The Expanse: A Telltale Series review

This science fiction adventure game doesn't take Telltale too far into unknown territory, but it hits all the right notes where and when it counts.

The Expanse Telltale Box Art
The Expanse: A Telltale Story
4 out of 5 stars
4
Platforms
PC, PS5, PS4, XSX|S, XBO
Release date
27 July 2023
Price:
From $55.99 (Epic Games Store)
Fergus Halliday
Aug 28, 2023
Icon Time To Read4 min read
pro
Pros
pro Tight writing
pro Zero gravity exploration
pro Feels very to source material
con
Cons
con Animation is sometimes a little goofy
con Not especially challenging or long
con Action sequences feel a little flat

Reviewed on a Playstation 5. Played episodes 1-3.

The Expanse header

The Telltale name isn’t what it once was, nor is the developer itself. After shuttering its doors and laying off most staff in 2018, what was left of the studio behind modern adventure gaming hits like The Walking Dead and Poker Night at the Inventory was acquired by LCG Entertainment.

Since then, Telltale Games has slowly been rebuilding itself. That process has not been without controversy, but the metaphorical Ship of Theseus involved has finally arrived at its destination: the launch of the first project that isn’t a re-release of one kind or another. After riding on the legacy of the developer’s past, the new Telltale Games is finally looking to write a hit of its own.

Fortunately for everyone involved, The Expanse might be the perfect property for this comeback.

Based on the popular series of science fiction novels and short stories penned by James S.A. Corey, the saga charts the gradual expansion of human civilization beyond Earth and what that shift means for both the political, social, military and economic powers and people it affects.

At face value, The Expanse is a difficult property to imagine a video game adaptation of because it is so specifically interested in who shapes history. It’s not the most intellectual science fiction setting around, but its metaphors skews towards the machinations of the modern world in a way that sets it apart from the likes of Star Wars and Star Trek. Even if it's got its fair share of action-packed interstellar encounters, it's still a fairly modern take on the space opera.

Perhaps most importantly, The Expanse has a key interest in how small decisions ripple across time. That quality makes it a weird fit for most genres but a perfect one for the Telltale treatment. The story here is set prior to the events of the first season of the TV series, centering on the early exploits of the sardonic but dependable fan-favourite Camina Drummer.

The Expanse screenshot

Actress Cara Gee reprises that role here alongside Shohreh Ahgdashloo, who makes the odd appearance as the spymaster Christen Avaresala. While the return of both these actresses makes for fun fan service, the relative straightforwardness of the plot feels engineered to make things a little more accessible to newcomers.

Even in the moments where I’m not entirely won over by its positioning as an entry-ramp for potential fans, The Expanse: A Telltale Story avoids feeling pigeonholed by its prequel status by sticking to smaller stakes. You don’t need to care about the fate of the galaxy. You just need to care about what happens to Drummer.

Much like the Telltale adventures of the mid-2010s, The Expanse: A Telltale Series is broken up into five discrete episodes (plus a sixth bonus episode for those who shell out for the Digital Deluxe edition). Unlike the developer’s past work, each installment has been dropped on a regular cadence. The first episode arrived on the 27th of July and subsequent episodes have dropped every fortnight since without fail.

While these episodes are sometimes a little shorter in length than I expected, that briskness often works in the favour of the piece as a whole. Even as someone with a fondness for Telltale adventures like The Wolf Among Us and Tales From The Borderlands, I’d be the first to admit that both had sections that felt like filler.

It doesn’t hurt that The Expanse: A Telltale Series opts to skip over any sort of preamble. Rather than have you sit through a lavish opening credits sequence, each episode throws you right into the thick of things. Much like the source material, the writing and storytelling here never take your attention for granted and there's always something important to the on-screen action.

What's here feels every bit as tightly wound as a given episode of Amazon Prime TV series, which is pretty high praise. Each episode usually has a central hook or problem to solve, a new location to explore and opportunities to develop the relationship that your version of Drummer has with the other crew members aboard your ship.

That might sound like a simple formula, but you don’t have to reinvent the wheel to get the job done.

The Expanse screenshot

There are some light gameplay mechanics, like wielding through obstacles and avoiding hazards, but the most memorable moments in The Expanse: A Telltale Series are the ones where the level design leverages the unique geography that zero gravity allows for. Similar to games like Dead Space, you can hop off the ground, float around and shift your perspective as you like.

The exploration sections of each episode take full advantage of this, stuffing secrets, collectibles and additional lore in far corners that reward those who take the time to take a closer look. Environments and locations also feel especially authentic in their proportions, which helps you immerse yourself in the setting.

While the dialogue sections sing and the exploration sections are a delight, the action sequences in The Expanse: A Telltale Series sometimes feel clunky. If there’s any aspect of the experience where Telltale feels rusty, it’s this. The choreography is not nearly as creative or open-ended as something like Batman: The Telltale Series.

In addition, the weight and way that violence is handled here can often come across as little too video game-y. It's just not as thoughtful as that of its book and TV counterparts. Still, as someone who adores the source material, there’s plenty of flavour to savour here.

Even if the finished product sometimes feels a little too conservative in spots, but there’s a case to be made that this isn’t the time for Telltale to get risky. Right now, the entity now known as Telltale Games needs a win. It just needs to prove that it's still got it and that it can make another good one of these.

The Expanse: A Telltale Series is exactly that.

The Expanse trailer

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What can I play The Expanse on?

What platforms is The Expanse: A Telltale Series available on?

The Expanse: A Telltale Series is available for PC, PlayStation 4, PlayStation 5, Xbox Series X|S and Xbox One. On PC, the game is currently exclusive to the Epic Games Store.

Fergus Halliday
Written by
Fergus Halliday
Fergus Halliday is a journalist and editor for Reviews.org. He’s written about technology, telecommunications, gaming and more for over a decade. He got his start writing in high school and began his full-time career as the Editor of PC World Australia. Fergus has made the MCV 30 Under 30 list, been a finalist for seven categories at the IT Journalism Awards and won Most Controversial Writer at the 2022 Consensus Awards. He has been published in Gizmodo, Kotaku, GamesHub, Press Start, Screen Rant, Superjump, Nestegg and more.

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