The Wolf Among Us – Episode 1: Review and Discussion

Warning: This article is split into non-spoiler/spoiler sections, or no-shark/shark if you prefer. This here is the non-spoiler bit (other than the usual review-level brief overview stuff). Further down there’s some more bold text and past that it’s shark alarms as far as the eye can see.

Welcome, fellow mundies. A few disclaimers: I have never read the Fables comics. In fact, I only learned of their existence about four days ago. I’d seen the title in Dave’s Comics (if you are not Brighton-familiar, you can substitute that for ‘comic book shops’) but never paid it any real attention. Over the course of the few hours it took me to play through Episode 1 of The Wolf Among Us I learned very quickly how foolish that was, as I fell a little bit in love with its world and the characters in it.

It does, however, mean that I am no expert in what I just played. Just a very new fan. In fact I’m pretty sure that there were some bits I didn’t fully understand, so I’m writing this from a place of interest rather than authority. Ideally, I’d like the comments section of this article to be a place where we can have a bit of a chat about the episodes as they’re released, but I also understand that the nature of making yet another gaming blog is that I might just be talking to myself. I’m fine with that, but if you do feel the desire to contribute, please keep “I’ve read the comics so I know that…” spoilers out of the equation, because I want to discover where this goes as it goes there.

For those not in the know, The Wolf Among Us is the latest episodic game from Telltale. It’s based on a long-running DC comic, but I guess that comic didn’t have its visual style carried over into the game. Unless chance had it that it’s drawn exactly like all Telltale games are.

Yes, that means it looks just like The Walking Dead, and there are plenty of gameplay similarities too. The primary difference is that I found The Walking Dead was mostly unfulfilled potential and riddled with flaws throughout, whereas initial impressions of The Wolf Among Us are much more positive.

The action itself takes place in a rather grim version of mid-’90s New York where fairytale and fable characters have taken up home, following some form of exodus from their homeland (which, so far, is only alluded to in passing). Those who don’t look quite human need to use a magic called a glamour to conceal their true identity from the ‘mundane’ people, but glamours (especially the effective ones) are an expensive resource. This seems to be creating a class system of sorts, as any poor Fable with non-humanoid features needs to find a way into riches to continue living in society or face ghettoisation in The Farm; a sort of prisony holiday camp for those who haven’t scraped together enough money to hide their true forms.

There’s plenty of political subtext involved, and indeed the first episode takes us inside the Mayor’s office to see the politics close up. It ain’t pretty, and one character voices the situation in a particularly effective and thought-provoking way – at least in my version of the story. I get the impression that some players didn’t experience the conversation the same way I did.

The lead character throughout this is Bigby Wolf, the sheriff of Fabletown. He’s the guy who blew those three little pigs’ houses down, and who ate Red Riding Hood’s grandma, but he’s put his dark past (mostly) behind him and has become a man of law. He’s a fairly standard hero type, but quickly shows a lot of depth as he grapples with his past and his ‘other’ nature throughout this first episode.

As far as I’m willing to reveal plot here, I’ll just say that it appears to be taking the form of a mystery/detective story. Think LA Noire, but better.

Gameplay-wise it’s sticking to the template set by The Walking Dead but doing a much better job of it. The biggest major change is that The Wolf Among Us is in a releasable state, which makes a huge difference. The unoptimised mess that was The Walking Dead [Ed: Dylan played The Walking Dead on the Xbox 360 and enjoyed it less than AJ, Shaun and Potter] really killed the tension and the flow of its narrative, so whilst The Wolf Among Us has inexplicably long loading times for a fixed camera game in a single scene with mostly static furniture and props, at least it doesn’t start loading a character’s dialogue mid-sentence or pause to think in the middle of an action scene.

Action scenes have been overhauled whilst broadly sticking with the same template, making them more dynamic with much more effective and really quite shocking violence. I’ve heard it said that the action is less enjoyable than it was in The Walking Dead, but I couldn’t disagree more. I really enjoyed the action in The Wolf Among Us whereas there wasn’t a single action scene in TWD that I didn’t wish was either not present or done much, much better.

Crucially, the core gameplay remains in the dialogue and story choices, and the game allows the player more freedom to explore additional information about the world and characters; something I lapped up willingly as it was so well implemented. For folks like me who know nothing of the backstory there’s also a regularly updated Info page offering a run-down on any characters we didn’t quite catch the gist of.

We’re only one episode in, but the fact that I picked up this laptop and started writing furiously the second it finished speaks volumes about my response to it.

SHARK ALARM. SHARK. ALARM. Right, actual spoilers after the image, so seriously if you haven’t played it yet – stop. Why not play it, then come back and read the rest?

Wolf2

Here is a collection of half-formed, lopsided, illogical, nonsensical or downright stupid thoughts:

  • So I don’t believe for a second that either of those women are dead. Couple of reasons – Snow was built up a bit too much to just kill off that easy; and there were a few too many issues with Faith’s death, mostly the mirror. Mirror-dude said that there was some magic preventing him from seeing her, which implies she’s alive. Doesn’t prove nothing, but it implies it. I think that magic is involved somehow, and someone else looks like Faith, and that person is dead. And someone else also looks Snow, and that person’s dead. Don’t know why, but it’s my theory and I’m going with it.
  • Loved the various bits of background fable-related gags. Don’t know how many of those are from the comics, but some of ones I spotted and still remember were: Huff’n’Puff Cigarettes, a broadway play called Three Apples, the Trip Trap bar, and a shoe shop called The Silver Slipper.
  • I want that little flying dude to be my best friend/sidekick/flatmate, and for us to have adventures together in the summer hols.
  • Ichabod was an asshole, and I regret not telling him to fuck off.
  • When I was asked to pick a suspect, I said no-one, but frankly I didn’t know who a couple of those people were anyway, possibly because I went to Toad’s house first so didn’t get all the potential character introductions. One of them looked like Walter White in the summary at the end though, so I reckon it was him (Actually, I don’t think it was any of the suspects we’ve been introduced to yet, not directly at least).
  • The second scene at Toad’s house went from tense to funny pretty quickly. I thought we were going down the child abuse path, but it was actually some fun, lighthearted detective-based goon comedy.
  • I’m intrigued by the idea that Lawrence would live if I’d done the story differently. My narrative instincts tell me to stick with my story though. No take-backsies.
  • The way they handled Bigby half-transforming during the bar fight was fantastic. It was scary to me, because I felt like it was me that was going to lose control.
  • Did I just feel empathy for the Woodsman during that last confrontation? Because that guy was a colossal bell-end, but… his voice was so sad, and his regret so convincing. I’m torn on the guy. And on Bigby himself for that matter.

What did you think?