"What the second episode has in store is absolutely scintillating, as the boys have to decide how much to rely on themselves and others."
Life is Strange 2 has certainly kept us waiting, but with the length of Episode 1 and gravity of the subject matter, care and precision make sense. Then again, this calls into question whether an episodic release is better than releasing a game all at once, albeit later. This review won't be tackling that issue, but the question is important when considering how the long delay between episodes strains players' enjoyment and immersion.
Fortunately, Episode 1 was memorable enough to keep me engaged in Episode 2's opening. The wolf brothers continue to survive by any means necessary, with wonderful Mushroom in tow. What the second episode has in store is absolutely scintillating, as the boys have to decide how much to rely on themselves and others. One of the primary strengths of this episode is the authenticity of the people they meet.
Admittedly, the boys frustrated me quite a bit, and while I won't spoil too much of the story, I had to keep in mind that they're children as I made decisions and reacted to events. On the other hand, you control Sean, but the developers conveniently removed quite a bit of agency from the decision making, as they clearly want the plot to unfold in a certain way. I understand that the scope needs to be narrowed, but it's completely unsatisfying that you can speak with a certain perspective through Sean, yet he usually does the opposite without adequate justification.
I've consistently been in the "choices do actually matter" camp since the first season of The Walking Dead. While others have complained that these games don't have five starkly different endings based on player decisions, I've enjoyed the unique ways my companions respond to me, even if the actual outcome in the game is no different. Here in Episode 2 of Life is Strange 2, I can't even rely on that, because Sean does whatever he wants despite my preference in dialogue. I feel as if I have no control.
Granted, there are decisions that clearly shape the outcome of the game, some more subtly than others. These keep me intrigued, even with the above complaint. Certainly, Life is Strange 2 overall seems to care more about player decisions than almost any other adventure game in this style. As I mentioned in my Episode 1 review, I purposefully avoided several interactions with the environment specifically because I didn't want to alter the story in a certain way; again, I haven't encountered something like this in most other adventure games.
Episode 2 is cushioned by emotional highs with soft lulls in the middle. These lulls would be fine if not for the obvious lack of player agency. The path the story is taking and the fascinating moral dilemmas pique my interest. Unfortunately, Episode 2 represents a dip in quality, which seems to be a consistent trend with these sorts of games based on my experience. I hope the developers can learn from their errors and at least mask the omitted impact players have on actual outcomes.
This review is based on a free review copy provided to RPGFan by the developer. This relationship in no way influenced the reviewer's opinion of the game or its final score.