It’s rather strange timing that, 18 months after the show ended, we’d be getting a game based on The Expanse. But that’s exactly where we are, with The Expanse: A Telltale Series beginning to roll out in July.
An episodic series, as Telltale Games has always been known for, The Expanse will release over five episodes, each coming two weeks apart. A little longer than your typical HBO or Disney Plus series, then, but still close enough together that players should have a fresh enough memory when jumping into the next episode.
Rather than following on from where The Expanse left off, giving us a playable season seven of sorts, The Expanse: A Telltale Series is, in fact, a prequel. It focuses on Camina Drummer, a favourite from the show, finally giving her character a backstory never explored in the series. It’s given Telltale Games a rather insurmountable task, then: her story needs to make sense to fans, leading into her character as she was portrayed in the show. But as Telltale Games always are, it gives players a branching narrative, allowing them to make choices as they play, shaping Drummer’s character as they see fit. Exactly how that is going to pan out over the five episodes of the game remains to be seen.
The Expanse: A Telltale Series episode one is very short
What we have seen so far, however, is episode one, which is due to release on July 24. It isn’t a long episode: we completed it in roughly an hour, and it can be even shorter if you choose not to explore when given the opportunity. It introduces us to a slightly younger Drummer, currently an XO aboard scavenger ship The Artemis, and the crew she’s keeping company with. There’s Captain Cox, who is immediately pin-pointed as the villain of the episode, the rather mean-spirited pilot, Kahn and fellow crew mates Maya, Arlen, Rayen and Virgil. They’re all brand new characters, invented for The Expanse: A Telltale Series, and the hour we spend with them isn’t quite enough to get to know them.
Their introductions are brief, then, but we suspect we’ll learn more about them in further episodes. The choices you make as Drummer are set up to impact her relationships with each character: do you choose to chastise energetic twins Arlen and Rayen for messing around, or do you play along with them? Do you chew out Kahn for her attitude or just ignore her? Do you try to pander to your captain, or let him know how little you respect him?
Your choices will supposedly matter more than ever
There are some big choices to make, too. We won’t spoil them, but in true Telltale Games fashion, they are essentially life-or-death. Or, at least, they can be. What the first episode hasn’t revealed yet is just how much impact those choices will have on the story at large. Contained within the first episode, your trajectory is roughly the same regardless, but we’ve been led to believe that your choices do have more impact this time, with a truer branching narrative. We’re sure we’ve heard that before, and previous Telltale Games have always roughly had the same outcomes no matter what paths you’ve led your characters down. But with a different team at the helm, things may well be different this time around.
It’s being developed by Life is Strange: True Colors dev Deck Nine
Telltale Games famously collapsed in 2018, before being reformed in 2019 after many of the company’s assets were acquired by LCG Entertainment. This is the first game to come from the studio in that time, despite having several in development. But, actually, this time Telltale isn’t the developer: Deck Nine, the studio behind Life is Strange: Before the Storm and True Colors, is leading development. From what we’ve seen so far, Deck Nine’s expertise in creating believable worlds populated with three-dimensional characters has come to fruition. It also looks fantastic, far and away better than anything that came from Telltale before it. It’s not quite realistic, but with excellent facial animations and lip syncing, characters feel just as real as they would in any episode of the show.
The excellent voice acting helps, too. Fans will be pleased to hear that Kara Gee reprises her role as Drummer, and the rest of the cast are a talented bunch. Perhaps Lili Okama’s portrayal of Kahn hits a little hard as the token hard-ass, but we have a feeling that her character will win players over sooner rather than later. Jeffrey Roark, who plays Cox, also puts in a stand-out performance, with his time on screen really shining.
The Expanse: A Telltale Series isn’t all that welcoming to newcomers
Our main concern about The Expanse: A Telltale Series, however, is just who it’s aimed at. Despite being a prequel, it’s been developed with fans of the show in mind. It’s not entirely impenetrable to newcomers, but with little to introduce the characters or the world that The Expanse takes place in, players without prior knowledge may find it a little hard to digest. Equally, those die-hard series fans will no doubt pick holes in every little detail that’s not quite right: the name of the ships, the use of ‘Belter’ language, small continuity errors that just feel slightly out of place for the world. Most players might not notice, but for some, it could completely ruin their immersion.
But: whether you’re new to The Expanse or a series stalwart, there are some scenes in the game that truly stand out. Episode one sees Drummer and her fellow crewmembers exploring a wrecked ship, recently attacked by pirates. This is a game that’s not afraid to shock its players: upon entering the ship, you’ll find disembodied heads floating around an empty cockpit. Head further into the ship, and headless bodies will start to appear. It’s grizzly, and a great introduction to just how brutal The Expanse universe can be. It’s certainly worth exploring, too: not only does the game have optional objectives to complete, but there are audio recordings and other paraphernalia that will give a deeper insight into the world at large. Episode one gave us a recording with the familiar voice of Chrisjen (played by Shohreh Aghdashloo) and we’ve no doubt other known characters are going to pop up in one shape or another as the series progresses.
Will The Expanse be a runaway success? Episode one just doesn’t give us enough information to know for sure. A game based on a cancelled TV show certainly raises an eyebrow or two, but it’s at least a show with a large and dedicated fan base. The brevity of episode one doesn’t give enough away for us to know just how fans might feel about it, but it’s given us just enough that we’re keen to at least jump into one more episode to see where things go next.
The Expanse: A Telltale Series will begin on 27th July with episode one. Subsequent episodes will follow every two weeks. It will be available on PlayStation, Xbox and PC.