Fairytale characters that have turned (mostly) human; strange murders keeping the Fabletown population in fear; and a lone wolf struggling to redeem himself: the potential of The Wolf Among Us is amazing.
Or was it, rather?
Now that the first season is over, with the season finale released only last week, it might be time to sit back and reflect a little on the experience that was The Wolf Among Us – clearly, some spoilers ahead, so if you haven’t played the finale yet, or if you are still wondering whether or not you might want to play it, it’d be best to turn away from this post for now.
When Telltale Games released the first episode of The Wolf Among Us, I was quite hopeful and found it a fascinating concept – and of course after Telltale’s enormous success of The Walking Dead: Season One that left most of us as emotional wrecks in front of the screen, the expectations of the game were high – indeed, maybe too high. After a little while, though, I was even looking forward more to the release dates of The Wolf Among Us episodes, rather than those of The Walking Dead: Season Two (although, of course, that series is still unparalleled in its emotional impact). And why shouldn’t I be? It was indeed much more fun trying to fix and uncover a city that, well, still has some sort of future left, rather than being dragged through a zombie apocalypse knowing full well that, as zombie apocalypses go, it is highly likely that eventually every character you care about will die. But of course this ‘normal setting’ (as normal as a town full of fairytale characters can be) brought with it some disadvantages: shit could not go down as heavily as it might have.
All this while, of course, there was a lot of drama involved here, and the first few episodes were indeed captivating, intriguing, and you were able to spin all kinds of conspiracy theories or other theories during those waiting periods. As soon as the investigation goes a little deeper than the surface, it becomes fairly obvious that something is really out of the ordinary, and that the women at the Pudding & Pie are under some kind of spell – a powerful spell, indeed, and the rather sickening images we receive of Ichabod Crane’s ‘transgressions’ only make things more confusing. It’s interesting, we want to get to the core of it all – and then, the last two episodes just ruined it largely for me. Although it was scary experiencing how Bigby Wolf loses more and more control over himself and you can’t do much about it, how his transformation into a beast becomes more and more evident, there was something lacking on the part of the story. Although still beautifully written, it is not, necessarily, about a grand magical conspiracy, and neither is there some huge internal conspiracy that would have shaken Fabletown to its very foundation. For all intents and purposes, the only thing that went really wrong is that the town cannot provide for its citizens, and that those have no choice but to turn to a, well, sort of “Fabletown mafia” (to say it with the words of my gaming buddy) for help, soon caught up in the web of lies and debt and death threats and fear. The Crooked Man, while in parts a fascinating and manipulative character, was not even manipulative, powerful, impressive enough to make up for this (I kept waiting for something really bad to go down at the Witching Well) – and the only character who really added something to these last episodes was Bloody Mary, especially once her real self took over and she transformed into a truly creepy, impressive, intriguing character whose performance was outstanding and who was, finally, a true match for our protagonist (alas, she was still not exploited enough).
Although I wouldn’t say the overall season was a bad gaming experience at all – I still enjoyed the storytelling aspect of it a lot – my disappointment with the way everything was resolved (and was not) in the end was a bit more pressing. Of course some gaming aspects put a damper on it as well; while the Book of Fables was a really great idea, detailing the characters and their past, the lack of true agency on the part of the player came especially through then: in order to get to all those entries, it is necessary to replay parts of the game with a different decision. Me, I wasn’t bothered by it too much, but it is undeniable that for some people I know this definitely added some negativity to the gameplay.
But Fables are not Zombies! (hopefully)
On the other hand, we should remember that we cannot expect the same from every single franchise. Telltale Games have proven that they are great in storytelling, their writing quite impeccable, with beautiful character design and highly emotional voice-acting, and a setting such as this simply does not provide as much room for emotional involvement as a setting where you are in constant fear of everyone turning into zombies and eating you in your sleep – this despair, this sense of futility is something that definitely adds to the emotional experience. If you expected to be shaken to your very core and start crying when playing The Wolf Among Us, you need to consider such essential differences in the storyworlds. In that sense, The Wolf Among Us really is much more about detective work, interpersonal drama, trying to fix the community, and getting to know Bigby, rather than about survival and death. (Although there is plenty of that to go around, too.) Also, Telltale Games have much less freedom in The Wolf Among Us than they do in The Walking Dead because unlike being set parallel to the events in the comic books, this one plays before – making it much harder to just kill off a character, because you do have to stick to the canon, and for those players who knew the comic books beforehand, the experience might have been even less suspenseful; knowing full well which characters re-appear in the comic books and which do not. Still, something was bugging me, and this ‘something’ was ‘someone’ and called Snow White, who would have made a perfect secret villainess considering how more and more unbearable and ‘bitchy’ she becomes throughout the season, not only towards Bigby but also, and especially, towards other characters. How perfect would it have been if, as we suspected, she actually had a hand in everything, if she’d actually had something to do with the Crooked Man? But I suppose you cannot have everything in life.
The great question remains: Will there be a Season 2? After playing it yesterday, I hoped not, but now that I have calmed down enough to consider the consequences of this open ending, I wouldn’t be surprised if there was; I’m sure they’d be able to dig up some kind of new drama and confusing events, starting with the enormous possibility hinted at in the last scene.
But we shall see, and I’m still hopeful that whatever Telltale Games do next, it’ll be a fascinating experience either way.