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Camina Drummer navigates space in zero-gravity, with a planet framing her from behind, and an asteroid field circling her, in The Expanse: A Telltale Series

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Telltale’s The Expanse nails the vibes of one of TV’s most overlooked sci-fi dramas

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Image: Telltale Games
Clayton Ashley , senior video editor, has been producing and editing videos for Polygon since 2016. He is the lead producer of the tabletop gaming series Overboard.

It’s been over a year since the TV series The Expanse ended with a compressed sixth season. While it’s a miracle it managed to cover six of the nine Expanse novels during its run on SyFy and later Amazon Prime, it’s hard not to feel like we left that universe too soon. Nothing on television today quite compares to the hard sci-fi world-building and political allegory the show managed to thread on a weekly basis. Thankfully, The Expanse: A Telltale Series manages to fill that void admirably. I’ve played the first three episodes of a planned five, and while it may not contain the lovable cast of the Rocinante, just about everything else that made the show so compelling has returned.

First and foremost, we have Cara Gee, who reprises her memorable role as Camina Drummer and acts as the game’s main character. Giving players control of such a fiercely charismatic person goes a long way to making the game’s world engrossing from the get-go, but your crew of misfit scrappers certainly aren’t weak links. There’s the curmudgeonly pilot, the hotshot (former) Marine, and an impeccably professional doctor who must be hiding something to be serving with a ragtag group like this.

The writing and performances in the first two episodes are every bit as well crafted as the show, with a focus more on intimate character beats than solar-system politics. For better or worse, sometimes you forget you’re playing a video game and not watching an animated Expanse series.

Drummer propels herself in zero-g toward the husk of a broken ship in The Expanse: A Telltale Series Image: Telltale Games

Not only do the level designers imbue the environments with an appropriate amount of “lived-in-ness” — much of what they’ve created can be explored in zero gravity. The implementation here is shockingly intuitive, allowing you to attach your “grav boots” not only to the floor, but walls and ceilings as well. As a scrapper, you’ll be able to easily launch off of and explore the wreckage of ships floating above Jupiter, searching for spare parts, fuel, and maybe something extra for your crewmates. For Expanse fans in particular, it’s quite the treat flying around the carcasses of MCRN and U.N. Navy vessels, fully realized in all their vastness.

Everything looks and feels great, but it’s hard not to feel like Telltale’s style is something of a throwback these days. Despite me not having not played one of the studio’s games since the original Walking Dead in 2013 (and certainly not since the company’s “revival” in 2019), the dialogue system felt instantly familiar. As I made my choices and learned more about my crew, I started to really think about how a certain response could change my options in future episodes. Seeing how all my choices stacked up compared to what other players chose was downright nostalgic.

A quick-time decision forces the player to choose between losing a leg or losing access to something called “ The Vault” in The Expanse: A Telltale Series Image: Telltale Games

It’s simplistic, but in some ways that makes the game feel more approachable than many narrative games today. Sometimes I want a game to hook me in more complicated, nuanced ways, but sometimes I just want a big flashing window to tell me if I’m about to make an important decision. The suite of accessibility options goes a long way to make the game as easy to play as you want it to be; I especially appreciated the warning for quick-time action sequences that fully pauses the game.

What remains to be seen is how the game’s meaningful choices will affect the story in later episodes. The plot of Episode 1: “Archer’s Paradox” doesn’t stray far from typical Expanse fare, but a revelation in a later episode seems poised to explore more of the show’s deeper themes of exploitation, injustice, and inequality.

I may not know yet where it’s headed, but it’s so satisfying to be enjoying The Expanse again.

The Expanse: A Telltale Series Episode 1: “Archer’s Paradox” will be released on July 27 on PlayStation 4, PlayStation 5, Windows PC, Xbox One, and Xbox Series X. The game was reviewed using a pre-release download code provided by Double Fine Productions. Vox Media has affiliate partnerships. These do not influence editorial content, though Vox Media may earn commissions for products purchased via affiliate links. You can find additional information about Polygon’s ethics policy here.

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