode was really just rushed to appease the fans because of the unusually long delay. With The Walking Dead season 2 and presumably pre-production of the Game of Thrones and Borderlands games, Telltale have bit off a lot to chew on.
The Wolf Among Us is now clearly its own thing
Considering the huge success of The Walking Dead, concern existed that this might just be the same thing, just in a different setting. Both are based on comic books series, both are grim and serious, and both draw from themes embedded in culture (zombies and fairy tales). But while episode 1 already established a confident and fresh style and tone, episode 2 has laid those concerns to bed for good.
While The Walking Dead is about the moral struggles of people in extreme situations, with consistently high stress situations, this is decidedly not that. It’s got a more somber and brooding mood, the stakes are less high and the overarching plot is more comprehensive. In The Walking Dead, while there was a thread running through every episode, the moment to moment story beats were more chaotic, as you’d expect. It’s the zombie apocalypse, so anything can happen at any time. The point is in seeing how characters deal with these situations. But in The Wolf Among Us, it’s about Bigby solving a murder mystery from the beginning to (presumably) the end. Alongside that you have his internal struggle with his destructive self and how that helps or hinders him on his mission. The third thing would be the world around him, Fabletown, and how things can be made better for its residents. So both in style and substance, it’s established itself properly and stands on its own.
It’s great to be back in Fabletown
All my misgivings about the lack of gameplay aside, this was still a very enjoyable episode to play. It speaks for the source material that every character interaction, every new place you visit makes you sit up and pay attention. You visit a brothel, meet Bluebeard and learn more about characters like Beauty. The premise of fairy tale characters exiled into a grim 80’s New York neighborhood is still super interesting and you just want to learn more about it all. The story itself keeps on going forward confidently and once again you’re left off with a cliffhanger, though not one that asks a big question, but one that answers one.
I just hope that Telltale has overcome whatever hump they’ve had between episodes 1 and 2. They’re obviously able to produce on a tighter schedule. The Walking Dead season 2 is progressing as it should by the looks of it, so that’s encouraging. I’d wish for episode 3 of The Wolf Among Us to get back to the level of meatiness of episode 1 and to keep expanding on everything else the same manner as in this one.