Telltale has spent two seasons establishing and creating its own chunk of story set in the world of Robert Kirkman's The Walking Dead. It has its own characters, its own timelines, and its own plot lines that are currently ongoing. Telltale is not opting to continue this story just yet, but instead is looking to tell the story of another Walking Dead mainstay, the sword-wielding Michonne.
The Walking Dead: Michonne takes place during the period in the comics in which the title character left Rick Grimes' group and set off on her own. Michonne would eventually rejoin Rick and company, but her whereabouts during her absence were left unknown. This story fills in that gap and it certainly looks to deliver what it promises. However, based on the first episode, there doesn't seem to be a lot else going for it, as it feels like a by-the-numbers storytelling effort that doesn't offer a lot of the same gripping elements from the original Telltale series.
The central theme of TWD: Michonne appears to be the title character's continuing angst and guilt over her backstory, in which she lost her two daughters. While Michonne is just as much at odds with the hordes of walkers wandering the plains, her greater struggle is in her own mind, as she repeatedly sees the images of her children. Her mental instability nearly leads to her suicide, at which point she's discovered by Pete, his first canonical appearance prior to his comic book debut, and escorted to his fishing boat. Over the course of the story, Michonne establishes herself as a capable crew member, but she'll have moments where she'll psychologically collapse and begin seeing visions of her dreadful origins.
While TWD: Michonne provides a fascinating eye into the troubled mind of the main character, her internal struggle, and what drives her, it doesn't necessarily lead to compelling gameplay. Part of the charm of the original Telltale Walking Dead games is that they use more than just the comic's setting to immerse players in that world. There's a band of survivors to worry about. There's having to make difficult choices to try and keep that group alive, while also testing the player's leadership skills. Michonne is many things: a proud fighter, a stalwart ally, a beacon of support when the chips are down. But she's not a leader and because of that, the unique gameplay ideas that helped make the original Telltale Walking Dead games so compelling simply are not present.
There is one notable exception and that comes in the episode's final seconds, where a character's life hangs in the balance. The trouble here is that the characters aren't particularly compelling or likable. Michonne and Pete will run into a pair of scavengers before they're all abducted. These two characters help comprise the makeshift survival party, but because they never open up in any significant way, it's hard to care about them one way or the other.
The appeal in this game is getting to be Michonne, which occasionally shines through in this episode's few action sequences. The Telltale QTE interface returns, with Michonne getting stabby with either her katana or her machete. There's one instance where the player must input a string of button inputs to prompt Michonne to take out numerous targets at once. It's an impressive display and one that will hopefully be utilized more in subsequent episodes.
The other bright spot for this episode is the antagonists. Michonne and company are taken to a society of modern pirates, who have crafted a society for themselves and are sustaining its population by pillaging supplies from seabound vessels. The society is run by a ruthless woman that's willing to murder to get what she needs, but does so to keep her group alive. However, the rest of her group consists of her sadistic deputy and uneasy third sidekick that's clearly shaken by the rising violence. The dynamics of the villainous group is intriguing to behold, while their ultimate intentions are showered in shades of gray. Their methods are ruthless, but they also realize that in the changing landscape, it's how things must be done to survive.
If the game's protagonists can reach that same kind of compelling level, the overall story could be a breathtaking experience. That's a tough proposition, though, given that The Walking Dead: Michonne is only three episodes long. And this series is already off to a rough start. The seeds for a decent story are there, but without the mechanics and themes that made the original Telltale Walking Dead so memorable, The Walking Dead: Michonne is already on pace to be a zombified shell of itself.