2012 was the year that really put the words Telltale Games on the tips of many people's tongues. After several beloved but niche games like the Sam & Max
series and adaptations of Back to the Future
and Jurassic Park
, the California-based indie studio set their sights on one of the biggest properties in the world: The Walking Dead
. Since then, they've been trusted with license after massive license and have delivered games focusing on character-shaping decisions, branching plotlines, and cliffhangers, giving fans of story-driven games (or easy gamerscore) a regular stream of titles to pick up.
2012 and onward is what I call the modern Telltale era. In the debut episode of The Walking Dead
there were signs that Telltale intended to hold onto some puzzle mechanics, but since then they've decided, due to internal and external influences, that staying on the narrative road is the best path to take. It's not a secret that some people aren't fans of that approach, but personally I love it. If you know me, it's also no secret that storytelling is what resonates the most with me, and even if Telltale doesn't possess the touch of King Midas, I still get excited every time they announce a new game because I know they're always focused on that — it's in their name, after all.
A few days ago the studio shared the news
that three new seasons of their revered series are returning, including a second season of Batman
debuting in early August, the fourth and final season of The Walking Dead
, and the wish fulfilling follow-up to The Wolf Among Us
With so much Telltale buzz stirring, I got to wondering how I'd rank each of their modern era games today. The slight problem with that is I haven't played two of them. Thankfully my friend and TA colleague, Will (BruceWayne1008
), helped me fit those last two (Minecraft
and Game of Thrones
) where they belong in the Telltale hierarchy. We also left off the two ongoing seasons as we didn't feel it would be fair or logical to include them as incomplete stories. Naturally, it'll be up for debate just how far off you believe we are, so we've included a poll for you to vote on your favorite from Telltale too.
Minecraft: Story Mode Minecraft: Story Mode - A Telltale Games Series
is clearly the weakest link. Not because of the family-oriented content but simply because of the overall product. The story was weak, the writing wasn't as humorous as it could've been, and because of that, the title can be skipped with ease if you're not a big Minecraft
fan. To their credit, as episodes released the script did improve. Overall, the base season gets a passing grade. Things began to take a turn for the worse when an additional "Adventure Pass", which included three more episodes, hit the market. It didn't feel like this was the original plan. That's no way to present a story, tacking things on like that. To make matters worse, so far those additional episodes don’t even matter in Minecraft: Story Mode - Season Two
. Here’s to hoping history doesn’t repeat itself.
The Walking Dead: Michonne
Those familiar with the source material know Michonne to be one of the toughest and most interesting characters of Skybound's hit comic, and even the TV show too. For those who don't know the comic, well there's not a whole lot of reasons to play Michonne
. It's a spinoff from the main story, and best suits those who want to fill in some deliberate gaps in the long-running comic. If your only experience with The Walking Dead
is via the Clementine storyline, this spinoff can be missed. However, if you're a fan of the complete universe or wouldn't mind a brief detour, this three episode arc has some compelling scenes surrounding the heroine's past that are worth the three-four hours of play time.
Game of Thrones
Having Telltale dive into Game of Thrones
was exciting yet terrifying. What seems like a match made in King's Landing could have ruined George R.R. Martin's baby if it went the wrong way. Fortunately, the game is pretty impressive. Obviously it's not at the level of the HBO series but it attempts to capture that magic admirably over an extended six episode arc. Fights, betrayals, and of course difficult decisions are pretty much guaranteed. Being a fan of the series, having characters like Jon Snow and Daenerys Targaryen in the game is nothing short of awesome. So where did the game fall flat? Bugs, frame drops, and visual imperfections. If action with more than three characters were on the screen, the game would suffer some extreme dips. It ripped away from the story, which of course is the most crucial part of a Telltale game.
The Walking Dead Season Two
)Picking up the pieces from the stellar season one was a promising proposition. Some stories don't need to be extended, but Telltale's The Walking Dead
felt like it had legs to run with some more. Playing as an older but still coming-of-age Clementine, the story shifted from a surrogate father-daughter relationship to one revolving around Clementine putting to use all Lee taught her in their time together. A new band of survivors with a memorable Big Bad terrorizing them for much of the season felt ripped right out of the comics, and there were some especially tough choices to make along the way. By the end of it, the characters never quite lived up to the standard of their predecessors, but it still felt like a worthwhile journey as the next chapter of Clementine's growth.
When Telltale announced that they'd be taking on the best superhero in the world, few were likely as excited as Will and I were. We both love the character — it's even right in Will's gamertag. The prospect of a new Batman writing team always hinges on just how fresh they can make things feel. Naturally that gets harder with each issue, game, movie, or whatever other format in which the Dark Knight is presented because each new story removes it from the well of unseen plotlines. The character was created in the middle of World War II, so by now it can feel like all the good ideas have been done or even recycled. Telltale's fix for this was to center on a brand new villain, while remixing the identities or personalities of some other characters. Ultimately it feels like their Batman
wasn't drastically different from some other stories, but the voice work was exceptional, especially from Laura Bailey as Selina Kyle, and there was plenty of quality found to justify a return of the hero. Season two begins in just a few days and if you're a fan of the original, to get a new season so soon surely feels like a good thing.
The Walking Dead - A New Frontier
Season three of the longest running modern Telltale game was billed a bit differently, carrying the above subtitle as a way to pull in new players who may otherwise feel too far behind to care. Shifting to a new protagonist while still giving us more of Clementine's story via flashbacks was a gamble that paid off. Javier, the new lead, is one of the studio's most well written characters. Whereas Clementine often bounced from stranger to stranger, making allies and enemies along the way, Javier traveled with most of his immediate family, which introduced a new dynamic to the story. The thickness of blood versus water, was a theme apparent early and often and it all adhered seamlessly together thanks to a great cast that rivaled the debut season's group. Personally, this may have been higher up this list if it wasn't for the announcement that season four of The Walking Dead
, coming next year, will be the series' last. That could end up making A New Frontier
feel like a strange offshoot that doesn't fit into the arc when it's all said and done. Hopefully Telltale can wrap it up in a satisfying way.
The Wolf Among Us
Running alongside the original season of The Walking Dead
was another comic adaptation. It's not as big as Kirkman's undead epic, but Willingham's Fables
is a long-lived universe in its own right that felt like a smart fit for the game studio to work within. It was still early days for the studio's new push for narrative point-and-clicks, but despite coming out at the start of this era, The Wolf Among Us
remains one of their best works. It offers an interesting mix of magical realism with film noir to present a detective story where the Big Bad Wolf and Snow White are a somewhat dysfunctional and will-they-won't-they investigative pair. It's unlike the other productions and really exists in its own space in Telltale's library. A much requested sequel began to look unlikely once Telltale blew up and began taking on only the world's biggest licenses like those already mentioned in this article, but just recently the follow-up was finally revealed, making lots of fans happy.
The Walking Dead
(*Spoilers*)The one that started it all. It's not just nostalgia that makes the first season of The Walking Dead
so special; it really is that good. Lee and Clem's time together was painfully short-lived, but that contributed to how impactful that season was. The Telltale mechanic of "[character] will remember that" was never more memorable than all those times Lee may have acted out as a young and impressionable Clementine looked on. They watched a lot of people die on the road, and it's unforgettably Lee's turn last. Characters like Kenny, Katja, and the St. Johns made this debut an instant classic, and without its successes we probably wouldn't have most if not all of what has come since from Telltale. Those final moments may forever ring out in our heads as one of the most touching and tearjerking scenes in the medium. It feels good to know the next season is the last. It feels like it's time to bring the train into the station and hopefully end as strongly as it all began.
Tales From The Borderlands
I chose not to mince words when I reviewed Tales
a few years back; it really is the funniest game I've ever played. Whether you were scanning the environments with Rhys' augmented eye or cracking wise with Fiona, Tales
was in constant supply of great and humorous writing. The action scenes worked well too, of course, and despite not even being a fan of Gearbox's Borderlands
, it's clear to me that Telltale's spinoff is their best experience yet. When it was being released episodically, some bemoaned the long droughts between episodes, but that's a moot point nowadays, leaving only a witty, inventive, hilarious five episode season that can be played at the preferred pace of the player. I don't necessarily care if we ever get more Telltale games set on Pandora, but I'd love to see them do more comedy.
Which modern Telltale game is your favorite?
We've had 3295 responses.
Game of Thrones5.19% (171)
Minecraft: Story Mode2.06% (68)
Tales From The Borderlands24.7% (814)
The Walking Dead27.62% (910)
The Walking Dead Season 23.19% (105)
The Walking Dead: Michonne0.73% (24)
The Walking Dead - A New Frontier1.55% (51)
The Wolf Among Us28.59% (942)