Telltale Games spent years trying to cement themselves as the masters of the interactive story videogame, as part of this they worked with some of the biggest franchises telling new and compelling stories in their worlds. From the likes of the Walking Dead, to Game of Thrones, to Borderlands, and even looking further to Batman, Telltale has developed some great experiences that pull us into the story and invest our interest. Looking back there was a reason that we were so invested, for years Telltale was a lone group in this genre so we looked forward to the more unique experience in recent years. However as the years have gone on the illusion of their games has worn, and new players have entered this game and have outdone Telltale at what they do best with original stories and games.
As great as a Telltale Game is one of the things I have noticed is that the games choice system is little more than an illusion, while the stories like to imply that you are in control often these subtle changes you would make by your decisions are rectified and a character you saved would die. Take for an example the character Nick in Telltale’s The Walking Dead Season 2, it is possible to get him killed in Episode two if you make certain choices, however if you choose the right one he lives and will move forward on the next episode. However clearly he was destined to die in Episode two because he loses all relevance in Episode three, and then you find him dead in Episode four, this all makes the choices meaningless and always meant that you did nothing to impact the story.
But this is the case with all of Telltale Games at the end of the day choices are meaningless and there to present you with this illusion, sure they add to the story but they are disappointing and as the player make me feel like I added nothing to the experience. The curtain has fallen and the thing that used to be the real power of the Telltale game experience is revealed to be nothing more than an illusion, and they are made worse when all they are doing is adding new stories to pre-established worlds and not trying anything original.
In this case Telltale have lost their stranglehold on that major part of the market, for enjoyable storytelling they remain crucial, but for meaning and for the player they don’t add anything anymore and other groups have picked up the slack and done what Telltale seems to lack, consequences. Consequences for your actions raise the stakes and make each and every choice matter, one bad decision can make a world of difference to the overarching story line and Telltale does not seem to get this and have basically just thrown their crown at developers like Supermassive Games and DONTNOD.
Developer DONTNOD has completely overshadowed the works of Telltale Games and this is only with a single episodic adventure. Throughout 2015 DONTNOD’s Life is Strange developed a truly interesting and inviting tale, in many ways I feel similarities could be drawn between Telltale’s work and this game but where it counts in telling a different and much better tale Life is Strange shines above the work of Telltale. Where it really counts with Life is Strange is in the choices, as I have Telltale games ultimately don’t matter when it comes to choice, but with Life is Strange some of the decisions faced actually matter and their weight actually carries on throughout the series.
No choice is ever easy in Life is Strange and this is where the game really beat Telltale, for every choice you make there are consequences ahead and you can never see how these will impact on your future decisions. Something as seemingly insignificant as standing up for someone, or even choosing to pick on someone can really impact the future and this meant I always cared about my choices and never felt like I was making them because I had to. Interestingly Life is Strange just simply shows the power of compelling story telling and actually making decisions count for something, this is why the game takes Telltale’s crown.
But Life is Strange is not the only one, in 2015 Supermassive Games also showed the power of great storytelling and meaningful choices with Until Dawn. While the game is completely different to Life is Strange and Telltale’s work in the work in the episodic series, it still showed the power of a meaningful original story and choices that impacted the game going forward. In Until Dawn when somebody dies it was your fault and as much as I honestly hated some of the characters in the game I was compelled by the story set before me. Again, this game just shows the power of a well told story with meaningful consequences something that Telltale does not seem to get in their games and does not seem to care about.
But in my eyes the thing that makes everything stronger with the games is in fact the way they utilize the Butterfly effect, as much I have enjoyed some of Telltale’s works when choices don’t offer much they lose their impact. The Butterfly effect when used properly really makes things count, the true meaning of choice is implemented and the story pushes you with every crushing blow that is born as a repercussion of your actions. Life is Strange and Until Dawn both use this to strong effect and deliver two solid games because of this, but they also throw Telltale into a huge hole which they are finding it hard to come up from, the greats must fall but also be reborn.
I enjoy a good licensed property as much as the next person and I have loved playing The Walking Dead and The Wolf Among Us but there comes a time where things must change. Telltale may have once been the master of the interactive choice based story adventure, but Life is Strange and Until Dawn show a greater future and deliver more rewarding experiences. Honestly I want to see Telltale land on their feet again, they deliver some quality experiences but it is time they follow the example set by others and try and offer much deeper and more meaningful experiences that will truly set a name for them. The king and queens of this particular videogame genre have been proclaimed and Telltale needs to follow the set example to continue to shine in the future.