The themes expressed so far in Fables: The Wolf Among Us are interesting, to say the least. It’s meant to act as a prequel to the Fables comic book, (initially) penned by Bill Willingham…and therein lies the challenge.
As a prequel (and introduction to the universe, to those unfamiliar with Willingham’s Fabletown), there are core elements that are fully realized in the comic, but referring to them in anything other than passing will a.) ruin the “surprise” for new readers; and b.) potentially ruin the canon established thus far in the books.
It’s also extremely hard to discuss the second chapter without revealing any spoilers, so I’m going to do a “bare bones” review first, then go more in-depth with a spoiler-heavy examination.
The two best things about Telltale’s take on Fabletown are still the graphics and the voices. All of the set pieces, from Ichabod’s “office” to Ivy’s Bar are fantastic. There’s an incredibly heavy emphasis on the bright, cel-shaded roots of the comic, and not only does it bring the Fables world to near-tangible life, but it also sets it apart from Telltale’s other point-and-click titles…most notably, The Walking Dead.
Also, this time around, when you’re controlling Bigby, the movements feel more fluid and realistic…as opposed to the hitching gait and invisible corners of Chapter 1. The whole second chapter feels a great deal more streamlined, but that’s not always a good thing.
I definitely felt an urgency when playing through Smoke and Mirrors, but not necessarily in a “white-knuckle” way. Whereas Chapter 1 had an overabundance of things to look at, talk to or puzzle over, it feels like Chapter 2 has slashed such occurrences by 50% or more.
Is it because we’re becoming more enmeshed in the Fables universe? Did we do the majority of our exploring in Chapter 1? Are we so streamlined in our point-and-clicking simply because Bigby’s diving into the investigation with both feet, thus forcing us to have a focus that doesn’t allow for trivial distractions? Sure…that.
The biggest thing that seems to be missing (or does it!? Muahahahaha!), is the critically-branching instances of Chapter 1, like which order to visit Toad or the Prince. Nearly all of Chapter 2 is “go to (location), click around, ‘solve’ the crime and talk to people.
I can’t put my finger on it, but Chapter 2, while chock-full o’ details, can’t quite pull off the immersion that the first chapter could. It doesn’t really seem to matter which order you click on the items in (or, we’re incredibly lucky at guessing), and the “action” sequences seem greatly curtailed this time around.
Add to that, many of the choices you’re given, whether in conversation or action, aren’t really choices at all. Ok, that’s not entirely true…but they’re rather extreme. For example, during an interrogation, you’re given the option of being extra nice (IE giving them a puff of cigar smoke) or extra mean (put the cigar out on their hand)…or do nothing. But there’s no option to bait them with their favorite items. It’s either give, take or do nothing. That’s what makes playing “my” way so difficult.
Many of the conversation options are likewise extreme, and in the second chapter, I felt a lot more pressured to respond a certain way…not necessarily how I think Bigby, or myself, would respond.
All of those issues aside, “Smoke and Mirrors” serves to propel us deeper into the prequel storyline…and I’m still compelled to keep playing: especially with the cliffhanger at the end of the episode.
I know you might not be 100% sure which audience to share this game with, so let me give you an exact barometer: unless you feel comfortable with an impressionable mind knowing that The Little Mermaid is working in a strip club/escort service, for Georgie Porgie, you might want to steer clear of sharing this with them.
Overall, “Smoke and Mirrors” didn’t exactly have the punch or immersion of the first chapter, but it’s still Fabletown and I’m still hooked.
WARNING! THERE BE SPOILERS AHEAD!
So, if you were a Fables fan prior to the game, you’d know that famous Fables don’t really die; similar to Tinkerbell, if humans believe enough, they’ll ultimately be resurrected. So the big cliffhanger at the end of Chapter 1, the beheading of Snow White, doesn’t hold a lot of water. Of course, the death (and resurrection) of Snow on the Farm is a major plot point for the books, and I’d doubt that Telltale would want to step on the toes of cross-buying readers.
But, in terms of canon, the Fables themselves are (somewhat) aware of the resurrection clause, so they’d be painfully aware that “famous” Fables (IE the Disney Princesses, Mother Goose, etc.) can only be killed by getting thrown down the Witching Well. So it’s puzzling that Bigby and Ichabod think that Snow’s actually dead. It’s an odd paradox in the game that’s never fully explained.
Telltale sidesteps this potential pitfall by explaining that it wasn’t Snow at all…but a troll that was cheaply glamored to look like Snow.
Then, there are two segments where you’re interrogating Tweedle Dee (or the Woodsman), and you have the opportunity to either torture him or give him some of his alcohol/money/cigar/etc. In true Bigby fashion, I was helpful…until he was getting antsy…so I went “full Bigby” and put out a cigar on his hand. Considering that I could have beaten him, stolen his money, broken a bottle across his face and burned him with a cigar, I think I acted justifiably. Add to that, I kept Toad’s secrecy from Chapter 1 (IE “please don’t tell ‘em I told you…they’ll kill my boy!)…so I thought I’d be a shoe-in for Fabletown’s hero.
However, when you head upstairs into Crane’s office, you encounter Toad and his son (from Chapter 1). Toad’s son is shaken by what he just witnessed in the Magic Mirror (IE you “torturing” Tweedle Dum). Now, of all the “tortures” I could have exacted, slightly burning him should be the least offensive. Yet, Toad’s son looks at you like you set Tweedle Dee on fire…and took a dump on his smoldering corpse. C’est la vie, I guess.
Later on, you’re given info that the Snow impersonator was working for Georgie Porgie, so you head over to his strip club: Pudding and Pie. While interrogating Georgie (like with Tweedle Dee), you’re given a TON of chances to bust up his bar, beat him and generally trash the bar. I did none of those things, opting instead to give him the chance to fess up. He did…but strangely, was still talking to me as if I destroyed everything. Not exactly a branching conversation.
Then I re-encountered Beauty (who I had made a promise to in Chapter 1), puttered around the sleazy hotel and fought with Beast, in the most oddly shoehorned fight sequence yet. When Beast is vulnerable, you have the option to hit him while he’s down. What the shit? Are they trying to make use Bigby as the total asshole everyone thinks he is? I didn’t low-blow Beast, and I’m still the asshole. Well, at least the events are consistent.
During the examination of the “not Snow’s” room, it seemed less of a crime scene investigation, and more of a “click here. Now click here. Now click here” exercise.
Shortly thereafter, we get the big cliffhanger, that supposedly Ichabod Crane was behind it all. Weird.
Overall, with all of these issues in mind, Chapter 2 comes across as discombobulated and insincere. It just doesn’t do anything novel, except essentially force your hand to progress the story. Here’s hoping they take a good, long look at the differences between Chapter 1 and Chapter 2 and go back to what works.
We shall see.