The two biggest Blue Mage fans are here.
With the first episode of The Wolf Among Us, I thought Telltale Games had provided definitive proof that The Walking Dead was not lightning in a bottle. And I genuinely hope that is still the case, but Episode 2: Smoke and Mirrors is just…okay. I hope this episode is Telltale getting their inevitable lemon out of the way, but it’s also nice to be reminded the studio isn’t completely infallible.
Faith ended in a fairly strong place, with a massive cliffhanger that redefined the stakes for the individual characters. Within minutes, that revelation is undone, and you can almost hear the tension audibly deflate. From there, Smoke and Mirrors is all about the leads, but I found it a little difficult to care.
Over the course of Smoke and Mirrors, Sherriff Bigby Wolf is offered multiple opportunities for violence. But without personal investment, I didn’t take advantage of those particular avenues. Getting to know the murder victim in the first episode went a long way towards giving both the player and Bigby a reason to get violent. I thought finding her killer was important in Episode 1. Not so much in Episode 2.
It’s just hard to shake the feeling that Episode 2 came from a place of necessity. Big story beats are dropped, yes, but it’s definitely the closest thing to a filler episode I’ve seen in a Telltale game. I didn’t feel like anything was getting done, even though that is objectively not true.
Perhaps that’s due to the lack of large moments. In Episode 1, you had a couple big fight scenes and two major choices (which, need I add, were framed quite stylistically). The only scuffle in Episode 2 comes and goes without too much of a fuss, and it was difficult to derive any enjoyment from the sequence. You also don’t make any huge choices either, just a lot of small character moments. Such moments are certainly Telltale’s forte — their best game was 8 hours of character interaction — but they just feel limp in Smoke and Mirrors.
The lack of choices doesn’t seem like an enormous issue, but linearity in a murder mystery videogame leads to boredom. The Walking Dead was more about the illusion of choice, but Wolf Among Us Episode 1 definitely felt like Telltale was giving their players more control over how the story progressed. After that, all the railroading in Smoke and Mirrors is jarring, to say the least. Bigby rarely makes a move of his own; it’s mostly just him being strung along by character after character.
There’s also the germ of a really interesting arc regarding class division, but it’s kind of hard to sympathize when everything looks grimy and everyone looks ugly. We’re only told about a class divide without actually seeing it. And maybe that wouldn’t be so bad if the game actually did something with its ideas, but the murder investigation is definitely the focus of this episode.
I’m not saying Smoke and Mirrors is terrible or anything like that. The dialogue is still well-written, the cel-shaded-neon-noir aesthetic grabs your attention, and I still want to know what’s going on. This episode just feels like a foreshadowing dumping ground. And that’s not inherently bad, it’s just poorly done.
Maybe if The Wolf Among Us’ first episode wasn’t so great, this wouldn’t be such an issue. But it’s hard to shake the feeling that Smoke and Mirrors was created by a B-team; it’s tonally similar to its predecessor, but it’s not quite as good. Whatever reason, hopefully Telltale can get back in fighting shape for Episode 3 before I huff and puff and blow their offices down.