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Telltale Games’ The Walking Dead series has been one of the most consistent in all of video games over the past two years. The first season won countless awards, 400 Days was a nice way to continue the story before the second season started and so far I have thoroughly enjoyed the season. However I have expressed some concerns for what I saw as potential problems with the series in the past. Unfortunately many of those problems showed themselves in Amid the Ruins resulting in by far the worst episode since this brilliant series started.
My main concern was regarding the doubled edged sword of having such a disposable cast of supporting characters. It is great that the series is unpredictable and that anyone can be killed at any time (except Clementine that I will get to later) but this also leads to not building any connection with these characters and resulting in me not caring what happens to them as a player. Characters arrive, sometimes they are good, sometimes they are bad but it seems the end result is always the same. It is mostly just a matter of when will the inevitable happen?
It is of course in this inevitability that the zombie genre has made it’s impact over the years. The sense of impending doom makes even the smallest victories seem important but as the series goes on I do find myself becoming desensitized to most of the acton. For example, in the past some of the actions have really made me feel sad or unhappy with the choices that I made. But in this episode when things go crazy; I just didn’t care.
Most of the characters I can barely remember their names and when a new character appears I don’t even want to try and befriend them as I only really care about Clementine and her alone. Which brings another problem in itself. Playing as Clementine really makes her feel way more invincible than the previous season. Unless she is killed in a season finale and we then start playing as someone completely new, she’s completely untouchable. This results in a terrified little girl being an almost unstoppable killing machine and again takes any sort of consequence from any actions the game gives me. Clementine will always live and as she is the only one I care about surviving during an attack, the action becomes very stale and rather boring.
I really wonder if this is Telltale’s fault and whether they can turn it around or if it’s just an inevitable result of the genre. There’s only so far they can run with the concept before I become completely bored and just switch off immediately like I already have done with the TV show. At times this episode felt like a chore that I just had to get through and I actually felt relieved at the end. Not because of the stress of the situation or choices I had made, but that it was finally over with.
In previous episodes this season I talked about difficult decisions I was forced to make that I really took my time in answering and really felt reflected the way the character would react in that situation. But in this episode so many of the conversations felt completely flat and just filler until the next big set piece happened and X amount of the cast was killed off. The previous dynamic of Carver and whether he wants to protect or hurt the group has been completely thrown away in favor of a generic travelling on the road, avoiding zombies type of story.
The game still looks stunning, the voice acting is in the top tier for the medium and the sound is impeccable. These elements have never been in question. Ultimately this games stands or stumbles on the strength of it’s story and after the first season delivered so dramatically this season have been good but slowly got worse. I’m curious what direction the finale will end up in as there is no obvious end goal or motivation for the characters like Lee had. Now it’s just ‘survive’ and that just isn’t that compelling.
I really hope the season finale can completely eradicate the problems and concerns I have with not only this episode but the series as a whole. I have thoroughly enjoyed a vast majority of episodes but with a third season already announced I really fear the series could turn from nail biting to boring very quickly. Without any of character of significance except the protagonist I find it hard to care about my actions and Telltale should look to The Wolf Among Us to fix these problems as it didn’t just include a strong protagonist but an incredible supporting cast also. I have faith based on the series’ past that I can once again be enthralled in the story; but if the finale doesn’t deliver I may question whether to turn up to the next season at all.