I’m always an emotional wreck after I finish an episode of The Walking Dead.
And I think that emotion has just quadrupled because not only is it the last season ever, but it’s almost certainly the last thing to ever be made under the Telltale name. After it was announced that Telltale Games was shutting down, suddenly millions of players all across the world were forced to mourn some of their favourite characters prematurely. The fear grew in all of us that we’d never get to see Clementine’s story to its end. We would never find out what happened to AJ. We’d never know if the two of them were ever able to find even the smallest amount of happiness in the dangerous world created by Robert Kirkman that has inspired hundreds of works like Telltale’s The Walking Dead.
After what felt like an agonising period of time, a light shone on what was one of the most devastating pieces of gaming news last year. Clementine’s story would see itself to the end, with a group of writers from the Telltale team along with Robert Kirkman’s company, Skybound Entertainment, to pick up the pieces. There was relief and joy and all the things that come with finding out that something you thought would never get an ending, would get the one it deserved. And can I just say… thank god.
But enough about the past, let’s focus on what’s currently in front of us. The newest episode of The Walking Dead: The Final Season – Broken Toys. Episode 3 picks up right where the second left off. Some of the kids from Ericson’s School for Troubled Youth have been kidnapped by a familiar face from Clementine’s past. With the remaining members, you’re forced to come up with a plan to save them – without getting yourselves captured or killed in the process.
It’s not an easy feat, planning a siege to get your people back, so there’s a lot of things that need to get done. That’s the majority of what you’ll be doing in Broken Toys; planning and getting ready as well as trying to keep the group calm before the big kerfuffle. All of that comes with a lot of responsibility resting on Clementine’s shoulders. The kids have really started to trust you. Make one wrong choice and it could mean the difference between saving someone or letting someone get killed.
Telltale has always made it seem like your decisions make a difference, adding that ominous “so-and-so will remember that” whenever a serious decision is made. But it became pretty clear pretty quickly that those choices never really amount to much. The Final Season, however, brings back that feeling of seriousness as AJ watches Clementine’s every move. Every step you take is being saved to use against you or for your benefit in the future through the actions or words of AJ. Every decision shapes how AJ is raised and how he’ll respond in later scenarios. It’s kind of terrifying, but gives a real, relatable view on how trauma can affect people’s mental health – especially young people. And it’s a powerful message. One that takes the forefront of the entire season, but notably in Broken Toys.
Broken Toys’ pacing and gameplay felt fluid and, dare I say, one of the strongest of the entire series. There are many moments where you’ll be holding your breath, but there are also moments of thoughtfulness. If it focused solely on battle, it wouldn’t be a Telltale Game. Players will find themselves thinking hard, and perhaps even rethinking their entire philosophy on the living and the undead. Can people change? Is there good to be found in everyone? Are there still parts of the people behind those shambling, ever-hungry monsters? You get to decide, and that’s the beauty of it.
When things start to escalate – long fight sequences, for example – the game does start to crumble a bit in regards to lag. I experienced quite a few lag spikes towards the end which made me have to restart a certain checkpoint 5 or 6 times. It wouldn’t be worth noting if it had only happened once, but in Broken Toys lag spikes happened multiple times wherever there were quick time events. Half the time, the prompts wouldn’t show up at all before I got the “You are dead” screen. Technical issues have never been a stranger to The Walking Dead series, but the fact that we’re still having to deal in the second to last episode is a bit of a disappointment.
The Walking Dead: The Final Season didn’t start out very strong. It repeated many of the same tropes that we’re familiar with from previous seasons. Then, episode 2 brought back a little ray of hope. Episode 3: Broken Toys continues to improve and is paving the way for one hell of a finale. In spite of its annoying technical issues, players should look past that and see the fantastic piece of work that’s been put together there. Broken Toys isn’t perfect, but its dialogue is superb, its pacing is fluid and its gameplay is fun and engaging. Stick with The Walking Dead to the end, and I have no doubt you’ll be happy with the result.