Just as it feels like The Expanse: A Telltale Series is settling into an excavation-of-the-week formula, Telltale pulls the rug out at the end of Episode 3, setting a new course for the second half of the series. The game portion of the mythos finally delivers a major turn that feels like a meaningful consequence dependent on your actions, though it’s only a short-term branch rather than a long-term one.
Though still lacking in total volume, the eerie yet darkly beautiful situation at the heart of Episode 3 hearkens to Telltale’s glory days and similar moments in The Expanse TV series. It starts out almost too rote following the first two editions, but quickly reveals something more happening in this episode’s away mission. The Artemis finally reaches the “X” on Cox’s proverbial treasure map he used as a bargaining chip in Episode 1. There’s mystery afoot as you arrive at a settlement in the Belt that doesn’t appear on the ship’s star maps. It takes some time before you can fully exhale, and though the resolution of the situation on Mining Station #184 thankfully was different than I’d expected, it isn’t any less tragic. This is sci-fi, of course, but it is a reminder of what a fool’s errand it would be, being among the first to try colonizing other bodies of the Solar System. The show would suggest in turn that settling on other planets isn’t likely to diminish humans’ propensity to constantly wage war on one another.
Episode 3 of The Expanse sneaks in a little retconning action from the show, hitting at the origin of humanity’s first attempts at colonizing the Belt in a more intricate fashion than the TV series has. Though the settlements of Earth, Mars, and the Belt seem relatively neat and tidy as humans’ reach is expanding away from the Sun, Episode 3 gives a memento mori look at the messy early attempts to settle further out. It even slyly adds references to scientific advancements that have only come up in the real world after the show had begun. Most significantly, though, Camina is in a much different place in the TV series, but as a Belter herself, Episode 3 provides her with first-hand experience that drives her support for the OPA — the underground, sometimes terroristic group whose aim is purportedly to raise the status of the people of the Belt.
The new installment is laser-focused, not providing as much freedom to explore an expansive (ahem) area as the first two did but making for a more effective narrative experience. It creates a more solemn and reflective atmosphere compared to the suspense of the first pair of episodes. Camina and Maya finally get a full episode to themselves as the typically icy Camina gets to show a more tender side of her personality. It’s impossible not to root for these two to find a way to stick together after all of this is over. Unfortunately for Camina, she hits her rock-bottom moment at the end. The potentially miraculous ways she might find her way out of her predicament also portend that things might continue to get worse before they get better for her, unless her rescue introduces somebody who hasn’t yet appeared in this series.
In terms of Telltale-style gameplay, there’s a power box-connecting puzzle sequence that’s not too interesting but serves as something to do with your hands while Camina and Maya converse and explore the station. The quicktime events are hitting harder and faster as the series goes on. The situation is getting more dire, and the latest episode leaves things on the biggest cliffhanger yet. As to whether previous decisions affect how Episode 3 unfolds, they don’t appear to at all. There is a massive potential branching point in this installment’s climax, but the choices that lead to the two possible wildly deviating outcomes are self-contained to this episode of The Expanse.
The crux of Episode 3 is that, despite my complaints about the length of each installment (though they are extremely short), that wasn’t the real or the main hindrance for the series earlier. The Expanse had been free-floating without much direction or any strong points of interest in the first two episodes. But this episode finally finds the necessary traction to get the series moving, with a more compelling story of the week and a firmer central relationship for the main character. The Expanse had been missing its Lee and Clementine, who made up the heart of The Walking Dead. Though it’s obviously a different type of relationship, Camina and Maya finally make that emotional connection that can carry the rest of this story, and that makes it feel like a classic Telltale game that is easy to get attached to. In hindsight, the first two episodes efficiently built up to the detonation that Episode 3 ends on, though they simultaneously spin their wheels in the meantime.
The dots are beginning to connect between The Expanse: A Telltale Series and the TV version. There’s one conversation that plays out in an eerily similar manner regarding this story’s MacGuffin compared to the other’s. It could be implying that those two situations might be connected. If my hunch turns out to be correct, the connecting thread between the game and the TV series will be strong and an elegant way of spinning a prequel out of the main story. It has the potential to be a satisfying example of how to successfully build a multimedia experience.
With this secondary universe within the universe of The Expanse, it feels as though there’s too much happening to wrap up with two short episodes to go. Though it’s still way too early to predict, it’s possible what’s here and absent currently could be pointing to a second season. If that’s where the series is headed, it should eventually make for a more substantial experience than if Episode 5 is the full-stop end. The show won’t bend around to connect back to the game, as it’s over. Or is it? In any case, hopefully two more episodes will bring clarity to the limbo where The Expanse currently resides. After the cliffhanger ending of Episode 3, I’m excited to see how Camina gets out of this one and how the rest of her story will play out.