The following impressions begin our ongoing review of The Walking Dead: The Final Season. Once the full season is complete, Shacknews will then have a final cumulative score for the game as a whole.
It's been a long journey and it's hard to come to terms with this being the beginning of the end. But that time has arrived with The Walking Dead: The Final Season, which is set to end the story that Telltale has told since the original Shacknews 2012 Game of the Year. 'Done Running' does a good job of setting up Clementine's story coming full circle, while also introducing some interesting new situations.
The first thing I want to note is that 'Done Running' throws me off out of the gate. Fresh off my playthrough of The Walking Dead: A New Frontier, I expected follow-up from the ending of the third game, with Clementine out continuing her search for little AJ. But instead, the story has fast-forwarded. Clementine has already picked up AJ and is on her merry way, with only one reference to his time at the ranch. It's a bit of a jarring transition, going from "Clementine's out to find AJ" to "Oh, there they just are."
In fact, The Final Season's first episode barely makes any mention of A New Frontier at all. While playthroughs and individual stories are bound to vary, Richmond was still standing and putting itself back together at the end of the third game. Meanwhile, Clementine makes a passing mention of her time there and simply plows forward on her own. While it would make sense (at least for most playthroughs) that her character would want to carry on solo, The Final Season treats the previous game like a total afterthought and, in fact, almost moves on like it never happened. That aspect of this narrative rubbed me the wrong way.
As for 'Done Running' itself, the story makes sure to recap Clementine's tale to this point, emphasizing the lessons she learned from Lee in the first game. That sets up the idea that she has now grown up into Lee's old caretaker role, acting as a mother figure to AJ, the baby she's raised since The Walking Dead: Season 2. Now fully able to communicate, AJ plays the role of Clementine, carefully absorbing any life lessons and advice in regards to surviving this dangerous world.
One of the biggest themes that The Final Season has set up, however, is that Clementine is almost certain to be a lesser caretaker than Lee was. Even though Lee was thrust into his role in the first season, he was still a fully-formed adult with adult experiences. While it can be argued that Clementine has endured experiences that no other child has, it doesn't mean she's 100 percent ready to raise a child herself. And ultimately, there are places in the story where it's evident that she hasn't quite mastered the mother role, including the episode's ending, which I won't spoil here.
The other major theme that makes The Final Season much more interesting involves the episode's setting. To this point, Clementine was a child wise beyond her years, hardened by years of surviving on her own. She was always surrounded by adults who underestimated her, but was always able to thrive, despite her young age. Having found Ericson's Boarding School for Troubled Youth, Clementine is now in an unfamiliar position. She's surrounded by about a dozen kids, like her, who are also tough-as-nails survivors. There was an instance in my playthrough where Clementine tried pointing out the hardships she's endured, when new character Vi pointed out that they've all made it through equally tough scenarios. No person is an island, something Clementine is learning in meeting this camp of abandoned kids, who have set up their own makeshift society.
Mechanically, The Walking Dead: The Final Season is, at its root, a Telltale game. That means solid adventure game mechanics, intriguing conversations, and tough decision-making. There are several places where the story can branch off, but there also appears to be a heavier emphasis on relationships, with the end of the episode making sure to recap Clementine's standing with individual characters based on player choices.
There are a few minor differences that I had some mixed reactions to. Whenever players are given control of Clementine, they'll now see objectives pop up at the top of the screen. While having direction is nice, it did take me out of the story a little bit. I wasn't a big fan of the "game-ified" element of a big "Here's your objective" message. Something I was a bigger fan of was the idea of collectibles. Once Clementine and AJ move into the school, they'll have an empty wall that they could decorate. There are up to six collectibles scattered over the course of the story and finding them allows Clementine to fill that wall. The first one is handed to players. AJ's drawing sets the tone for this mechanic, making it feel like a fridge to hang up certain pieces of pride.
The other thing to note is the pacing. While most Telltale episodes go at a brisk pace, because The Final Season is divided into four episodes (instead of the usual five), 'Done Running' feels like it has a longer runtime. Because of that, I felt like certain elements of the story started to drag. Fortunately, Telltale still has a penchant for compelling storytelling, because any sense of meandering I had was set to the side during the climax.
'Done Running' does a good job in setting up the beginning of the end of Clementine's story. It puts a lot of focus on her as a person, but also puts a heavier emphasis on her relationship with AJ and in her role as the new Lee. There are several ways this story can go and it doesn't look like Telltale is going to keep everyone waiting, as the second episode is set to release on September 25.
These impressions are based on an Xbox One code provided by the publisher. The Walking Dead: The Final Season is available now on PC, PlayStation 4, Xbox One, and Nintendo Switch for $19.99 for all four episodes. The game is rated M.
Ozzie Mejia posted a new article, The Walking Dead: The Final Season - 'Done Running' impressions
I finished my first ep runthrough of this, and felt it was really slow at least in setup. The plot goes from 0 to 60 in like 5 seconds in only the last 10 minutes of it. I understand this was all establishing the characters, you're thrown about a dozen new ones and they aren't in any danger of immediate death as there was with the 1st and 2nd season. They want you to get to know those characters well and feel like they are friends but then they go and off Marlon, those Telltale bastards Hopefully Ep2 can speed things along.
I do appreciate that the combat was much more "open" (as much as it could be with an adventure game), and loved the improvements on the graphics - they used some type of filter to put things that were about halfway downstage (in terms of the proverbial z axis) in a more cell-shaded approach to give the impression of line art and coloring, rather than rendered surfaces.