Gamers interested in Telltale games seem to fall into two camps. Those who buy the games as soon as the opportunity arises, and those who wait until the end of a season to gobble everything up in a marathon run. I happen to fall into the latter, and thus recently enjoyed a lengthy stint of exploring Fabletown on the PC.
The Wolf Among Us is set in the universe of the “Fables” series of comics. Characters of fairytales and myth have been evicted from their ancient homeland and now inhabit a small area in New York City called Fabletown. The sheriff of Fabletown is the titular wolf, Bigby, otherwise known as The Big Bad Wolf. As Bigby, the player will investigate a double murder that has rocked the community. Needless to say, The Walking Dead this is not. Whereas TWD is more focused around groups of humans or individual characters in a zombie infested world, Wolf is a noir mystery at its core, slowly revealing more of the plot as the game goes on. Like the best mysteries, the characters are at the core of what makes Wolf so engaging and keeps the player motivated to uncover the secrets lying in wait.
Despite all Fables receiving a clean slate for past sins since arriving in the human world, unsurprisingly, many Fables fear Bigby or do not trust him because of his past deeds. When the game starts, Bigby has a reputation as a rabble-rouser, a “Beat the h*** out of someone, tear his arm off first and eventually ask questions” guy. Needless to say, his reputation is far from stellar. As the season progresses, you can work to alter this reputation or embrace it. This dual nature conflict plays a major role in many of the games choices and conversations. I did my best to be a firm sheriff and only take physical action when left with no recourse. It wasn’t easy though. There were several places in the game where I really wanted to start a fight with a character, or in some cases, kill them. Adding to the temptation is the fight scenes themselves. Wolf has quite a number of action segments, h***; the entire first half of the last episode is action. But these action segments are a joy to behold. Bigby is a brutal creature by nature and these fights are full of animal savagery. Embracing Bigby’s wolf nature is hard to resist thanks to the despicable characters you meet and just how fun it is to watch Bigby maul someone who slighted him.
Being a fan of the comics, I was delighted to explore the world of Fabletown and see the characters brought to life. While there are several personalities from the comics who appear, such as Snow White, Jack, Bufkin, and Bluebeard, most of the people you meet in the game are new characters. A testament to the strength of Telltale’s writing is how they managed to work new characters into an established universe. I found all of the new characters fit in well with the established cast, and gave Telltale the opportunity to introduce some real monsters, literally and figuratively, into the world.
Some of the new faces also have a “not-so-rosy” past with Bigby, increasing the tension in certain scenarios. I found the new characters intriguing and strong enough to stand on their own. It would have been easy for Telltale to only cull from established characters in the series, so I applaud them for creating new characters and making them just as strong, if not stronger, than the established ones.
The game plays like The Walking Dead in several ways. You directly move Bigby and have a cursor you use to select objects and characters to interact with in the world.
During conversation, you have your timed dialogue options. Where The Wolf Among Us differs from TWD in the gameplay is more emphasis on action and, how some choices unfold. Most of these action segments are the aforementioned fights, but there are car chases and suspect pursuits as well, among others. Another notable difference between the two games are investigation choices. At some key points in the game, you will be able to choose which location to investigate next. By forgoing one location over the other, you might miss out on a lead, the presence of a subject, or even the chance to save someone’s life.
While the plot will advance regardless, these options will change the way some events transpire, or who is alive at the season’s end, encouraging more than one trip into Fabletown. To further entice repeated visits, Telltale has included a “Rewind” feature. While the episodes are divided into chapters, by using rewind, players can revisit a major choice without having to play through the entire episode if they wish.
Being a noir mystery, there is a seedy undercurrent to the slow burn narrative. Expect talk of drugs, stalking, murder, and forced prostitution among other unpleasant subjects. Like the best mysteries, the early episodes lay the foundation and questions to keep the player enthralled before slowly revealing a vast interconnected web that coalesces in the final episode. The art direction also enhances the noir atmosphere. The game is cell-shaded, but the world itself feels grimy and uninviting thanks to the art direction and unpleasant people inhabiting the world.
Being a narrative focused game, the majority of your time will be spent discovering new leads and plot threads. There are red herrings to discover, rabbit holes to go down, and tough choices to be made. When faced with a tough decision, the game never labels one as better than the other. You are the one to decide what the best outcome is, or simply the lesser of two evils. More than one of these tough calls are made in the presence of others actively urging you to consider one route, or who will let you know what they think following your decision. Bigby cannot please everyone, but your choices will decide how the rest of the world will view your Bigby. There are choices where a character I genuinely liked and wanted on my side was pulling for a decision I would rather not have on my conscience. Balancing your own moral compass while trying to keep the peace among the citizens and preserve your few allies is tough, but the enjoyable juggling act helped immerse me further in the narrative.
On a technical level, the game runs well and performs as expected. In my time, I only encountered one bug. The bug blanked out all dialogue choices, but a simple restart alleviated the problem and the bug only reared its head twice. I did play the first episode a while back on my 360 , but I played the season for this review on my PC. The difference was extremely noticeable. Not only were the graphics sharper, but the game performed much better as a whole. As such, I highly recommend playing on a PC if you are able.
The game is not perfect, but most of the flaws are minor and typical of these games.
There are some discrepancies between a character’s dialogue and actions, especially Bigby. On more than one occasion, there would be a high pressure urgency requiring immediate action. Bigby’s voice and dialogue would indicate he knew what was transpiring, but then he would casually saunter off as if nothing was wrong with the world. Another niggling problem was some of Bigby’s dialogue and the voice actor himself. The majority of the time, he is great, endowing Bigby with a gravelly snarl as expected of the character. On occasion though, his voice was so gravelly, it was hard to decipher what he said; and at other times his voice would get lost in the cacophony of events occurring around him.
The rules of death also seem inconsistent. We see Bigby endure an enormous amount of abuse through the season, one character gets a lobotomy with an axe, and another gets impaled with antlers, yet all of them live. However, there is another character who receives what seems to be a minor injury that instead turns lethal. Like I said, niggling and not major, but I noticed it. Some of the characters seem underdeveloped and could be utilized more, especially Beast. There are also some slight narrative and pacing issues, but when playing the season as a whole, they can be easily overlooked. A word of warning though, the game has a lot of swearing. While I was not perturbed by this, some might find it slightly off-putting. If I sound like I am nit-picking, it is because I am. As a whole, these flaws are easily overshadowed by the quality of the season, and there are no major flaws that ruin the game or affect the quality of what Telltale has delivered.
What does your purchase net you?
For $24.99, you get all five episodes of the season. My playtime ended at eight hours, but some players may want to revisit certain choices to see alternate events. Given how some AAA games are selling for $60 and provide less content of a lower quality, I believe the game is well worth the asking price.
The Wolf Among Us is an excellent narrative driven experience in a fully realized universe. If you were waiting to see how the season panned out, rest assured, this game delivers. A thoughtful narrative filled with memorable characters, tough questions and decisions. The few flaws are minor and can be easily overlooked in favor of the whole experience.
Moment of Artistry
The season ends with a touching and interesting conversation that gives Bigby a quiet moment with one of my favorite characters from the season.
+Excellent writing and characters
+Interesting mystery narrative with some nice twists
+Does right by the Fables series
+You play as The Big Bad Wolf. Seriously, how cool is that?
– Some underutilized characters
– Abundance of cursing may be too much for some
– The wait for Season 2
Telltale furnished the code for review.