There are two words I would use to describe my total experience throughout The Wolf Among Us’ five episode: rushed and deceiving. Being a big fan of the Fables comics, and Telltale’s The Walking Dead, I was overjoyed at the idea of Telltale making a game in the Fables universe.
I was even more excited when I played through the first episode of Telltale’s The Wolf Among Us. Everything was there. Bigby, the main character, and Snow seemed to be more or less like those we see in the comics. The story was intriguing and, most importantly, there was a decent amount of player involvement beyond just dialogue options.
Going into Toad’s house, and looking at the various clues to try to catch him out on his lies was very interesting. It is just too bad we did not see any more of that later in any episode. It set up an expectation of what was to come, but after playing through it all, I now know I was deceived. Increasingly, the episodes became more and more dialogue heavy with very little time for the player to actually move through the world as Bigby. This is probably no truer than in the final episode, where there was no sequence of Bigby, putting everything together to finally put away the main villain.
The story from the outset gave a good sense that we were in for a good mystery – especially to those that read the comics. However, it became increasingly clear that predictability, the bane of any mystery story, was present in much of the middling episodes. Instead of having the characters come to relatively easy realizations, each episode was drawn out needlessly. This left them the end for a big reveal in the form of a cliffhanger. That bit of information was often the redeeming factor of the episode.
Because of all of that, I feel that we as players were deceived into thinking that The Wolf Among Us was going to be something much different than what we got in the subsequent episodes following episode one.
As for feeling rushed, you will find that criticism in many reviews to The Wolf Among Us. Following a similar trend after episode one, when each episode ended I remember thinking really, was that it? They all felt incredibly short, because they were, something that was noticed right away with the second episode. As it is right now, The Wolf Among Us is barely above half as long as The Walking Dead Season 1.
The first and final episodes maybe took about two hours to get through, while the middle three took around an hour and a half, and that's being generous. What also made them feel really short was the fact that not a lot happened in each episode, particularly noticeable in episode three onward.
In Telltale’s first season of The Walking Dead, there was a lot of time spent as Lee just going around looking at stuff and engaging in conversations. That can really pad out the time it takes to do an episode. In every episode we saw somewhere completely new and then were given the option to explore it.
That was not the case with The Wolf Among Us. Often many scenes took place in the same exact place and were really only used as a backdrop to a conversation. Even the new areas that were not used too often were exceedingly small with few places to explore. They came in the form of an apartment, in which we could only look at one room; a business office, again one room; a pawn shop; and a host of other places that only offered a handful of things for Bigby to comment on before the player was moved along.
The reused and small “sets” felt like another way to cut corners. It was far easier for Telltale to take away player agency, in the form of simply walking around a new area, and put them in a place they have been before to select through dialogue options in a conversation.
For all of those reasons, it is obvious that The Wolf Among Us did not receive nearly as much love and attention as Telltale’s first season of The Walking Dead. Knowing that has me worried for their future endeavors like Borderlands and Game of Thrones. Just having two projects going at the same time seems like almost too much for them, let alone three or four.
The Wolf Among Us isn't all bad, however – those are just its two poorest qualities.
Probably the best thing it does is create a good atmosphere and world. This is likely due in large part to the wonderful source material that has had years to flesh itself out. Telltale did a good job of adapting that in a recognizable way.
The 80s noir feel was ever-present in the New York backdrop and that should be recognized. The gritty, somewhat depressing, and pessimistic feel of the world weighed in heavily in what was going on and gave a good context to the overall story. It did not seem out of place for drugs and prostitutes to not only be involved, but play a key role.
The other great thing about The Wolf Among Us is how they captured characters in their dialogue. I’m not going to say that did a great job with characters and their actions, as both Bigby and Snow in the comics are quite different and regardless of the comics seemed to not make sense at some points, but the way they talk to one another was great.
That goes for most of the other characters throughout as well. It was easy to tell the kind of person Toad was, and the same goes for the likes of Crane, Bluebeard, the Woodsman, and a host of others (Bloody Mary being an exception, nothing but cliches). The characters were specific and identifiable – not really generalized in any way. They all had distinct morals and motivations which made them feel very alive.
Another thing that The Wolf Among Us did reasonably well was raise questions. It was only the execution in answering those questions that lacked. This was one of the greatest things about most of the episodes, particularly episode four. It is unfortunate that they left the creation of most questions to the end of the episode in the cliffhangers, but it was only because of those questions that I stayed interested.
It is really hard to complain about the overall visual of the game as well as it captured what is becoming Telltale’s style and put it into an interesting world. The way the game looked helped a lot in creating the atmosphere mentioned earlier. Care was taken to make what we saw look good, even though we saw less than we might have liked.
Unfortunately, some of the game’s biggest technical issues came in sound. Often sounds would be off, like setting down a glass or moving a stool. More than once dialogue would be cut off and the subtitles would go away and the conversation would continue. Sometimes characters in the background would talk over the conversation you were trying to have. Those kinds of things also give credence to the idea that the game was rushed.
Overall, the Wolf Among Us did not live up to the expectations that The Walking Dead created, which is not surprising. However, what is surprising, is just how far below that mark it hit. It is not a terrible game, just a little better than okay game.
Telltale should learn from their experience here that it is very obvious when corners have been cut and a game is rushed. Seeing what they did with the first episode of The Wolf Among Us tells me they definitely could have made something on the level of The Walking Dead. If every episode played in a similar vein as the first, The Wolf Among Us would have been amazing. Sadly, they eschewed that for something easier and less time consuming.
We were all excited at the reasonably short periods of time between episodes, but I say let them take all the time they need. I sincerely hope Telltale does not continue accepting this as the benchmark for quality.
Don't go in expecting something on the same level as The Walking Dead, but if you are interested in the setting, give The Wolf Among Us a try.