Even if you’re not familiar with The Expanse TV series, which wrapped up in early 2022, you may want to give Telltale’s latest venture some consideration. The Expanse: A Telltale Series is a prequel to the series, giving fan-favourite character Camina Drummer a backstory. Mostly, though, it’s an opportunity for players to take control of a space scavenger, able to freely wander around numerous eerie wreckages in the depths of the Milky Way. For science fiction fans, then, it’s a mouth-watering prospect.
With five episodes dropping fortnightly since July, the final episode will be available this week, and we’ve finally wrapped up our time with the game. The wait for subsequent episodes has been tense, particularly with most episodes ending on an epic cliff-hanger, but it’s been very well paced: it’s a huge improvement from the previous Telltale days, where sometimes months passed in between episodes.
The first episode of The Expanse: A Telltale Series provides a brief introduction to our protagonist, Camina Drummer, and the crew of the ship she’s working on, The Artemis. There are some tense choices to make, a bit of exploration and a quick time event. In other words, it feels a little like a Telltale Episode 101: an introduction to everything a Telltale game is. It’s a little brief and rushed, but it still left us with an overall positive impression. The good news is, that first episode gives us just enough to make us want to keep playing. The better news is, each subsequent episode has gone from strength to strength.
Camina Drummer never gives too much away as a character. She’s a closed book, keeping her cards close to her chest. Some of the decisions you make will open her up a little more if you choose to: there’s a romance option, and you can choose how much you want to interact with the other crew members on board The Artemis. It really is worth going out of your way to seek out additional interactions with the crew, because you’re going to get much more out of the game by forging deeper relationships with the characters.
Of course, being a Telltale Game, story is king here. And so it’s those conversations, the choices you make while talking to characters, that form the backbone of the narrative running throughout the full series. But the highlight for us has been the exploration. There’s a greater level of freedom here than in previous Telltale games, and players are encouraged to poke around in order to find collectibles and additional objectives. The first three episodes have a greater emphasis on player-led exploration than the final two, which feel a little more linear. But that’s not necessarily a bad thing: the story reaches such a tense crescendo that wandering off to find trinkets would feel a little out of place, anyway.
The first episode has us aboard the ruined Urshanabi, a UNN ship taken down by pirates. The first thing we’re greeted with is a bridge awash with floating heads: The Expanse: A Telltale Series certainly isn’t afraid to shock. This isn’t a horror game by any means, but there are certainly some moments befitting of the genre throughout all five episodes. Perhaps our favourite comes in episode three, when Camina finds herself aboard an abandoned space station, filled with coffins of its long-dead residents.
Dark and atmospheric, wandering these locations does leave the hairs on the back of your neck standing up, as you’re never quite sure what’s going to be waiting around the next corner. Exploration is exhilarating, and made more interesting by the game’s zero-gravity mechanics. You’re weighted down with magnetic boots, but with the push of your right trigger you can release into the air, allowing for free exploration. It can be a little fiddly at times, but for the most part Camina controls really well and the extra freedom you’re given adds a new dimension to the experience.
Any real tension, however, is somewhat let down by the fact that all action sequences in The Expanse: A Telltale Series are played out as quick time events. This won’t come as a surprise if you’ve played a Telltale title before, but when it comes to firefight sections, there’s a good chance you’ll find yourself wishing you could have full freedom, being let loose with a gun by yourself. But no; you’ll simply have to push a stick in the right direction or press the right button as a prompt appears on screen. Alas, that’s the nature of a Telltale game: it’s not a full-on action-adventure – as much as some scenes make us wish it was – so we can’t begrudge it too much.
As you’d expect, there are some important choices to be made in each episode, with the decisions you make feeding into future events. Even some of the extra-curricular stuff will have an impact: managing to find the side-objective in the first episode will have an impact on something in the second episode, for example. There’s certainly some gravitas to the decisions you make, with some characters’ lives literally being in your hands. Thinking back to earlier Telltale games, like The Walking Dead, some characters were always destined to live or die and some of your choices were merely an illusion. The Expanse never feels that way, and it leaves us keen to play through multiple times to try to achieve different outcomes.
In terms of production values, we can confidently say that Telltale’s signature jankiness has been left behind, with The Expanse being more polished than ever before. That’s undoubtedly thanks to the fact that Life is Strange: True Colors developer Deck Nine has been at the helm this time around. It looks fantastic; its environments are brimming with detail, making them a pleasure to explore. Characters, too, although somewhat cartoonish in style, feel lifelike and believable. Part of that is down to the excellent voice acting – Cara Gee reprises her role as Drummer, but the supporting cast do a wonderful job, too. We’re particularly fond of the ship’s pilot, Kahn, a foul-mouthed Earther who’s clearly dealt with a lot of crap in her life. Getting her to warm to you feels like quite an achievement – if you pull it off, that is.
If you’re already a fan of The Expanse, you’re undoubtedly going to get more out of this than a newcomer. But don’t write The Expanse: A Telltale Series off even if you’ve never seen it before – this prequel makes a great starting point, thanks to its cast of new characters and focus on space exploration. As great as the story is, filled with thrills and tense moments, the highlight has been digging through the eerie, empty wreckages of spacecraft and space stations. It’s safe to say that Telltale’s return is a strong one, and we’re excited to see what the company does next.