When Telltale were to follow up their incredible take on The Walking Dead with a game inspired by the Fables series of comics, I found it hard to get excited, wishing they’d focus on something more familiar rather than a comic that I had heard of, but never really looked into.
Thankfully, in just a few minutes after you enter the world of Fables with Episode 1 of The Wolf Among Us, everything feels natural. There’s no pandering to fans of the comics – though I’m sure references are still there – and it sets it up as you’d expect any new property to start, with no obligation for reading the comics. This is clearly a different story based around the same core concept, just like The Walking Dead.
And it’s just as good as any of their previous attempts at an already established story. It’s quite unique, blending fairytale characters with a bleak and vicious subject matter. Essentially, all of these characters – the Fables as they’re known – live in Fabletown, a grimy, run-down district away from normal people – those are “mundies” – where crime, murder and alcohol abuse plagues the streets.
It’s truly this setting, achieved with strong ties to the decade-long running comics, that sets The Wolf Among Us apart from similar pieces of interactive fiction, but it’s still the story told that you’ll find is the real focus. As with The Walking Dead, the story branches out and changes depending on your choices in the game. Although these are often scripted – go here or go there, do this or do that? – there are some more subtle choices which can lead to various consequences, and it’s really quite a personal experience.
The choices in the first episode however aren’t that great. While there are definitely outcomes – often bad – it feels as though you’re being pushed in one direction, but that’s understandable considering this episode needs to set up the narrative. It’s easy to see how this will come into its own over the next few episodes, but it feels limited in its scope right now.
Of course, there’s a main arc for the story, with a general direction and set scenes that aren’t affected by choice. It’s actually quite excellent, taking the form of a noire detective thriller starring the Big Bad Wolf and Snow White. There’s just something brilliant about that, and the wolf himself – Bigby Wolf – is a great protagonist, with personal conflicts and stresses as he attempts to keep things in order as the Sheriff of Fabletown.
It’s as funny as it is bleak, and the little references to fairy tales – references which everyone will know – are a brilliant way of keeping you playing, but you’ll likely be hooked from the very beginning.
This all leads to a grown up take on fairy tales, through a fantastic juxtaposition of these Fables and the brutal violence which permeates the game. Even though the gameplay might be similar to previous Telltale games, it’s more investigation-based, meaning you’ll have to search rooms for clues or question other characters, which is a great change of pace from the more action orientated sequences, of which there are plenty, all based around quick time events.
Thankfully, it’s a very intuitive and easy to handle control scheme, with no more buttons than you’ll need to press and nothing too complicated in terms of QTEs. This creates a really enjoyable interactive experience, which is as much of a joy to play as it is to watch the story unfold.
The art style is really great too – the lighting has been heavily improved over The Walking Dead, and it’s far more refined, matching the setting perfectly. This, combined with subtle use of music really draws you into the world of these Fables, more than any other medium could.
Having read up on the Fables comics, it’s clear that Telltale are going for a different, non-canonical narrative inspired by the comic books. The first episode has a statement that defines this, and it means that they’re telling a tale which no-one will know the absolute outcome of. That’s something that’s much better for the game.
Faith is a strong start for The Wolf Among Us, and there’s just the right dose of mystery to keep you going without leaving you feeling as though you aren’t getting anywhere at all. The setting is perfect for the story they’re trying to tell, despite the idea of a gritty world filled with characters from age-old children’s stories seeming like an odd one at first.