If you measure the success of a narrative game purely by how much regret it can cause, then The Expanse: A Telltale Series is top tier. Pushed into a tense stand-off at the end of the first three episodes, I made a pair of decisions in the space game that left me utterly crestfallen. Ironically, I really thought I was helping to prevent the one thing I wanted to avoid during my playthrough of The Expanse, but in Telltale fashion, I was doing the opposite.
After going bankrupt and being subsequently revitalized by LCG Entertainment, Telltale Games has returned to the adventure game scene, offering more licensed spin-offs from beloved franchises. First up, hit sci-fi series The Expanse gets a prequel, led by Camina Drummer, during her years as a scavenger on the starship Artemis.
Camina and her crew investigate a slightly ominous wreck, hopeful for a payday that’ll set them up for life. What they find only sets us up for distress and heartbreak – but in a good way. Co-developed with Deck Nine, The Expanse: A Telltale Series recalibrates the familiar structure and feel of genre-defining action-adventure games The Wolf Among Us and The Walking Dead.
Through a mixture of dialog trees and exploration, you check out the Artemis as your central hub, moving between floors to chat to your shipmates. Conversations flow through two-option branches, offering only basic context before providing a notification that someone will remember something you’ve said.
After a certain amount of talking, you head out scavenging, spacewalking in zero gravity through fields of debris. There’s some light puzzling and the occasional spot of stealth, all still rooted in Camina and her colleagues or adversaries going back and forth. Like previous Telltale projects, The Expanse shines most when relying on personality and mood.
Most of the characters are ‘Belters’ – people who’ve grown up in colonies within an asteroid belt on the outer fringes of our solar system (for context, The Expanse takes place in the 2300s). They have slightly unplaceable accents, and their own dialect and slang. There’s a group of four that do all the dangerous stuff together, featuring Carmina, Maya, and twins Arlen and Rayen. They trade barbs over each other’s pasts, and it’s a testament to their writing and voice performances that it’s worth finding everything just to hear more from them.
The others are less charming. The grumpiness and constant swearing of the pilot, Khan, wears thin a few scenes in, and Virgil, the medic, doesn’t get enough time to make you want to learn more. Hearing about the Belters may be the focus, since Camina features in both the books and TV series and she’s portrayed by her onscreen actor Cara Gee, but the rest of the cast still could’ve used more attention.
Wandering around suffers from a similar imbalance. You can propel your suit any which way while floating, giving a decent amount of steer until a combination of sluggishness and the rogue camera wedge you into a section of broken grates. I’d be feeling out a nice stretch, rolling the nuggets of lore over in my head, before spending a solid minute tumbling around trying to get the right way up again.
That said, the chatter as you float from one floating metal island to another among wrecked space cruisers eclipses these issues. Since episodes are around an hour – give or take time for galactic cartwheels – chats have to simultaneously propel the narrative and draw on your empathy. I was surprised by how much I ended up caring, because the right impulses were pushed at the right moments.
There aren’t many surprises if you know the genre or the property, but when you’re the one making the choices, plot twists have the added sting of being self-inflicted. The Walking Dead crushed so many of us, and now The Expanse, representing the finest Telltale has ever looked or sounded, may just do the same.
I’m a sucker for a nice starry backdrop, and The Expanse captures that particular stillness that makes quality sci-fi games what they are. Watching the credits, I had the urge to boot up Mass Effect, a massive compliment to what the team’s done here. I can’t think of any better way to wait for episode 4.
The Expanse: A Telltale Series
The Expanse: A Telltale Series brings one of the best storytellers in videogames back to the forefront, producing a prequel that will delight fans as well as open up the universe to newcomers.