The most recent episode of Telltale’s Game of Thrones got me thinking about this small trend of episodic games. By no means is this a huge surge of games becoming episodic but its certainly something that has caught on ever since the accessibility of the PSN and the Xbox Live Marketplace has increased, and of course Telltale’s Walking Dead series certainly helped that exposure, for the most part its Telltale’s who has pioneered this style of gaming. Of course there are other exceptions like the current Resident evil game and Life is strange, but there is certainly something interesting and special about the format in general.
Now days you cant go a month without seeing a new episode of a telltale game, and for good reason people love them, including me. There is something special about devoting two hours of your night to a tight and interesting narrative that doesn’t overstay its welcome. Its also more accessible than most games, Call of Duty takes a lot of hand eye coordination and twitch instincts, but during Game of thrones I mostly answer questions and walk around, with the occasional quick time event. Without context that description sounds awful, but its surprisingly engaging and a suspense filled to hours.
One thing that story based games like Life is Strange or Game of thrones do better than most games is tell an engaging story without long stretches of killing bad guys. Without spoiling anything, the most recent episode of Life is Strange has a heartbreaking real moment towards the end. And every episode of Game of Thrones contains a story altering choice(s) that will effect your play for the rest of the series. While I’m not saying one is better than the other, it is nice to see games evolve to tell more of a story than simply running down a series of hallways to reach the end cut scene.
Episodic stories have caught on for a few reasons, stable internet gets more and more widely usable every day, that makes it easier to download. Bite sized chunks of games are the best way to digest a fluid and functional story, most games story drags towards the middle because the lack of stakes. 2 hour long episodes give you enough time to become invested but then also keep you quickly moving through the world.
Choice is also a huge reason for the current trend in games like telltale’s many franchises, I love dragon age and mass effect in part because of the choices in dialogue I have with the people around me, well in telltale’s case you have all those options but under the gun, in a limited time. And the choices you make feel more immediate and reflective the longer in the story we go. There is nothing wrong with a straight forward and linear story, but for the sake of variety its nice to have the option to shape a world.
This genre of gaming is growing with every new release, and at the moment Telltale has a monopoly on the genre, but as much as I love The Walking Dead, Wolf Among Us, and Game of Thrones, I would certainly like to see more from other studios and other ideas, like Life is Strange, its not a perfect game by far but its certainly interesting and is a building block for something more. With the rise of the Indie game and the slow decline of the triple A game. Episodic games sure have enough room to fit into the bunch.