How '400 Days' sets the stage for The Walking Dead's second season

By Steve Watts, Jul 03, 2013 11:30am PDT

We loved Telltale's The Walking Dead so much that we gave it our Game of the Year for 2012. The story wrapped up with a sense of finality, and we've wondered how the promised second season would continue the journey. The new 400 Days downloadable content starts to begins to answer that question, albeit in an extremely tangential way.

If Lee and Clementine's fateful journey throughout the first season is comparable to a novel, 400 Days is a compendium of short stories. They can be played in any order, with reasonably similar results. This gives Telltale the freedom to stretch out and explore several aspects of this apocalyptic world, from various perspectives.

Throughout the five tales, I was struck by how expertly Telltale has learned to quickly endear us to new characters. Season One put us in the shoes of Lee, and quickly charged us with caring for a scared little girl. Everything from that point forward was seen through that lens, and the various characters weaving in and out of their lives were filtered through my feelings towards Clementine.

400 Days' construction feels almost like Telltale explicitly wanted to avoid such an easy path. Instead, we spend only about 20 minutes with each character, making each moment count to establish them with minimal reliance on the prior season. We get a moment or two of hints and Easter eggs, but the stories primarily stand on their own.

True to the series, each episode forces some kind of moral choice, littered among smaller choices about how to relate to surrounding survivors. Your choices will once again say a lot about how you relate to this new world, and where you draw your own personal lines.

The stories run the gamut from grotesque, heart-breaking, and even darkly humorous. Russell, a smart teen with a good head on his shoulders, was my favorite of the bunch, since his story weaved so many of the Walking Dead themes together seamlessly. Wyatt's was the funniest, Vince's was the most frightening, and Shel's most closely resembled the Lee/Clem dynamic. Only Bonnie's story served as a weak spot, since she was such a passive observer. Her choice isn't so much about what she does, but rather, what she says about what she does.

All of these culminate in one (slightly exposition-heavy) final scene that draws all of the stories together, and seems to smartly lay the groundwork for Season Two. It doesn't explicitly promise the return of Clementine, but it sets a stage that she wouldn't be out of place on, while giving us the backgrounds of likely cast mates. Even if Telltale takes a completely different direction, though, it has displayed its deft hand for storytelling and made the wait for later this year even harder.

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