Telltale’s Walking Dead Season Two: What else we’d like to see

Telltale have just revealed that The Walking Dead season two will cast us as Clementine, and focus on her efforts to survive in the dangerous wilderness. It’s a key bit of information about the second outing, but it still leaves many tantalising, unanswered questions. As IncGamers’ resident fan of the world famous tear-jerker and haircut simulator, here’s what I’d quite fancy seeing in the upcoming set of episodes.

It should be obvious that this article will contain spoilers for season one, but just in case: THIS ARTICLE WILL HAVE SEASON ONE WALKING DEAD SPOILERS. There we go.

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Oh man that looks like a picture of Lee. Excuse me … I … oh man.

No more technical issues with saved games: Saved game transition issues plagued the PC version of the original Walking Dead. Though it didn’t affect everybody, enough players had trouble with getting newer episodes to recognise the choices made in previous installments (or losing their saves entirely.) This threatened to directly undermine one of the strongest parts of the game; the deft illusion of your choices altering the outcome of the plot. The level of support offered by Telltale over this issue was, frankly, a bit embarrassing. For season two, it’s not too much to ask for saves that work properly.

More ambitious branches in narrative: Right, with the technical pleas out of the way, let’s go for some real pie-in-the-sky stuff. I mentioned the “illusion” of choice up there. Videogames always do this, because the impact that choices can really have is limited by the scope of the story the game is trying to tell. BioShock Infinite was basically one long meta-commentary on the whole process of choice in games.

It wasn’t some sort of con job for Telltale to claim that choice would matter in the game and then craft a (relatively) linear narrative, since players were still getting somewhat different experiences throughout (did you head off with Doug, or Carley? did you saw off your own god damn arm, or not?) But once the curtain was lifted, the lack of clear, divergent paths throughout the season was as disappointing as it was understandable.

Since Telltale now have access to greater resources, I’m rather hoping for the kind of hugely unlikely Witcher 2-esque story branches that have people saying “Wait, you had a whole sequence on a blimp? I never even saw that.”

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The freestyle basement crawl was all the rage in this era.

Mechanical variance: The Walking Dead is just about the only game to make me accept that quick-time events can have their place. That doesn’t mean I’m dying to play through another twenty “press X to stab the zombie” activities in Season Two though.

They’ll still have a role to play, of course, but it’d be terrific if Telltale could come up with some truly outstanding gameplay mechanics to complement their narrative talent. I’m not talking about adding traditional FPS bits or (god forbid) platforming sections or anything like that. Further experimentation with (and subversion of) the familiar aspects of storytelling within a videogame framework is what I’d love to see. Mess with our expectations.

I fully expect to see some of the time-sensitive actions introduced by The Wolf Among Us. That’s a fair start, but I have confidence in Telltale to find even more ways to stretch the structure of interactive fiction.

No magical resurrections: What I don’t want to see stretched are the boundaries of credibility. Earlier in the year there were some weird rumours that Kenny might be returning in some capacity. Honestly, I hope that’s not the case. We didn’t see a body in that alleyway, but other characters had enough of a vantage point to confirm that he stood no chance down there.

This is no slight on Kenny’s character. He was up there as one of the better written companions in the game. But bringing him back would be only a step or two shy of inventing a last minute miracle cure for Lee’s zombie bite and gunshot wound. Just silly. The only reanimated chaps I want to see around the place are zombies.

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Hat: on. Hair: short.

More arseholes: Feel free to give me more flawed, dubious and antagonistic characters to deal with, though. As any idiot knows, zombie media is as much about the human condition and the personal conflicts it ignites as the undead themselves. The Walking Dead embraced this truth with a big rotting hug, handing Lee a whole collection of screw-ups, angry malcontents and jaded weirdos to deal with.

People acting out of fear, ignorance or blind hatred are fantastic for narrative purposes. The early clashes between Lee and Kenny (that could eventually blossom into respect or friendship,) dealing with Lilly’s father Larry, and everything relating to pathetic human sad-sack Ben were all outstanding moments. Every one of them prompted by truculent and unhelpful characters.

The Clemtagonist: Naturally, we also need more sympathetic characters. The newly announced decision to let us play as Clementine should help fulfill that need, and serves as a handy way to call back to some of the choices we made as Lee during the first five episodes (see, those saved game transitions really need to work.)

In the first series, much of the emotional weight came from the Lee-Clem character dynamic. So it’s interesting to see Telltale (apparently) going in a totally different direction by placing Clementine on her own. I’ve no doubt she’ll be meeting up with people throughout the five episodes (that dialogue wheel needs to get some use,) but I wonder if this season will see a conscious shift away from her being part of any sort of team and towards being more of a lone survivor.

It’s going to be quite a feat for Telltale to write a child protagonist (even one we already know) who feels as compelling as Lee, but they’re one of the few studios with an accomplished enough narrative record to try. Whatever else you may feel about the choice, it’s a pretty bold one.

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Not sure who this guy is, but at least he’s taking the heat off Clementine.

Stick to the schedule: The developer has been getting better at this, but the episodic nature of The Walking Dead really demands a regular release schedule. That was always the plan, but then Episode 3 slipped for a month or so and left Telltale with some rather annoyed fans. Episodes have their benefits (TV-style cliffhangers, the self-contained drama,) but this is one potential flaw.

Maintain the darkness: Doubly difficult now that Clementine is the main character. In the first season we saw starved child zombies, family deaths, brutality, inhumanity and desperate sadness at almost every turn. I don’t want those themes to let up, but I also don’t especially want the series to devolve into “horrible thing of the week happening to Clementine.” Like so many of the continuing narrative aspects of the series, this one will need to be handled with considerable skill. At this point, it’s all in Telltale’s hands.

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    • Durandal

      Very well written article and excellent points and I agree every single one. And yeah they really need to come up with a solid technical foundation, I lost a couple of saved games because of this. That just reminds me of one thing. We need more save slots, 3 isn’t gonna cut it.

      And one thing that I always found odd about Season One was the relationship with Kenny. No matter how bad you treated him he always seems to bounce back to a more friendly attitude towards Lee. The consequences should have a bigger impact and it could go really bad. Maybe Telltale needed a failsafe system to make sure that the story can’t break apart, for instance if Kenny would have left you at some point. The the whole plot would have been compromised. So I wish they would find a way to force stronger consequences on my actions.

      And I am not really sure what to make of playing as Clem.

      She is a child even tho she has gone through some really traumatizing events but I am afraid that some consequences might turn out silly because of that. For instance, she is obviously not capable of physically handling most threats even if she has a gun. But how much can a child do when she is faced with situations like Lee had to handle? That can restrict the game pretty badly. Or worse it could just take a really ridiculous turn if Clem beats up someone.
      But the main issue I have is her mental capacity to react to certain things and more importantly how Telltale can portrait these things. The last thing I want is a character that is limiting my experience just because she is a child.

      But of course it can turn out really positive, I mean how often do we really play a weak and fragile character in games?

      My conclusion is that I am very curious but a bit concerned if they can pull it off.

    • FlareKnight

      Have to say I 100% agree with the second point you raised.

      Nothing against the first season since I really enjoyed it overall. But there was a feeling of disappointment as you went from one episode to the next and saw that choices just meant how quickly someone would die. It was understandable, but kind of took me out of the experience at times. If at all possible I’d love to see some more branching in the options. I get it’s a lot of work, but I would like to see it nonetheless.

      While it does make you wonder how things will go with Clem as the lead I still love the choice. As much as Lee, this girl was the core of the first season. You wanted to look out for this girl and made choices with her in mind. It’s going to be an interesting shift taking that role out of the pseudo representative of the gamers in Lee to guiding Clem directly. Hopefully it works out great.

      I didn’t really run into save troubles, but yeah let’s hope everything goes smoothly this time around.