At its heart, Telltale’s Guardians of the Galaxy (GotG) series is an examination of the complexities of human (and alien) relationships and the effects both love and resentment can have on them. The focus of its narrative, outside of actually saving the galaxy, has unabashedly been on Guardian interactions and the complications associated with their fundamentally differing views of the world. Telltale channels these differences into conflicts that manifest when a major decision needs to be made and thrusts players into the fray by forcing them to pick a side. It’s in these moments that the series truly shines, and players are taken on a journey akin to an emotional crescendo that climaxes at the end of an explosive Episode Four. Then Telltale unsurprisingly throws it all away.
The fifth and final episode, Don’t Stop Believin’, picks up immediately after its predecessor with the galaxy in varying states of disarray (depending on player choices) and the Guardians wallowing in despair and dysfunction. Unfortunately, Telltale predictably backpedals on some powerful consequences of player choices and essentially undoes all the buildup that led to Episode Four’s emotionally-charged cliffhanger. It’s not surprising to see such a reversal, but it’s still disappointing to witness hours of intriguing relationship building dissipate in the first forty-five or so minutes of the series finale. Though there are some nice moments sprinkled throughout, Don’t Stop Believin’ serves as little more than a vehicle to charge towards the series’ conclusion rather than a mechanism for making a lasting impression.
Despite my disappointment with where the relationship-based interactions end up, GotG’s overall story is solid with an ending that’s satisfying, if a bit rushed. The exact ending players experience is dependent on their previous choices, and the fates of several characters are tied into the choice system in a way that’s interesting enough to merit multiple playthroughs. It all ends with a clear setup for a second season, but here again there’s a missed opportunity to carry over the relationship dynamic. Instead of ending season one on an intriguing relationship-based cliffhanger, Telltale attempts to neatly resolve all of the deep-seated character conflict within the last hour of this series.
Episode Five is second only to the series’ third installment in lack of engaging gameplay, though the final boss “fight” is a fun team-oriented Quick Time Event (QTE) battle that adds enough spice to prevent the episode from feeling entirely dull. Beyond that fight and a quick sabotage mission, there really isn’t much to praise here in terms of keeping the player engaged besides the story’s resolution. There’s a noticeable ebb and flow to the series’ exploration segments, and I’ve noted this in each episode’s review, but gameplay is a clear negative aspect of the series as a whole. While the QTE segments throughout are generally fun, the exploration segments feel entirely tacked on, and Episode Five continues the trend.
The game’s visuals and music remain great, but Episode Five’s environments are notably less interesting than previous entries in the series. In fact, though possibly a conscious design choice, one sequence in particular is entirely composed of gray rock formations floating against a gray backdrop. It’s unclear if this was intentional or the result of cutting corners to get the final episode out before the end of the year (the release time between the fourth and fifth episodes was less than a month). At best it’s an uninspired design choice and at worst a rush job that does a disservice to fans invested in the series.
Despite a cast of strong characters, engrossing interactions, and rich source material, GotG is emblematic of Telltale’s aging game design: a solid story, good looks, and stale gameplay that’s mostly lost its novelty. That certainly doesn’t mean the series isn’t worth your time, especially if you’re a Telltale or GotG fan, but it’s further proof that the developer may have squeezed all they can out of their tried and true formula.