After the first episode’s weighty conclusion, in which you had to decide whether to put Cox in storage or out the airlock, the crew of the Artemis is immediately in trouble in the second installation of The Expanse: A Telltale Series. This is the first time you get a taste of present danger in the series, being pursued by pirates whose intentions for you are clearly bad. You don’t get back to taking control of Camina until she decides to take refuge hiding out in a ship graveyard. Whatever the Artemis’ crew is up to, they sure wind up spending a lot of time among mounds of debris.
That’s where you spend the majority of Episode 2 of The Expanse. Again, you boost through open space around the wreckage of ships, and again, there’s a large area for you to explore between and inside the vessels. While scavenging in the first episode was no walk in the park, the stakes are higher this time, and there’s a greater sense of danger. Where I previously suggested that Telltale may be going soft on us, I had to eat those words as this series’ first action sequence arose. The quick-time scenes come at you quicker in Episode 2. While not difficult, the change of pace shook me awake, and I even died once or twice. The platforming-puzzle scene wasn’t what I typically play Telltale’s games for, but it did remind me of all the times I died in The Walking Dead, and I was thankful to be reminded that these characters aren’t invincible. Though the situation is tense, it’s still missing something. Being chased down by pirates is thrilling, but not being able to put a face to the pursuer as of yet makes the action feel too cold and impersonal.
While this was all fine, I appreciated the ending of this episode the most, where the game slows down for a minute to finally let you take in everything you’ve been through. You get to spend some intimate moments with the crew around the ship and take stock of how they’re handling the situation. I’ll seize any chance to upset Khan even more by simply reminding her of my existence and taking the brunt of her epic grumbling. As Cox was an integral part of the first episode, depending on whether he’s still with you, it’ll be interesting to see how much an optional character — or his absence — plays into what’s to come. Eventually, it will come down to your decisions about whether it’s better for Camina to be loved or feared among her crew.
Characters making potentially galaxy-altering decisions happens frequently on the show, and that’s why Telltale’s storytelling style seems like a good fit for The Expanse. The decisions you make in Episode 2 are less of the death and dismemberment variety than in Episode 1, but they’re no less important. Mainly, your actions determine how the other crew members view Camina as a leader, as she’s taken up the mantle of the Artemis’ captain after Cox’s removal. Throughout the second episode, there are small moments that recall how much you’ve been able to accomplish up to that point. At the end, you get a chance to get to know the team a little more and offer them any gifts you may have found during your exploration. I’m not fond of hiding these moments behind optional items that you may or may not have stumbled across while exploring dark, disorienting areas in the discarded hulls of broken ships, but those moments are rewarding if you can trigger them. I also don’t like the prospect that whether or not you find those items could significantly affect how the story plays out in the future.
In terms of how the game represents The Expanse TV series, my attention is drawn to the massive scope of situations the characters find themselves in. Following so many characters on different planets or other celestial bodies in interwoven threads is lacking in making Telltale’s version feel like The Expanse. The show rarely focuses on any single character in great detail. Instead, the grand mix brings the world to life as the characters eventually interact on a more personal level and in the galactic-level butterfly effect. While it’s nice that Telltale’s The Expanse focuses on a single character — and Camina, by far, gets the deepest exploration of any character in the mythos — those layers are missing. Many characters and situations from the show are alluded to in found documents, which makes me think the game’s events may somehow connect to that bigger picture. But then again, there are only three episodes left after this, and how much can be done in that space if they’re as short as the first two?
It’s also hard to see this as an entry point for total newcomers to The Expanse universe, as Telltale intends the game to be. There isn’t much that sets this apart from any other space sci-fi tale. The characters are enjoyable enough, but as Camina is the only one who will make it to the show’s events, it’s hard to get too invested in their stories, unless Telltale is planning further seasons. On the other hand, the queer romance is great to see and recalls the show’s futurism angles, one of its rare, more hopeful aspects.
It won’t matter as much once all five episodes are available, but it’s hard for me to think that an hour of game time doled out every two weeks is substantial enough for most early adopters of The Expanse. Still, the ending of Episode 2 left me tentatively optimistic for the remainder of the series, as things are heating up in many ways. I hope the thrills will be more thrilling and impactful, and I’m looking forward to seeing how my decisions affect Camina’s reputation as a leader. And I can’t wait to find out how merely breathing might upset Khan again.