I’ve been a Walking Dead fan since its graphic novel days, before the show even began. Since the show grew in popularity, the brand itself has exploded into many spinoffs, including a handful of games that were lovingly developed by the previous Telltale Studios. The first episode of Season 1 released back in 2012, and since then, we’ve had a handful of follow-up seasons and spinoffs as fans clamored for more characters, stories and lore. Finally, everything Walking Dead related to Telltale’s series is at last in one place, including all four of the main seasons, 400 Days and The Walking Dead: Michonne as well. Taking place over 23 episodes and easily lasting more than 50 hours of gameplay, there’s a ton of extra bonuses as well that justify The Walking Dead: The Telltale Definitive Series title.
To fully understand and appreciate how significant this collection and release is, you need to also be aware of the saddening story behind the rise and fall of Telltale Games. While I won’t delve into too much detail here, as that’s for another story, the main takeaway is that Telltale was being mismanaged for so long that halfway through the development of the final season, they closed their doors for good.
This not only left many out of work, but fans wondering if they were going to see Clementine’s story finished, a character and narrative that fans have waited years to see the conclusion of. Long story short, Robert Kirkman’s company, the creator of Walking Dead, Skybound Games, came in to save the day and finish the final season with some of the original development team. Not only did we almost not to get to see Clementine’s story to its grand finale, but now this collection wraps up everything in one neat little package with a bunch of bonus extras as well.
Taking place in the same universe as the comic and show, The Telltale games told a story that revolves around a young child name Clementine. From the beginning of the first season, she begins out scared and alone when her parents are nowhere to be found, but by the end of the final season, is easily on par with any of the cannon characters from the comics or show in terms of strength and importance to others.
If you’ve not played any of The Walking Dead games previously, you should know that Telltale games always have a heavy emphasis on narrative. Choices you make (mostly) matter and affect the outcome of events later on. Yes, you’re still going to go from point A to point B in the story, regardless of your choices for the most part, but as the saying goes, “It’s not the destination, but the journey”. This couldn’t be any more true to the series, so get ready for an emotional ride.
Season One / 400 Days:
I’m not sure anyone knew what to expect the reaction to a narrative based Walking Dead game was going to be before its initial release. Sure, I’ve played Telltale games previous to this, but after this inaugural episode, it was clear that Telltale had something truly special on their hands and hit a stride of compelling storytelling rarely seen in gaming. While the series revolves around Clementine, a small first grader in this season, you actually play as Lee Everett, who vows to watch after her when he finds her alone at her house.
Taking Clem under his wing, you’ll teach her how to survive in this new harsh world. Sometimes that’s deciding to protect her from things she doesn’t need to know, or simply keeping her hair short so it can’t get grabbed by walkers. Their relationship blossoms to a point where they would consider each other family and do anything for one another. With a handful of supporting characters, including Glenn, weaving the game into cannon from the comics and show, the season unravels, forcing you to make impossible decisions at every turn and will leave you in tears if you have any sort of heart.
When the final episode of Season 1 ended, it wasn’t clear if there was going to be a follow-up season or not. Luckily we got one, and got to continue Clementine’s journey, though this time you were in complete control of Clem trying to survive the apocalypse with a new group. This is where we start to see Clem grow into who she’s destined to be, becoming quite the bad ass along the way for such a young girl.
While I was always excited for a new season of Walking Dead, Season 3 was easily the letdown of the series. Here you play as Javier, and while Clem is involved in the story, she has a much smaller role and sits backseat for much of the narrative. There’s nothing wrong with the season per-se, but it was the one that I felt the least connection to.
The final season. This is where Clementine’s journey ends. Again, she is the focus of the story, along with AJ, the child for whom she’s now watching after and raising as her own family. They find a boarding school run by kids, which adds a unique dynamic when she’s thrust into an ongoing battle. Just after episode two of four is when the Telltale closure happened, so fans were unsure of what was going to happen with the remaining episodes of the season. I’ll admit, I was legitimately saddened when news broke, for the employees, but also unsure if I’d see Clem’s story finished after all these years and being so invested into the series.
While only four episodes long, it feels the most structured and focused overall. They knew the end was coming, so many things were wrapped up. New elements were added and a ton of nostalgia for fans that have been around since the beginning. While it’s a miracle the season was finished with Skybound coming in to complete it, the fact that there’s closure at all is something I’m more than thankful for. It’s a hell of a journey that Clem partakes, and even after years since its first release, I usually get around to playing a season or two now and then; that’s how strong the narrative and storytelling is.
One of the comic and show favorites, Michonne, got her own spinoff story. Only 3 episodes long, it’s the shortest of the series and doesn’t directly interject with Clem’s story. This was more of a fan service for followers of the comic. Taking place when she leaves in issue 126 and returning in 139, this mini-series essentially shows you what happened and where she went. Some of her origin narrative is also explored, adding more depth to the fan favorite character.
Given that this is the Definitive Series edition, there’s more here than simply bundling all of the seasons and spin-offs. There’s actually a decent amount of extra content within that is sure to delight longtime fans and give more insight into the game and development process itself. The most notable addition is the graphic improvements and options. There’s a new “Graphic Black” setting that matches the style of the final season and brings it in line with the graphic novels with much thicker black lines and shading. Some scenes become much darker because of this optional style, but it really does make it look more in line with the graphic novels if you’re a fan. Luckily it can be toggled on and off on a whim, but this coupled with the improved lighting, animation and lip syncing, it felt almost like a new game at times.
There is also a plethora of behind the scenes bonuses that include watching playthroughs of some of the most critical episodes, complete with a commentary track comprised of developers, and even the voice over artists themselves. These require some commitment though, as they are roughly around two hours long each. There’s even a short documentary about the Telltale closure, though purposely avoiding many of the ugly details. My only complaint about these commentary tracks is that it seems as though the subtitles are hardcoded into the videos themselves, unable to toggle them off.
There are other typical bonuses as well, such as being able to use a music player to play the tracks across all of the seasons and a 3D model viewer that allows you to inspect, rotate and play with the character models. I’m glad that they’ve decided to keep the original season menus intact though as a great throwback for longtime fans, though there’s a new overall Definitive Series over-menu that needs to be navigated first.
While the majority of your gameplay will consist of choosing dialogue options, hoping you made the ‘right’ decision, there are some exploring and navigating elements as well, though not as prominent until the final season. Being created in a custom engine, the original releases were quite laggy, buggy and full of issues. It seems the majority of these issues have been remedied, as it felt incredibly smoother, and many mechanics, especially lip syncing, have been drastically improved. It absolutely felt that this edition is the way Telltale originally intended the experience to be.
With about 50 hours of content to get through, The Walking Dead: The Telltale Definitive Series is the absolute best way to experience one of my favorite games in recent memory. If you’ve never played the series previously, or never got around to finishing all of the seasons, this Definitive Series is the absolute best way to experience one of the most emotionally engaging narratives in gaming in recent history.
While the closure of one of my favorite studios is a sad cliffnote to the series, Clementine’s journey is one of the most notable and memorable stories I’ve experienced in any medium previously, largely due to the perfect performances by the voice over cast and writing team at Telltale. Sometimes it’s hard to say goodbye to something you love, and while I’ve already said my goodbyes to Clementine and her story, it’s a journey that I’ll always treasure having experienced over the course of nearly a decade.
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