Murder in exile: the first episode of Telltale’s Fables adaptation is a big success
There's a lot of pressure on Telltale Games with The Wolf Among Us. It's their first major release following the smash hit, The Walking Dead, a game which placed the adventure game company in the unfamiliar position of winning just about every Game of the Year award available.
Let's see if they can do it again.
The stories that walk among us
The basic gist of Vertigo's comics series Fables is that all of the fairytale characters from human history live amongst us in a secret area of New York City known as Fabletown.
In the first episode of Telltale's adaptation, you play as Bigby, the human incarnation of the Big Bad Wolf from the tale of Little Red Riding Hood. Bigby acts as a sort of sheriff of Fabletown, and it's his job to investigate a murder. The first murder, in fact, in a very long time.
The game play of The Wolf Among Us is very similar to The Walking Dead. It's an adventure game in which you take on the persona of Bigby as you talk to characters, examine crime scenes, and make decisions about how the plot should move forward.
The Walking Dead fans should temper their expectations though, because the theme of this game is much more low-key than Telltale's previous title. The choices you make tend to have more to do with how you treat characters than whether somebody will live or die. You earn loyalty through small acts of kindness rather than by saving somebody's child.
The Walking Dead made you choose between life and death. The Wolf Among Us makes you choose whether you'll give your friend, who happens to be one of the Three Little Pigs, a shot of whiskey.
On one hand this gives the game a much more low-key vibe that sets the mood for a noir-lite murder mystery. On the other hand, your decisions are less tense, and sometimes feel less impactful. Occasionally, you'll be asked to make choices to problems to which you don't really understand the implications. Will you go to question Toad first? Or go see Toad after you inform a husband of his newly deceased wife? The ramifications of that choice aren't as clear as The Walking Dead's style. You won't be chopping off legs of NPCs as the zombies close in.
Needs more game
Interactivity in general takes a back seat here. This first episode was less about giving you meaningful choices and play experiences than it was about setting up a great story. And the story is definitely great.
I played through the episode with my wife, who is a big fan of the Fables series. Conversely, I've never read Fables at all. Yet we both enjoyed the story and the writing quite a bit on different levels. The story sets up interesting characters, and you'll look forward to learning more about each one. You want to ask them more questions to explore their histories and their place in the world. At all times it's exciting to see who or what is around the next corner.
The world they inhabit is supremely well put together too. When you're out in the streets there's a sort of sleezy neon pink, deep blue, and yellow red-light district vibe, but when you're indoors the environments tend to be dirty, dingy, brown, musty. Telltale creates the sense that Fabletown is not a place you want to live, and much of that information is shared visually. These characters didn't choose to live in this place, and it doesn't look like an area of town you'd want to call home.
What results from all of this is a game that lacks the meaningful choices of The Walking Dead, at least in the first episode, but makes up for it with a much better story. The Walking Dead felt like a choose-your-own adventure. The Wolf Among Us feels like you're playing along in a more directed story.
Episode One is imperfect, but a very good time. We burned through it in one sitting then sat around talking about what might happen, a little bummed that we couldn't play any further after the cliffhanger ending.