I had a wonderful time with Season 1 of Telltale’s The Walking Dead. After so much critical praise, everyone was curious about what the next step was for Telltale. They ultimately headed in a direction of a lesser known comic book than The Walking Dead called Fables. Fables is a comic book by Bill Willingham. By the time the series was announced, I had read the first third of the series and fairly enjoyed the story of how society’s beloved story time characters live in a separate society from the rest of the world. While the series kind of fell off for me, the hype around Telltale’s The Wolf Among Us may have just pulled me back right into the world. The first episode was released in October 2013 and has gained critical buzz until the first season of the series concluded in July 2014. It was only this past month when Telltale released the whole 5 episode package on the PS4 and I immediately attacked it. With my background knowledge on the Fables universe and familiarity with Telltale’s story medium, I thought I was prepared for The Wolf Among Us. I was wrong. On so many enjoyable and juicy levels.
Here’s how I was absolutely blown away by The Wolf Among Us and its titular hero: Bigby Wolf
Minimal spoilers, none that would ruin the game.
The Legend of Sheriff Big Bad “Bigby” Wolf
Here’s some background with our main character. Most people know the story about the Big Bad Wolf. Whether it be in the Three Little Pigs or Little Red Riding Hood, most people know his name. In the current setting of Fabletown, where characters from folk tales and classic stories live in the disguise of humans, the Big Bad Wolf has been exonerated from his past crimes of blowing houses down and eating little girls to be the Sheriff of Fabletown. Given a spellbound human body and the nickname, “Bigby”, he deals with the crimes involved between Fables. Given his previous reputation, many Fables (a nickname for people who live in Fabletown) are terrified of Bigby. And if Bigby begins to lose his temper or his life becomes threatened, aspects of his previous self (teeth, claws, fur, and blood thirst) begin to leak. This reputation sets the basis of how people interact with you in the game. And how you handle yourself when you ‘lose’ control makes for a lot of great choices you get to make in The Wolf Among Us.
Fabletown is a Complex Mess
The Wolf Among Us starts with a murder. Murders aren’t common in Fabletown because the mortality of Fables are difficult to get past. Depending on the strength of your background and story, some Fables can survive incredible levels of punishment before actually dying. That being said, Fables can still die. So when the death of a Fable sets off an investigation, the player gets to take a look at the absolute mess Fabletown is. Poverty makes it tough on Fables and those with previously royal ties are reduced to blue collar jobs. And lesser known Fables and non-humanoid Fables are treated differently, forced to adapt, or be sent to a “Farm” where they are separated from the rest of society. The people you encounter are really conveyed well as real people with real problems. And how they deal with those problems, as you find out, is difficult to handle. Do you evict someone because they’re a little down on their luck because you’re the law? Do you get involved with a lover’s quarrel? Your choices as Bigby get tough when ramifications of how you handled a situation too bluntly or not bluntly enough haunt you, even when it comes down to something as simple as letting some (who probably shouldn’t) have a drink.
A Test for How Far Are You Willing to Go to Get Results
So being a Sheriff means you have to handle more than domestic issues. Sometimes you have to question and even interrogate individuals. During questioning, Fables give you a hard time, change the subject, lie, and beat around the bush. You’re normally given two options: 1) keep a cool head by using your words and 2) speed up the process with a bit of pain. It’s very thrilling and satisfying choice because how you approach whether or not you take option 1 or 2 is really up to how you feel when you’re interrogating that individual. You degree of patience varies from suspect A who is just a guy down on his luck and suspect B who is being an ass. I used my words for suspect A and I burned a cigarrette in suspect B. Both got results and both felt good. That being said, I sometimes think about what would happen if I used violence and suspect A and words for suspect B…
Your choices get brought up time and time again and how you come with you decisions are called out. And how you respond to those accusations can speak volumes about how you feel as Fabletown’s Sheriff, Judge, Jury and Executioner. Which leads to the next important question:
How Would You Rationalize Your Own Sense of Justice
Fables get violent, especially when they’re using ‘mundy’ (equivalent of Muggles from Harry Potter) drugs or their natural violent selves. You get attacked, a lot, in The Wolf Among Us. Sometimes you’re attacked by bad people doing bad things. Other times you’re attacked by assholes being assholes. Here’s an arbitrary example of how the violent interactions go (this actual event doesn’t happen in the game).
After being cornered for a murder, Fable Y (a gifted swordsman) comes at Bigby with a sword, with intent on killing him. Bigby wrestles the sword away but not before taking a couple of pokes and cuts. Fable Y is defeated and tells Bigby to go f*** himself. The player is given several options:
1) arrest him
2) break his arm so he can’t swordplay for a while
3) cut off his arm so he can’t sword play ever again
4) kill him for the murder, resisting arrest, and because he pissed you off
Which would you do? Something I thoroughly enjoyed was how I made a lot of my decisions based on the emotional state I, personally, was in. “How bad did this guy piss me off? How sure am I that he did the murder? Have I been reminded to not kill people in the past 40 minutes?” I loved the rush of emotion that came with making decisions like these. But how you handle these situations reverberate throughout the community. “Remember when Bigby did X to Y?” will get mentioned by pretty much anyone you meet. As the sheriff, judge, jury, and executioner, people WILL questions your actions. “Why did you do W to X but do Y to Z?” The way you rationlize this is though provoking. “Did my emotions get in the way when I ripped that guy’s arm off when they probably didn’t deserve it? Why did I let that guy go when they should have gotten so much worse? Now that the guy who got away is back in my custody, what should I do to them?” Which leads me to the next exciting aspect of this game.
Are You Really the Big Bad Wolf?
People fear you. You’re the Big Bad Wolf. You’re without a doubt one of the toughest Fables around and people know that. The biggest fork in the game is whether you’re trying to shed the identity of the violent Big Bad Wolf or you’re using your past as a tool of fear to keep things in line. After a violent encounter, you’re given the chance to justify your actions: 1) they deserved it 2) I was defending myself 3) I regret it, but I had no choice 4) I wanted to do it.
A lot of games with morality components installed into their games is that the greatest benefits follow those who run extremes (either fully bad or fully good). These types of games (like Infamous & Mass Effect) never appropriately reflect the gamers and force them to only make a certain kind of decision. My play through with the Wolf Among Us allowed me to build a moral grey area that I was incredibly happy with. My Bigby Wolf was an angry man. He had a short fuse and if you came at him, you weren’t leaving whole. That being said, I let the game’s morally high compass, Snow White, keep a leash on me. I tried to be a good person, but I often had to be reminded to do so. But in all honesty, when things go wrong, I REALLY enjoyed going ham on people who thought they could get away from me. The chase only thrilled me and when I caught up to someone, I let it all out. I wanted to let people know that if you run away from me, you WILL get bit.
As Snow White brilliantly said about Bigby Wolf
It feels like you kind of enjoy it when things go wrong, because it gives you an excuse to…stop pretending
My Bigby Wolf was the Big Bad Wolf. He has the best interests of Fabletown at heart, but he is also the town’s dark knight, willingly and enthusiastically. My Bigby Wolf has a dark sense of justice, doesn’t sit through bullshit, and will bite first and talk later. I love the way I crafted my Bigby. I love the way Telltale lets you craft your main characters based on your emotional state during gameplay. And I can’t wait for whenever Season 2 comes around so I can see who is gonna get bit next.