Marking an important comeback for Telltale Games, The Expanse: A Telltale Series is the first major game from the developer since it was revived in 2019 after the studio filed for bankruptcy in 2018. In many ways, this new title is a miniature time capsule of what Telltale Games does well: a choose-your-own adventure with intense narrative choices, well-written dialogue, and combat that’s full of quick-time events. For better and worse, the game doesn’t fiddle too much with the formula, making the game feel familiar yet dated at the same time. Still, if you’re a fan of Telltale’s games or The Expanse series in general, you’ll more than appreciate what this video game adaptation has to offer.
From inyalowda to beltalowda
Given that the last season of The Expanse show on Amazon Prime finished in early 2022, it may surprise you that this game is a prequel. It’s an understandable approach given that the show, despite receiving critical acclaim, is still in the niche sci-fi fantasy genre. Being a prequel also prevents the game from messing around with the lore too much, though the large three-decade time skip that happens in the book series is an opportunity that could have been explored. As it stands, since the main character here is Camina Drummer and we know that she obviously appears in the show, it’s difficult to feel much tension when her life is threatened in the game by pirates and the cold darkness of space.
Still, Drummer is a solid, fan-favorite protagonist to pick for a prequel, with the game exploring her tumultuous background as a Belter and the hard choices she’s had to make before becoming the no-nonsense security officer on Tycho Station. Actress Cara Gee, who plays Drummer in the show, reprises her role here with strong, emotive voicework throughout all five episodes. Even if you don’t know much about The Expanse, this prequel serves as a solid introduction to her character and the emphasis on power politics between various factions in the series.
That said, the game doesn’t do as great of a job explaining a lot of the Belter Creole slang or the conflict between Inners and Belters, since there’s no in-depth glossary or codex. Even with some of the archival logs you can collect by scanning objects, some of them require experience with the series to understand their full context. (Scanning objects occasionally earns you salvage too, but I still have no idea what it’s for.) As such, new players to the series might need to take a quick look at, say, The Expanse Wiki to get their bearings with the lore.
“Truth is truth. How you deal with it is up to you.”
Starting off as the second-in-command on a vessel named the Artemis, Drummer has to navigate her position by giving orders and otherwise building rapport with the other crew members of the ship. This includes the acerbic pilot Khan, the friendly but guarded medic Virgil, the engineer and potential love interest Maya, and the Belter twins Arlen and Rayen. By the end of the first episode of five, Drummer will need to make one of many pivotal decisions that will change the course of the story and typically decide the fate of a crew member.
These dramatic, either-or situations don’t have a lot of nuance, but it does force you to make a decision. There will still be many narrative beats that can’t be altered in any significant way, as it is with many other Telltale games, but a few major decisions particularly in the finale will have more of an impact. At the end of an episode, you’ll receive a summary that also reveals which choices the community made so you can compare how your playthrough might differ from the norm. Overall, the story has enough drama and depth to satisfy both fans and newcomers alike.
Beyond the dialogue choices, Drummer will need to get through some simple zero-gravity platforming and complete action sequences with straightforward quick-time events. Certain sections require you to roll like an airplane sideways before landing on a walkable surface. This is a welcome advancement in a genre often criticized for being “walking simulations,” though trying to navigate large debris fields in space is sometimes disorienting. A few sections where you have to avoid drone lasers are especially annoying too, since the platforming controls aren’t precise. As for combat, the quick-time events are easy enough to complete as they have very generous timing windows and don’t have complicated inputs.
A clunky format
The Expanse: A Telltale Series shows its age in several unfortunate ways. The game is unclear when checkpoints occur, so if you need to quit the game for some reason and return, there’s a chance you’ll need to repeat several sections over again. And there’s no way to skip cutscenes, so it may take more than a few minutes to get back to where you were.
Moreover, Telltale still insists on its games having an episodic structure, which breaks the momentum of the plot. That’s not much of an issue now, since you’ll have access to all five episodes if you purchase it. But the game’s initial episodic release schedule led to moments where I forgot what happened last, and the episodic summaries were too bare to refresh my memory. In this age of digital entertainment, Telltale should consider releasing future games as a full package right from the start instead of chopping it up into bits.
The Expanse: A Telltale Series is a return to form, though that form is almost out of style. Each of the five episodes takes an average of about two hours to complete if you’re hunting for all of the collectibles, so the amount of content is on the shorter end. But if you’re looking for solid writing and characters that fit well within The Expanse universe, this adventure is another chance to revisit the series and see Camina Drummer be a badass all over again. However, the dated mechanics and the game’s choice to be a prequel impair the effort.
This review is based on a PC code based on a Steam beta branch as provided by the publisher. The Expanse: A Telltale Series is currently available on Xbox Series X|S, PS5, and PC via Epic Games Store.
- Camina Drummer is still a badass
- Strong dialogue and memorable characters
- Zero-G platforming adds to exploration
- No glossary or primer for players new to series
- Prequel limits tension
- Episodic format and checkpoint system are dated
Nick Tan posted a new article, The Expanse: A Telltale Series is a safe but reliable comeback
The grafix were really nice but everything else about it was a bit disappointing
Really didn't like it. I'm afraid for wolf among us 2