Finally, after months of waiting, Telltale Games has released the second episode of The Wolf Among Us, their adventure game based on the DC Comics creation Fables. Released in October 2013, episode 1 was one of my favorites games of last year, and one that I had expected to come much earlier than now. It seems I wasn’t alone in that, as fans have been voicing their concern with the developer about the delays and lack of any updates until late January, nearly 3 months after word was expected. In a statement to the press, Telltale informed fans that there were multiple unforeseen complications in completing the second episode of The Wolf Among Us, and promised fans that the wait between this and the upcoming third episode would not see these same kinds of problems.
One can only hope. However, after getting to sit down with Smoke and Mirrors and finally continue to adventure as Bigby Wolf, the fairy-tale hero of this story and the actual big bad wolf of legendary stature, I can at least say that the wait was, for the most part, worth it. When last we left Bigby, a string of devastating murders had been plaguing Fabletown, the hidden section of New York City that housed all of the ousted fairy-tale creatures who had been ousted from their homes. Hot on the trail of multiple leads, episode 1 left us with a satisfying cliffhanger, as well as some slightly tweaked action sequences from Telltales most famous creation, The Walking Dead adventure game from 2011.
And much of what was great about episode 1 is the same here, in Smoke and Mirrors. The art style remains unchanged from Telltales previous cel-shaded works, the noir-style storytelling continues, and the color palette continues to be the breath of fresh air after the dark and drab setting of the Walking Dead game. Additionally, the gameplay is entirely unchanged. You still control Bigby in the segments between long conversations in cutscenes, selecting dialogue options to help uncover the secret behind this mystery, and make quick decisions to could affect the outcome of the story, as well as the livelihood of some of your companions.
The setting remains one of the best parts of The Wolf Among Us. Seeing all of these fairy tale characters and stories brought together could have come off very cheesy, but instead is quite endearing and entertaining, especially when you spot some hidden reference before it becomes apparent to the characters in the story. Without getting into any spoilers, some twists are certainly here for Bigby as he searches for any clue and follows every lead he can to get to the bottom of these events, and we meet a slew of new characters that become persons of interest by the end of this episode.
Which comes quicker than I expected. On average Telltale’s episodic content has been around the two hour mark in terms of length, sometimes being longer due to an abundance of environmental activity to explore, but even with exploring every corner of the world in Smoke and Mirrors, I was still able to not only complete the entire episode, but also replay a chapter in order to get that last missing trophy I needed for completion in just over 90 minutes. A bit disappointing, when you consider the lengthy wait we had to get to this point, but also understandable, as much of this episode was used as setup for the rest of the story to come later.
While the experience is still satisfying, there are certainly elements that take away from my enjoyment. As mentioned, the fact that the majority of this story was setup meant that some of the events were less exciting, the game lacked any real action-oriented sequence, which was a great way to go out with a bang in episode 1, as well as the length being less than expected. However, the main problem that persists with every game that’s been released from Telltale Games has been the engine that they run on.
The Walking Dead was the studios first truly large success, so some of the technical issues that came with that game were easily glossed over and just accepted as is, seeing as Telltale was a small studio at the time. However, the developer seems to have jumped right into The Wolf Among Us without doing much to correct the problems from the technical side of their games, and it’s becoming more than just an accepted annoyance. Stutters in frame rate, audio-syncing issues, cutscenes not loading with video or audio and most frustrating, hard freezes that caused me to have to unplug my system just to be able to reset it were all present in my playthrough and all are things that just shouldn’t be happening with this kind of game.
When I started up the game, I was treated to the usual “previously on The Wolf Among Us” recap video which showed a few of my choices and the general idea of what happened in the plot of the first episode, however I was only able to hear the video for nearly a full :30 before the actual picture caught up to the audio and I was able to view the scene in its entirety. In a game where every choice has the chance to affect the way characters and events react to you, a stutter in frame rate or loading a scene can cause you to miss dialogue choices as well, which happened to me and could have majorly affected my desired path. These are problems that I can no longer overlook, and have caused me to have some slight pause when considering future titles from Telltale. I fear I might be waiting to hear other’s stories of their playing experiences before jumping headfirst into Telltale’s upcoming Borderlands or Game of Thrones inspired works, and that makes me truly sad, as these stories are always a blast to play through.
Hopefully, however, they can sort out these problems and continue to deliver some of the most entertaining story-driven content in interactive entertainment. We will have to wait and see if Episode 3, which still has no release date, will run any smoother for me. At the end of the day, however, The Wolf Among Us: Smoke and Mirrors is a great continuation of Bigby’s story that suffers from some extremely frustrating technical issues, but if you can power through them, you’ll have a blast falling deep into the engrossing world of Fables.
Thoughts from Senior Staff Writer, Chuck Nalley
I really wanted to love this game. I really did! The feel of this game was totally different from “Faith” to me, however, and left me wanting so much more. I didn’t get the same mysterious undertones and the overall lack of action, for the most part, left me bored. Mix this is with the general shortness of the game (consider this with the length of time in development) and the constant TellTale lag issues and I am very disappointed. The game isn’t a throwaway, but temper your expectations and you won’t feel like I do right now.