The Expanse novels and TV series are the most engaging modern science fiction money can buy. As such, they represent a perfect framework for a multitude of potential gaming adaptations. Imagine a Homeworld clone with hard physics-based gameplay, full of fleets with bright Epstein drives, firing PDC cannons and torpedoes on each other. Or maybe a PVPVE space ARPG with fully asymmetrical factions? How about a Privateer-style space sim based on commerce, combat, and exploration between Belt, Mars, and Earth? The Expanse universe juggles a multitude of ideas and concepts, offering many possibilities for translating its lore into games. Yet it took more than a decade for the first one to materialize.
The Expanse: A Telltale Series is a cinematic, episodic adventure game made by newly resurfaced, post-bankrupt Telltale games. It’s sculpted in the classic Telltale fashion, established in 2011 with Jurassic Park: The Game, reaching the creative peak with The Walking Dead series. The game is written by Daniel Abraham and Ty Franck, authors of the original novels who jointly go by the pen name James S. A. Corey. That fact alone, by the way, made it day zero purchase for me. The Expanse game is conceptually similar to one of the great Expanse novellas such as The Churn or The Vital Abyss. Perhaps The Butcher of Anderson Station is the better example, as the game is also a prequel to the main narrative.
Don’t worry about what I want. Worry about what I am due
The Expanse novels and TV series often differ in the way some characters are portrayed and flashed out. Camina Drummer had a quiet, background role in the books, but in the TV series, she was catapulted to the cinematic front. Conceptually fused with the elements of Michio Pa’s character (the book variant), TV Camina rocked. Played by charismatic Canadian actress Cara Gee, the TV Camina captivated the audiences much more strongly than the anemic TV version of James Holden. As a main protagonist, TV Holden was upstaged by the rest of the cast, essentially becoming the sci-fi equivalent of Carrie Bradshaw from Sex and the City. Camina was a clear fan favorite and that’s why she get to star in her own game.
Lending her likeness and voice to the game, Cara Gee easily found her feet in the interactive medium. She plays a bit younger Camina, trying to survive the harsh reality of the Belt before the whole Protomolectule mayhem. Sometime after the split with the OPA and Anderson Dawes, Camina worked as XO onboard the Artemis, managing the rag-tag crew of belters and a few Inyalowda consisting of an ex-UNN Captain, Earthian doctor, and Martian engineer. This alt-Rocinante is driven by profit instead of idealism, and the sleazy cap has lead to a potentially fortune-changing job.
Dialogue, exploration, QTEs, and binary choices
The job is the ship. UNN Urshanabi, a derelict UNN warship lies in pieces deep inside an asteroid field, carrying God knows what. According to the captain, “Inners never venture this far into the Belt without a very good reason”. The Artemis’ crew makes the morbid discovery just as they entered it. Someone decapitated the whole crew and arranged their heads in an almost ritualistic manner.
The first episode of The Expanse: A Telltale Series doesn’t waste much time in establishing the foreboding tone. It also doesn’t care one iota for the people unfamiliar with the lore. Much more than any Telltale game in history, this one is made for the fans intimately familiar with characters, locations, and politics depicted in the books and TV series. If you aren’t deep into it, my advice is to postpone playing the game until that changes.
The first chapter, lasting approximately an hour and a half, deals with the initial incursion into UNN Urshanabi. You can expect a bit of dialogue, exploration, a few QTE-s, and a grand total of two binary choices, leading to different story branches. The narrative shifts for a bit depending on those, but for the full extent of that branching we’ll need to wait for subsequent episodes.
It’s a Telltale game Grandma used to make
If you are a fan of Telltale-styled narrative adventures, The Expanse: A Telltale Series will feel like slipping into pair of old, comfortable shoes. It’s a fan service thru and thru, with familiar concepts permeating every element. That doesn’t mean it’s entirely devoid of new things, though. You’ll explore UNN Urshanabi in zero gravity, activating mag boots when needed and rotating your perspective when avoiding obstacles. Those sections essentially work like zero-gravity sections of Dead Space Remake.
Besides following the main narrative, you’ll have the option to stray a bit from a predefined path, searching for one or two optional objectives. The ship is also full of micro logs and other narrative elements, and searching for them can easily prolong the chapter for another thirty minutes. I would like to see more (much more) of that in follow-up episodes. It’s extra satisfying knowing that everything we see and learn is pure Expanse canon, and not high-quality fan fiction.
To pochuye ke?
The Expanse: A Telltale Series costs forty bucks, which is a bit more than Telltale games used to sell for. Getting eight hours of content (at best) for that sum is not ideal, but at least it’s high-quality, official content. As I said before, it’s aimed at The Expanse fans who understand and appreciate its complex lore. That being said, the game doesn’t require you to speak Belter Creole or know the name of every inhabited asteroid in the Belt.
The one thing I didn’t like is the conversational pacing. I’m used to the hectic pace of The Expanse TV series, but the nature of the game is quite different. Simply put, the characters here are waiting for their turn to speak and no one interrupts anyone. To mowsh showxa fo sif: keting Beltalowda deng fo du?
It remains to be seen where the story will lead us, but so far, it’s fun albeit not terribly original. It’s also a prequel, so don’t expect many Earth-shattering revelations that are relevant to the big picture. One day we might get a game based around Amos Burton’s exploits after the Ring Station explosion, but that day is not today.
- Written by the original authors of The Expanse novels.
- Cara Dee reprising the role of Camina Drummer.
- Zero gravity exploration is fun.
- Conversations feel a bit slow and weird compared to the hectic pace of The Expanse TV show.
- If you aren’t deep into The Expanse lore, my advice is to postpone playing the game until that changes.