The Expanse: A Telltale Series review

Based on the acclaimed sci-fi novel and TV series, The Expanse takes players on an immersive interstellar journey through the vast and intricate universe of James S.A. Corey’s creation. In the episodic narrative-driven format we’ve come to appreciate and expect from TTG, it seeks to captivate fans of the original show, while also enticing newcomers to explore the wonders and challenges of the future of the solar system and humanity within it.

Telltale are well known for creating impactful narratives around gut-wrenching choices – and there can be no tougher battleground for difficult decisions than in outer space. The Expanse’s story is based on humanity exploring the solar system, and the fractious and ever-more hostile factions of space dwellers perching on the brink of war over high-demand resources like water and air.

The Telltale version of The Expanse acts as a prequel to the show, so having prior knowledge of the series and characters doesn’t matter too much but does help with understanding terminology and slang heard in the game.

The Expanse: A Telltale Game PC screenshot

At the time of writing this review only the first episode is available, and that’s what we’re looking at today. Future episodes are due to roll out a fortnight apart, with development already wrapped up.

In episode one, Archer’s Paradox, we take on the role of XO Carmina Drummer on board the salvage ship Artemis near the moon Io. After some intriguing backroom talk with our captain who cuts us in on a huge win if this pays off, she is commanded to investigate a United Nations wreckage freighter. She gathers a small crew and sets out to find recoverable goods. Upon arriving at the wreck, however, not all is as it first seemed. With clear signs of brutality against the ship’s crew, Drummer investigates the wreck and searches for more information about the crew’s intentions.

Exploration is handled brilliantly. Movements are smooth, and interactions with objects work well. But for me, the thing that tied it all together was exploring through 3D space. With the ability to walk up walls to pass obstacles in dismantled and damaged hallways, or activate your thrusters, it’s so neat to glide seamlessly around. Passing between bits of wreckage and poking into every nook and cranny on the ship’s exterior was effortless. I’ve played games in space in the past, and none of them have been as easy or as fun as it is in The Expanse. The developers did a great job with this.

The Expanse: A Telltale Game PC screenshot

There is also just enough information around and about the ship to give you insights into the other supporting characters, creating a rich world and developing the outer narrative about the political ideologies and factions of the Dusters, Earthers, and Belters.

Surprisingly, The Expanse diverges from TTG’s usual comic book-esque illustration style graphics to a more HD and refined graphical fidelity – with developer Deck Nine to thank. It hasn’t entirely abandoned the signature look; it’s still present beneath the graphical glow up. It’ll be interesting to see whether this change was implemented solely for The Expanse to align with the show’s impressive production values, or if it heralds a new artistic direction for Telltale Games. The future might reveal whether this shift is a one-time occurrence or the beginning of a new normal for TTG’s visual style.

This goes a long way to provide clearer to read characters, but only to an extent. While this improvement smooths over some areas where previous offerings have had characters feel stiff, or their reactions ruined by a graphical style that wasn’t as natural; The Expanse still somewhat muddies the waters further in upping its graphical game. You can properly get behind an emotive scene when the characters and environments look more lifelike, but some clearly defined expressions are still in need of finesse. Where it goes right, the environments and characters’ expressions read and look brilliant, nailing the basics from a neutral expression to pensive and doubtful, however in certain moments things still feel off and I feel like that is mostly down to the voice acting of a couple of characters.

The Expanse: A Telltale Game PC screenshot

There were moments I couldn’t tell if there was flirtation during a fight, for example. While it makes sense to create an audible ambiguity that differs somewhat from the emotions on screen during the moment, since you must make decisions later based on how you respond to these people, it just threw me for a loop and confused me a bit. I never really felt like there was that ambiguity before, characters were usually either good or bad, on your side or not, but in this instance everyone is technically on the same side, establishing your authority over people who randomly start fights with you or each other is difficult when you’re trying to read between the lines and understand the narrative between everyone. I might just be difficult to pass off a fake aggressive yet playful expression in game creation right now. It doesn’t stop you from getting totally sucked into the story like a black hole, though. The music is ambient and derived from the show, creating lots of atmosphere (note: not space pun) in all the right places.

The choices in this episode range from whether you stop a fight, how you respond to an elderly pilot, or blowing the captain out of an airlock. That same captain who cut you in on the big money deal. I chose to spare him, and I am looking forward to seeing whether my benevolence paid off in later episodes.

The Expanse: A Telltale Game PC screenshot

It felt like playing out an episode of the series, with the episode only about an hour long (with a hefty amount of spacewalk galivanting). It had the set up and flow of an episodic adventure, tantalising, and teasing, and many of the same beats of a TV show. That made it feel fast paced, and hopefully, the time between episodes will feel just as fast.

Until then, this proves to be a worthy addition to the ever-expanding universe of the critically acclaimed franchise. With its engaging narrative, meaningful choices, innovative gameplay mechanics, stunning visuals, and immersive audio, the game successfully captures the essence of the beloved books and TV show. Fans of The Expanse are bound to appreciate the opportunity to explore the universe from a fresh perspective, while newcomers will undoubtedly find themselves drawn into the depths of this developing sci-fi adventure.

The Expanse: A Telltale Series is developed by Telltale Games and Deck Nine. Available out now on PS5, PS4, Xbox One, Xbox Series, and PC.