The stories regarding Telltale Games’ apparent closure have been tragic. The stories in Telltale’s games are not so tragic. The studio may not have evolved fast enough to stay relevant but its revolving door of talented writers usually knew how to construct a good story with memorable characters. It’s not coincidental that Telltale knew how to tell tales. And to celebrate the creative minds behind the developer, here are the best Telltale games.
Best Telltale Games: Batman: The Telltale Series
When Telltale announced that it was making a Batman game, it was easy to be skeptical. Rocksteady had already given us a fantastic Batman trilogy that both told decent stories and also made us feel like the Dark Knight. It seemed superfluous and completely out of the studio’s wheelhouse.
But those expectations allowed Telltale to completely flip what we’d considered to be core tenets of the Caped Crusader. It didn’t rigidly adhere to what other Batman media had been reiterating for years. Instead, Batman: The Telltale Series was fresh and inventive but also kept the spirit of the Bat.
The story kept this in mind as it also focused more on Bruce Wayne than we typically see. While we are used to breaking jaws and screaming “WHERE IS SHE?” as Batman, the games have yet to show his alter ego in an interesting way. Telltale’s storytelling strengths were a natural fit for the orphaned playboy and the game knew when to bounce between Wayne’s two identities. The narrative may have taken an odd detour to Weirdsville before the end, but it was a fantastic journey and one of Telltale’s best titles.
Best Telltale Games: The Wolf Among Us
The Wolf Among Us was a big test for Telltale. The studio was just rolling off the first season of The Walking Dead and the team needed to prove that it wasn’t just a one-trick zombie. Adapting a huge television show like The Walking Dead already comes with an audience but picking a relatively obscure comic series like Fables and going from there is a much harder task. And while Telltale may have stumbled slightly with other licenses like Guardians of the Galaxy and Game of Thrones, The Wolf Among Us showed the studio’s knack for taking a property and putting its stamp on it.
The Walking Dead was mature, but The Wolf Among Us was a step from that. It crafted a intriguing murder narrative that tackled subjects like oppression, poverty, and abuse with tact and discretion. And despite its striking, bright color palette, it worked beautifully as a noir-style adventure that its protagonist, Bigby, was perfectly suited to navigate. His grit was necessary to get through the tough fairy tale underworld but he didn’t sacrifice his likability between his more wolf-like moments.
The mystery was well-paced over its five episodes and gave a satisfactory conclusion while also tantalizingly dangling a sequel at the very end. Fans lobbied to get a sequel made because of that teaser ending but also because it was just a great surprise addition to Telltale’s portfolio. The Wolf Among Us was a gamble that paid off—creatively, at least.
Best Telltale Games: The Walking Dead Season 1
Other Telltale games since have streamlined the formula since but The Walking Dead’s first season had something that ages better than a more polished presentation: a fantastic, character-driven narrative. Lee and Clementine’s dynamic gave the typical apocalypse narrative a personal spin that still works to this day. Lee was a noble, caring man and Clementine was sweet, endearing, and never bothersome—something few kids in media seem to get right. They worked well separately, but, when placed together, they formed a beautiful bond that stands the test of time.
Each episode also wonderfully crafted a self-contained story that contributed to the story at large, which episodic games can sometimes fail to do. Episode 2’s farm storyline was dark and unforgettable and Episode 4’s look into the elitist society made for a good, mysterious character drama. And all four episodes propelled the game into its final act, which was fantastic, emotional finale the series had been building up to this whole time.
The first season of The Walking Dead set Telltale on the path they are today, for better and worse. While it can cynically be pointed at as the game that fooled the people at the top into expanding too quickly and making the team bite off more than they could chew, it could also be looked at as the studio’s best example of a poignant, emotional story full of deep, well-realized characters.
Best Telltale Games: Batman: The Enemy Within
All the positive things I had to say about the Batman: The Telltale Series ring true in its sequel, Batman: The Enemy Within. Telltale once again turned the cowl inside out and gave us an inventive interpretation of Bob Kane and Bill Finger’s Batted Man.
But where Enemy Within edges out the first season and nearly every other Telltale game lies within its version of the relationship between Batman and Joker. The two have always been conjoined at the hip in one or another and is what has made their dynamic one of the best rivalries in comic book media. In keeping with the idea of giving players something new, Telltale twisted that relationship into something far more creative and interesting than what we usually see.
Spinning Joker into a conflicted, sympathetic character would be worthy of praise but Telltale also managed to craft an incredibly engaging story that cleverly incorporated its extensive cast. The roster—good, bad, and those in the middle—all had compelling ties to the central plot that satisfyingly revealed themselves as the episodes flew by. It all culminated in a powerful ending that lingers long after the credits roll off the screen. This was one of team’s last games as it wrapped up in March 2018 so it may be one of the last Telltale titles. If so, the studio sure picked a fantastic game to go out on.
Best Telltale Games: Tales from the Borderlands
Borderlands doesn’t exactly have a deep wealth of lore that people need to hear more of. Randy Pitchford might attest to that but the cel-shaded shooter is normally associated with its cooperative loot-centric gunplay over its huge world. It made Tales from the Borderlands an odd choice to attach a narrative heavy studio like Telltale to. Against all odds, it worked.
Tales from the Borderlands is not only by far Telltale’s most hilarious game but also one of the funniest video games, period. Its ingenious jokes match its impeccable timing and never fail to get at least elicit a chuckle. “Chuckling” is at the low end of the spectrum since I often found myself cackling like a complete idiot. The finger guns bit alone is one of the greatest gags in a video game. The way it subtly builds over the season and crescendos had me in awe and in stitches. It was a beautiful fusion of timing and masterful writing, which was the whole game in a nutshell.
Although Telltale’s comedic writing makes it more than deserving of a spot on this list, its classic storytelling and character work help push it into classic status. The game knew when to pull away from the jokes and delve into more serious emotional tones. Laughing at the cast during the other scenes intelligently–and discretely–tricked the audience into caring more about them since humor is a good tool for likability. This approach showed the breadth of the writing and is a big reason why it is easily one of Telltale’s best games.
Come December, The Walking Dead: The Final Season probably would have had a good shot of being on this list. It’s a strong start and a new, much-needed direction for the series and company as a whole. But, as of right now, that future is in limbo. Regardless of the other two episodes come out, it’s incredibly unlikely the studio will come back and be able to make its style of games again. As sad as that is, all the hard work the employees put in at least resulted in some fantastic games that they should get paid severance for.