Do your decisions in The Walking Dead really make a difference?
Prior to every episode of Telltale Games' The Walking Dead, the game informed players:
"The Walking Dead confronts players with difficult choices. Player decisions influence the story, creating a "tailored" experience."
Over the five-episode journey we'd been led to believe that our decisions will shape the outcome of the game. With the fifth episode, "No Time Left", finally completed I can safely say no, your decisions do not really make a difference — at least, not in the way your probably expecting.
First off, Telltale wasn't lying. Your decisions do "influence" the story and create a "tailored" experience. Usually, these "tailored" experiences are short-lived though. Leading up to the fifth episode players made tremendously difficult choices, but really, it all played out the same way. Sure, for an episode or two your experience may have been different, but if your expecting a difference in endings you will be sorely disappointed.
Ultimately, it doesn't matter *spoiler* if you cut your arm off. It doesn't matter whether you spared Ben in episode 4. It doesn't matter if you saved Carley or Doug. At the end of the day, it all turns out to be the same. You still wind up in a hotel room and you still die from the zombie bite. So really, does any of it matter?
As I mentioned, in the short term it does. For a while, my story was different than my friends'. Even in the final episode, things initially played out differently; however, when it was all said and done our different paths led to the same ending which could be viewed as a disappointment.
But should we fault Telltale for misleading us? Not in the least. I think we can all agree Telltale's The Walking Dead was a fantastic game with an engaging story. Who wasn't a mess when Lee got bit at the end of episode 4? Who didn't cry when Clem had to leave (or shoot) Lee? Telltale took us on an emotional journey and while it was up to us to decide how to get their, it was ultimately their story to tell.
Could Telltale have crafted such a well-defined, tight-knit story had it had multiple endings? It's hard to say with certainty, but one thing is clear: they had a clearly defined goal of what they wanted the player to experience. Throughout the entire game the player, as Lee, was faced with difficult decisions that ultimately shape the kind of man Lee is. We already know he's a murderer, but is he really a bad man?
Really, we didn't get a whole lot of say in that because the decisions we often had to make were between "bad" or "worse". There was no real decision to make him a good guy because all the decisions revolved around terrible situations. Sure, there may have been one where you could have been the good guy. I'm talking about the part where you discover the station wagon and have to choose whether to take the supplies and food. If you've played the final episode you already know this will come back to haunt you. At the time, I didn't think anything of it so I stole them.
Enter the stranger who kidnaps Clementine and explains that he's been watching you ever since he saw you steal his supplies, ultimately leading to his families breakup. Sorry to break it to you though, but even if you leave the surprise he still kidnaps Clementine. Rather than making you feel guilty for stealing his supplies, he just calls you out on all of the bad decisions you made throughout the game which, once again, you really had no control over. I'll admit, the stranger was a GREAT twist, but was it really defined by my decisions?
When it's all said and done, the game ends the exact same way for all of the players. It was a great ending, I'll give it that, but it really wasn't one determined by your choices. I came away from The Walking Dead very impressed (and very guilty about everything I did throughout the game). As I said though, I never really had a choice. I had to make a decision and I had to make it quick.
Telltale's goal was to tell a story about Lee. How you experience that story is up to you, but it was their story to tell the whole time. You are just in it for the ride. Is Lee a bad man? Every decision you make will certainly be bad and you have no choice on that. Don't worry though because none of it really matters in the end.
Don't get me wrong though, the story is damn good and everyone should definitely experience it. Just don't be led on the same way I was in that your decisions will actually make a long-term difference.