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The Expanse by Telltale Reignites the Legacy- Is It Worth It?

by 
 | September 10, 2023

Telltale is BACK! They’re back with The Expanse: A Telltale Series based on the acclaimed books by James S.A.Corey and the television series of the same name. And they’re back with a BANG!

In 2018, Telltale Games closed as we knew it, but in 2019, LCG Entertainment re-launched the brand after acquiring some assets from the shuttered studio. So, Telltale IS back, but it’s technically not the company.  

The Expanse is being released in chapters that take one or two hours to play through, and at present, only two installments are available. It’s a similar release model to the preceding Telltale games, but The Expanse is only available to buy as a complete set, not as individual episodes. 

So, what’s the deal? Is it good? Is it bad? Is it worthy of the Telltale legacy? Let’s find out!

Carina Drummer stands with her arms folded
Ready for business

At the time of writing, I’ve played the first two chapters of The Expanse: A Telltale Series, so the following is my impression of the game up until the end of Chapter 2. 

Story

Confession time: I’ve never seen or read any The Expanse related media. When it comes to Belter lore, I’m no bosmang. So when I tell you it doesn’t matter, I hope you’ll believe me. This is an original story that doesn’t discriminate between an anorak or The Expanse virgin.

Telltale’s The Expanse follows XO Camina Drummer (Cara Gee, who reprises her role from the TV show), serving as an origin story for the well-established character. It’s your job as second in command of the scavenger vessel, The Artemis, to keep an eclectic crew in line as you search for your biggest score yet! 

Your journey takes you through darkened husks of spaceships in disrepair, scrounging as much salvageable equipment as possible to keep The Artemis afloat. 

But where there is bounty, there is also danger. Whether it is rival privateers or falling debris from the broken-down ships, the story keeps you on your toes, punctuating relaxing jaunts in open space with claustrophobic corridors. 

Drummer entering the Officer’s Ward wearing a spacesuit. A severed hand is still clinging to the access panel
Oooooh, I didn’t know this was an Addams Family crossover!

And boy, did this game creep me out in parts. The exploration evokes the feelings of wandering around The Ishimora in Dead Space. Thankfully, however, there haven’t been any grotesque creatures wanting to rip Drummer limb from limb in this game. Yet. There’s a tense vibe to the story, though. Like nobody is safe, and it will be all your fault if they die! Pressure!

Gameplay 

It’s Telltale, so the gameplay is basically Telltale-like. What does that mean, I hear you ask?

What you say and do affects the story. Conversations with your crew are the basis of most of your decision-making. Drummer’s demeanor can affect their opinion of her and her leadership abilities. Will you choose to role play a hero Drummer or the more pragmatic Drummer who will sacrifice an appendage or two for the prospect of extra salvage? 

I say screw those guys! Robot arms and legs are cooler anyway. 

The main departure from the legacy Telltale games is that exploration is also key to maintaining and building your relationships. For instance, in Chapter 1, you can find a crystal to repair a laser cutter in the Artemis Med Bay. That laser cutter could be used to help save a crewmate in subsequent chapters. It takes decision-making to a new level. How long do you search for salvage before continuing to the next mission marker? 

Drummer uses her jetpack to traverse a cargo bay
Weeeeeeeeeeeeeeee

And that exploration is fun, zipping around in your space suit in open space or down deserted corridors. Those sections are relaxing and tense, peaceful in open space but evoke a sense of Alien dread whilst wandering the corridors. Frustratingly, there aren’t any tracking statistics to indicate when you’ve collected everything, and some collectibles are in weird places, off the beaten path. I spent a good time meticulously searching in both Chapter 1 and Chapter 2, but I failed to find everything, silence falling instead of the sweet sound of trophies pinging.

Combat and action sections are controlled by QTEs. I’m not a fan of this feature in games, so the less said about that, the better. It’s the weakest part of the core gameplay loop, but it’s not surprising that it’s there. The mechanic was prevalent in the older titles, and it makes sense to use it for cinematic action. Let’s move on.

Graphics and Audio

The Expanse’s graphics improved immeasurably on previous Telltale titles. Gone is the cell-shaded comic-book style of The Walking Dead and Game of Thrones, replaced by a more realistic style boasting beautiful vistas of open space and grisly, dank deserted hallways. The face models are not hyper-realistic like in a Supermassive title, but they’re pretty damn good.

Debris floating in space beside a nearby planet
Why is space debris so pretty looking?

The voice acting is great, too. I don’t have a frame of reference for the types of language and the cadence of speech Belters and Inners use, but it is Sci-fi enough to be believable. Cara Gee, in particular, produces a terrific performance as the playable character. 

There is something off with the speech audio in places, enough to be distracting. It’s possible that it was designed this way for Drummer’s inner monologue, but the sound quality is too clear for the environment like it should be more distorted or echo-y. Either I got used to it, or the voice quality improved later in the game because I stopped noticing it by Chapter 2.  

The game’s music was composed by Clinton Shorter, who also wrote for the TV show, and Jeff Kurtenacker. It’s consistent and glorious. Matching the vibe of the setting, the soundtrack evokes feelings of space danger. In other words, it feels like I’m in space and under constant threat. It’s brilliantly done. The music transitions seamlessly between the anxiety of the vastness of space to the anxiety of wandering claustrophobic bloodstained corridors. In the safety of The Artemis, you can feel the tension subside but not disappear. Kurtenacker and Shorter have done a tremendous job. 

Summary

The Expanse is New Telltale’s first release since reforming, and it’s very impressive. Let’s just analyze that statement. Telltale reformed in 2019. That means that their first game back would have predominantly been created remotely during the COVID-19 pandemic and all the crazy that came with that. 

But I’m not saying that this game is good for a game developed in COVID. I’m saying that this game is good, period. It’s taken the Telltale formula, which I was a huge fan of, and enhanced it. It’s incrementally evolved to provide more choice and player agency. Exploration elements and collectibles that affect the story are welcome additions. 

I’m playing The Expanse: A Telltale Series on PS5, and I’m happy to report I’ve not seen any noticeable frame drops or experienced crashes. My experience with Camina Drummer has been as smooth as butter. Pretty refreshing, right?

Drummer looks concerned as she finds 8 severed heads floating in mid-air
Heads up, it gets a little scary!

Story games like this aren’t everybody’s cup of tea. Some people think legacy Telltale games are glorified interactive novels, games in name only. I would say that this game is not for those types of gamers. However, you should try out this game if you’re like me. 

Because it’s good. It’s really good! And despite some audio weirdness and lackluster QTE action sections, I’ve really enjoyed my time with Camina Drummer and the crew of The Artemis. 

Excuse me while I binge the TV show for the next couple of weeks. 

The Expanse: A Telltale Series is available on PS4, PS5, Xbox One, Xbox Series S/X and PC right now for $39.99 for the standard edition or $44.99 for the deluxe edition, which includes a DLC episode dropping after the main campaign has concluded.

Disclosure: I received a free review copy of this product from https://keymailer.co

Soup Rating 8/10

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