Within the first five minutes of The Wolf Among Us, players witness a violent scene between a man and a woman. The scene isn't gratuitous, and the writers at Telltale Games have re-worked it over and over again so it conveys the point of the scene without being outright gross. But it's still confronting to see, even if most of the violence is implied.
Playing as Bigby — the human form of The Big Bad Wolf — players walk in on the Woodsman from Little Red Riding Hood hitting the mysterious woman. She's bruised. It's a tense and uncomfortable moment — as it should be, and it feels heavy — as it is. But players aren't powerless. In The Wolf Among Us, the player is Bigby — the sheriff of Fabletown, a Fable whose reputation precedes him. He is feared. The player is feared. In the confronting grim world where The Wolf Among Us takes place, it pays to not play as yourself. It is far more interesting and effective to be Bigby.
Based on the comic series Fables by writer Bill Willingham, The Wolf Among Us is Telltale's five-episode series, which is intended to be canon and takes place before the comic series begins. As sheriff of Fabletown, Bigby is in charge of keeping the peace between other Fables that have found their way into the modern world. In The Wolf Among Us, he is tasked with investigating a grizzly murder.
When Polygon recently spoke to the game's lead writer, Pierre Shorette, he said that one of the things that makes the game special is that players aren't necessarily playing with a character as much as they're playing with the power that character has. He cites this as a key difference between The Wolf Among Us and Telltale's previous episodic series, The Walking Dead.
"Bigby's relationships to other people are what matters. You want to be him as much as you want to help the people around you."
"What's unique about what we're doing with The Wolf Among Us is Bigby's an established character. In The Walking Dead, Lee could basically be your Lee. You could project yourself onto him," Shorette said. "Now we have a character that exists within the world, so it's more about role-playing as a character who has power, and the use of that power is what you really control."
According to Shorette, when players take on the role of a character like Lee in The Walking Dead, the game is about survival. "You're kind of just tumbling down this hill, doing the best you can, grabbing as many roots as you can just to try to stop your fall," he said. Playing as Bigby in The Wolf Among Us, players find themselves in a position of power, and the choices they make will affect their relationships with all the other Fables in Fabletown.
During a hands-off demo with the first episode in the series, we got to see the different ways Bigby can use his power to affect how other characters view him and, subsequently, how the story plays out. Early on in the episode, Bigby is called to a motel run by a Toad to resolve a violent dispute. Upon seeing Toad in his non-human form, players have the option to berate and threaten him for not appearing in human form, or show compassion that he cannot afford a transformation. These are choices that the characters will remember and will affect their future interactions with Bigby.
Further into the first episode, players witness the confronting act of violence between the Woodsman and the mystery woman. Players can choose how involved they want to get in the situation and how quickly they want things to escalate by choosing certain dialog trees. In the dialog tree we chose, the Woodsman ended up with an axe in his head.
The game also offers players lots of subtle decisions to make and, while our limited time with the first episode meant we didn't see the results play out, the nuances of the characters — from the dialog to their facial expressions — suggest that all the characters in Fabletown remember every interaction with Bigby.
Shorette told Polygon that what he cares most about, and what he believes players care most about, is their character's relationships with others.
"With Bigby, I don't think it matters so much that players can't project themselves onto him," Shorette said. "Bigby's relationships to other people are what matters. You want to be him as much as you want to help the people around you."
While role-playing as Bigby, players will also learn about the class structure that exists within Fables. Shorette said that when most people think of fairytales, they think of characters living happily ever after. Fables flips this on its head. By playing the role of a sheriff who has to involve himself in others' lives, players will gain insight into the powerplay between the classes in Fabletown.
"You explore the haves and the have nots, and you're someone who has to have relationships with people from both ends of the spectrum," Shorette said. "You have to navigate that while trying to investigate this murder. I think it's an interesting sort of social aspect we're tapping into over the course of the story."