The Walking Dead: 400 Days is not an expansion of content, but rather a prologue to the second season of Telltale’s The Walking Dead franchise. This new DLC is similar to the first season on a mechanical and aesthetic level. It looks the same, plays the same and has the same technical hiccups, but in many ways it’s a different beast entirely. Instead of focusing on the deeds of a single character and the effects of his on the people around him, the story is split between 5 characters at different times in the zombie apocalypse.
To accommodate first-time players, all 5 characters are new and each scenario has a different feel and play style. While these play styles don’t differ greatly from each other, they do show off the different ways the game engine can be used. For a new player they work as a sort of tutorial, covering the basic elements of the gameplay like how to interact with the environment and activate fail-states. Seasoned veterans will find it works as a comforting backdrop to a new narrative experience. As a bonus to older fans with a save file of the first season, 400 Days will adjust some conversations and drop references to season 1 based on your choices. Unfortunately, even for fans of the first season, this contributes little to the overall experience.
The Walking Dead: 400 Days is shorter than other episodes: this is its greatest strength and weakness. Being a short piece, 400 Days offers immediate characterization for secondary characters instead of letting the player get to know them over the course of multiple hours. This gives you a way to quickly understand their basic desires and struggles. While the story could have based the drama on zombie action, instead the drama comes from these understandable human conflicts. Motivations and morals come into play immediately with situations like a marriage dispute or two friends hitting a passerby with their car and being unsure whether he was a walker or not.
Although its short length softens the consequences of player choices, 400 Days’ conclusion delivers dramatic and satisfying feedback for the difficult decisions that came before. In the finale, all 5 characters receive an offer to stay at a refuge with their responses being the culmination of all the player’s choices so far. While the story still deals with the impact of your choices on others, The Walking Dead: 400 Days rejects that concept as the dominant theme and replaces it with coming to terms with your identity through the choices you make. One by one the characters choose whether they will travel the road or join the refuge, and you can’t help but see how your choices reflect their attitude. The ending leaves you wondering at their fates and anxiously awaiting season 2.
The biggest problem with 400 Days’ brevity is that at a little over an hour from beginning to end, you don’t have a lot of time to engage with each character. If a character (or the player) makes a stupid decision or doesn’t win you over right away there isn’t time for a course correction or deeper understanding. The time constraints have ripple effects in the gameplay as well. To my disappointment there’s not a single traditional graphic adventure puzzle. Moreover, a single replay of the DLC exposes just how fixed and inevitable many of the story’s major aspects are. If the writing didn’t work so well on an emotional level, this would ruin the game’s replayability entirely.
If you’re already invested in The Walking Dead, I recommend 400 Days wholeheartedly as a stop gap between now and the release of season 2. If you aren’t a fan, I recommend it on the characters introduced and the choices you make that inform them. You get it all for $5 and a little over an hour of your time — a much smaller investment than a night at the movies.