After establishing themselves as some of the best storytellers in gaming with Season One of The Walking Dead, Telltale Games certainly didn’t set the world on fire with either Season One’s 400 Days DLC or Season Two premiere All That Remains. While the pieces that made TWD great were there, the heart that made TWD special was missing.
Fortunately, despite having four games on the go right now, Telltale hasn’t bitten off more than it can chew. Episode Two of Season Two is a return to form for The Walking Dead series.
Spoiler Alert: “Spoiler-Free” refers to the episode being reviewed. I’m assuming that you’ve played the preceding Telltale TWD games when writing this review. If you haven’t played through the previous episodes, including (but especially) the preview of the next episode in Episode One, you may want to stop reading now.
Episode Two of Season Two picks up just minutes after the conclusion of the previous episode. Your decision from the end of the last episode dictates where and with whom you start this episode. From what I’ve read, Clementine reacts to the situation differently depending on who she’s with (because the circumstances are different in each situation) and her past experiences.
That’s just one of a few differences in the story depending on your decisions. Based on the decision chart at the end of the episode and what I’ve read, it looks like there are a couple of different lives that are affected by the decisions you make. How those differences manifest themselves out in the remaining five episodes remains to be seen.
For now, these seemingly important decisions and the differing outcomes help give Episode Two a bit more emotional heart. Episode One felt like it lacked some impact. You were just going along with the story and it didn’t seem like you had any say in how it progressed. This time out, it’s starting to feel like it’s your (or, more accurately, Clementine’s) story.
While the first episode spent its time trying to establish Clementine as a viable protagonist rather someone who needed protecting from an adult anytime danger was afoot and introducing new characters, A House Divided was able to build on the pieces established in All That Remains. Now that the characters are established, they’ve been given some time to develop, both individually with Clementine and as a group. The characters were the strength of Season One and we finally get some characters in Season Two rather than avatars for dialogue.
If you were to pick out a key theme from A House Divided, it’s that this episode is all about trust. Whether it’s stated explicitly in the dialogue of this season’s apparent villain (who is absolutely epic and could be as memorable and dangerous as The Governor based on his two scenes in the game) or made apparent from the decisions that you have to make along the way, trust is the central theme of this episode.
Your decisions and dialogue choices imply to the survivors in your group and the new ones you meet along the way who your loyalties lie with. Your relationships are defined by who you think you can trust and if they think they can trust you.
This becomes most apparent when you meet another group of survivors which includes the reunion teased at the end of the last episode. You very quickly find your loyalties tested as you find yourself torn between supporting past friends and current friends.
That’s where the “A House Divided” episode title becomes very appropriate. It’s not just your loyalties that are divided. Outside of your actions, the other survivors in your group are starting to turn against each other as the events of the zombie apocalypse start to wear them down. The dangers of both zombies and other survivors are causing them to turn against each other. It’s not just the two groups that Clem has ties to that a turning against each other but the groups themselves splitting.
There’s a great emotional weight to this episode that makes every minute more compelling than the last. By the time you reach the conclusion and you’re frantically making decisions to try to save everyone, it’s almost Telltale cuts you off just as the action and excitement reaches a crescendo. It’s a lovely change of pace compared to how other TWD episodes ends with a sort of epilogue scene. And it does make you hope that Telltale can be a bit faster than two months in turning around the next episode.
I should probably note that this episode is the first one to tie back into the 400 Days DLC. A character that you meet in one of those stories makes an appearance here. We haven’t gotten the whole payoff from decisions and stories from 400 Days but it’s a little teaser that Telltale hasn’t forgotten about that DLC. It looks as though we’ll get a bit more payoff in Episode 3.
From a technical execution standpoint, nothing has changed in terms of gameplay mechanics and graphics quality compared to Episode One. If you want a more detailed evaluation of those aspects of the game, I’d suggest reading the Season Two Episode One review.
That being said, the game still looks and sounds like a TWD game. I did experience some massive framerate drops during one scene that takes place on a rail bridge. Even though it doesn’t seem like it would put a massive load on the hardware, it seems as though long draw distances don’t agree well with either my laptop (even though I haven’t had any other framerate issues) or their engine.
The new voice actors are absolutely fantastic. Sure, that’s nothing new for Telltale. While no one new really stood out in Episode One, Kiff VandenHeuvel and Michael Madsen take up roles as new characters in A House Divided. Madsen is absolutely spectacular in his role and her performance pushes this episode to a whole other level.
The pacing of the episode also keeps you enthralled, along with the writing, as it alternates between emotionally-impactful narrative and nail-biting action. Okay, “nail-biting” might be an exaggeration because there isn’t anything particularly new or exciting in the world of QTE but everything that Clem does while fighting walkers seems to be done with a hint of desperation. The dodges and kills aren’t always clean and precise. It all seems to be done with an eye to surviving by the skin of their teeth.
After the mediocre outings that were 400 Days and All That Remains, I was worried that Telltale Games had lost its touch. After all, they were in the midst of producing and publishing The Wolf Among Us series while also working on their new Borderlands and Game of Thrones games. With one fantastic game, they went from making one game at a time to four. That would be enough to overwhelm any developer or publisher if they didn’t previously have the infrastructure in place.
However, A House Divided proves that, despite all the other things on their plate, Telltale Games hasn’t lost their touch. While there have certainly been some great episode of The Walking Dead so far (Episodes 3 and 5 of Season One come to mind), A House Divided is an absolute tour de force and you can certainly argue that it could be the best TWD episode that Telltale has made.
While I found All That Remains a bit difficult to get into, Episode Two was gripping right from the word go. It may have been a bit short (about 90 minutes again) but I never contemplated taking a break during it. I think that’s as good an endorsement as you can give a game.
The Walking Dead: Season Two – Episode Two: A House Divided was played on Windows PC but is also available for OS X, PlayStation 3, Xbox 360, PlayStation Vita and iOS. The review code for this game was provided to et geekera by Telltale Games. Your impressions of the game may change depending on platform played on, PC specs and who you can trust.