The newest episode of Telltale Games’ The Walking Dead: A New Frontier has launched, and it certainly makes some steps in the right direction, but not without a few new missteps along the way. Despite those missteps, what stands out is how it nails the pacing and finally causes the player to really start to care about its characters.
The Walking Dead: A New Frontier is the third season in the Telltale Games series based on the popular comic book franchise. The third episode in the five-part season, “Above The Law” launched March 28 and continued the story where the previous episode left off. By this point, the player has yet to get the medical attention Kate needs, and there’s a lot of family-oriented tension. It’s tough to be descriptive without giving away major plot points, but the player has to make some tough decisions in this episode that will potentially alter Javier’s relationships with several family members going forward.
With that being said, it’s a relief that Telltale finally got the pacing right for the season in this episode. The first two episodes were, as I’ve mentioned previously, a bit rushed. But “Above The Law” slows down the action and focuses more on the storytelling the series is known for. There are plenty of conversations to be had, some of which are lengthy and peppered with nuanced decisions. Javier has to juggle many relationships in this episode, so it was prime time for the action to slow down and allow Telltale to start building the story.
This is also the episode when the characters have started to click in my mind. I started the episode not caring much about any of the characters, since they had hardly been fleshed out yet. But by the end of the episode, I had a deeper understanding of most of the main characters, which was sorely needed and appreciated. I actually have started to consider what will happen if I lose one character or the other. They aren’t throwaways anymore. Granted, I’m not nearly as attached to Javier as I was to Season 1’s Lee at the same point in the season, but it’s certainly a major improvement from an episode ago.
While backstories and deep conversations have led me to care more about many characters, the dialogue options themselves have confused me and held me back a bit in the newest episode, which is a problem I’ve not really encountered in a Telltale game before. Oftentimes in this episode, I selected a dialogue option only to realize that Javier will say the line differently than I had anticipated. His wording, tone and/or connotation can be so far from what I meant to say (or what the dialogue snippet led me to believe) that I feel mortified I’ve accidentally said something I never intended.
But my main gripe is that, for some reason, Javier’s newfound allies seem to think there’s something going on between him and Kate, his sister-in-law. At various points in the game, there have been options to imply that there is in fact some deeper connection between the two characters (or at least that you want there to be), but I’ve never chosen those options. Even in this episode, when characters ask what the deal is between Javier and Kate, there’s no option to blatantly deny the claims; only coy, open-ended, or half-baked responses that leave lots of room for interpretation. It’s frustrating since it seems that the game is pushing a relationship I as the player don’t want and am fully trying to reject (but can’t, seeing as there aren’t satisfactory dialogue options to do that).
What it boils down to is that I’m not quite sure anymore just how important my decisions are. This is just one example where it feels like what I say in the game doesn’t hold as much levity as it used to in previous seasons. Situations seem to circle back around to a common point quicker and with fewer (and shorter) branches than before. It’ll be interesting to see how it all plays out in the final two episodes.
All in all, “Above The Law” does a lot of storytelling in-place; it builds up the characters and the current situation without moving it forward quite as quickly as previous episodes. The slower pace feels great and allows for better elaboration on important points, even if dialogue options don’t always get the intended message across. “Above The Law” feels a lot like it’s ramping up to something huge. It doesn’t end on as jaw-dropping a cliffhanger as the previous episode, but it feels more like a rollercoaster climbing higher and higher before the season’s steepest drop yet. Whether the decisions I’ve been making will actually make a difference in that drop remain to be seen.
The Walking Dead: A New Frontier is available on PS4, Xbox One, PC, Android and iOS.