Did Telltale's The Walking Dead mislead players?
Let me preface this by saying I thoroughly enjoyed The Walking Dead. Heck, I even voted for it as GameZone's Game of the Year. However, I can't help but feel somewhat slighted by the promise that my decisions in The Walking Dead influence the story, creating a "tailored" experience.
Earlier this year, I wrote an article questioning whether your decisions in the game actually make a difference. While sorting through the emotional story Telltale took us on, and reliving the experiences, I realized that your decisions do effect how the story unfolds, but don't have a lasting impact on the overall story and eventual ending. At the time of my realization, I was ok with that, because the story was strong enough to make me forgive Telltale for misleading me.
Prior to every episode Telltale was sure to emphasize that I was receiving a "tailored" experience. But listening to everyone talk about their experience with The Walking Dead, I've come to the realization that my experience wasn't any different than anyone else. And that's because my result was the exact same as everyone else. It wasn't a bad experience, but it wasn't the customized experience I was promised.
Doug still dies; Carly still dies; Duck still dies; the culmination of The Walking Dead is the exact same for everybody that plays the game -- Lee gets bit and dies, leaving Clementine to wander the fields alone until she sees two shadowy figures in the distance.
I know what many of you are going to say; the way the events unfold is different for everyone! But is it really? I chose to take the food from the car at the end of episode two. My co-worker left it which didn't matter because the other survivors take it anyway. Now what's different about that? The character that I want Lee to be is vaguely different than my co-worker's Lee?
When I first played The Walking Dead I was ok with knowing that everyone's game ends the same way. Now though, when talking with others about the events in the game unfolding, I've come to realize that there's not really much to talk about. And that's what's most disappointing and frustrating.
A lot of the fun of a "tailored" experience is talking about your decision with a friend's and comparing the results. In The Walking Dead the results are the same, minus a few minute differences. It leaves you with nothing to talk about except the disappointment in the lack of a true customizable experience.
Mass Effect 3 as a whole did the same thing, however it still managed to cater to each individual player depending on the choices they made in the game, and in game's past. In The Walking Dead, no matter what you do, people die in a specific order. With the small exception of Carley and Doug joining your band of misfits, the rest of the game plays out similarly, with only slight changes. Wanted to save Shawn instead of Duck? Tough luck, Shawn still dies and Duck lives. Mass Effect 3 worked because choosing to let someone live or die had a meaningful and quite powerful impact on the overall story, and did allow for some truly unique sequences to occur in the game, depending on your choices.
I don't think Telltale Games intentionally sought out to mislead players. I'm not mad or frustrated by any means. I'm just disappointed. The Walking Dead is a great game; it just doesn't live up to the expectations set up by pre-facing every episode with the promise of a tailored experience -- at least not the one I was expecting. Looking forward to the inevitable and highly anticipated sequel to the game, this is something I'd really like to see Telltale address.