Telltale Games took the gaming community by storm with its 2012 point-and-click series, The Walking Dead, and intends to replicate that success with a second pencil-and-ink-styled, episodic adventure for 2013. Like The Walking Dead, the upcoming The Wolf Among Us series is based on a comic book — Bill Willingham’s 11-year-running Fables — and promises to simultaneously put player choice and authored narrative at the forefront of play across five short, but rich, episodes.
Telltale invited GamerNode for a sneak preview of the premiere episode earlier this week, and was eager to show off what the team has come up with as we approach the game’s late-September/early-October release. The good news is that The Wolf Among Us appears to be just as engaging as The Walking Dead was with its zombie apocalypse setting, this time opting for a mystery/thriller atmosphere in a gritty, yet whimsical, fantasy. The only bad news is that we still have to wait a little over a month to play it.
The Wolf Among Us is set in a “pre-Juliani-era” New York City, prior to the events in the Fables comic. The stars of the game are characters literally pulled from classic fairy tales and placed into the real world, where they remain mostly alienated from normal society, living in their own community, called Fabletown. Even animal characters like the game’s protagonist, Bigby (an alternate spelling of Big B, for Big Bad Wolf), appear human in their New York ghetto thanks to magical disguises called glamors. Bigby acts as a sort of sheriff in Fabletown, and enforces this hard and fast rule by sending glamorless nonhuman Fables upstate to “The Farm” — a place revealed to be quite undesirable by Mr. Toad in Episode 1 — among other peacekeeping duties.
While one can only expect the narrative arc of The Wolf Among Us to vacillate substantially by the end of the first season, the crux of the premiere episode is a particular Fable’s murder and Bigby’s initial investigation of the crime. After a violent altercation, some secretive conversation between characters, and getting briefly acquainted with a handful of Fabletown inhabitants, players will encounter the first of a new type of choice introduced in The Wolf Among Us: time-sensitive, divergent paths.
In this case — the point at which our sneak preview ended and the real investigation begins — Bigby has to decide which Fable to seek out and question first. Because time is a factor in The Wolf Among Us, choices like these will affect the story not only because of the content players select, but because of what they miss as a result. As Bigby questions one character, time passes and opportunity fades. Telltale has told us that time even ticks away as players search through the game world via standard play mechanics. Spending too much time pointing and clicking in every nook and cranny will limit the amount of time available for who knows what crucial events are to play out later. Time is not on Bigby’s side, and the player must always be mindful of that.
Earlier in the episode, we were treated to a Bronx apartment brawl between Bigby and a rival Fable, during which Telltale showed off the developers’ attention to dynamic action sequences — a feature the team has focused on more for The Wolf Among Us. In this instance, we saw Bigby make a series of choices of where to throw his opponent, what to hit him with, and of course what words to use to instigate the throwdown. The fight was smooth and uninterrupted by any awkward user interface; selections were made quickly via an on-screen selector, much like the four dialog choices available during conversations, which are also often set to a time limit.
As is customary for a Telltale production, conversation promises to be a vital part of the experience. Players can make Bigby about as harsh or as chivalrous as possible through a wide selection of dialog options, and these choices will affect how non-player characters view him for the rest of the season. If The Walking Dead is any indication, the way Bigby treats the other Fables will have very significant consequences. Just in the first half of this first episode, we saw a handful of notifications at the top of the screen to indicate whenever a chosen response had a lasting effect on the game’s characters. It seems these moments will potentially be more frequent than in Telltale’s previous work, and that is a good thing.
It was also obvious from this demonstration that Telltale is paying close attention to how characters are voiced in The Wolf Among Us, and are ensuring that the game’s vivid art style is combined with believable acting for a complete cinematic experience. None of the characters I saw stood out as sore spots in the cast, and a few were even able to shine during their short time on screen.
This early look at The Wolf Among Us has served to reassure us that Telltale Games continues to hone its craft with these episodic narrative adventures, and that shifts in source material and literary genre don’t appear to be even the slightest hurdle for the development team. At $4.99 per episode on Xbox 360, PS3, PC, and Mac, it’s doubtful that The Wolf Among Us will fail to be another great success.