I played through Game of Thrones and Life Is Strange at the same time this fall. I started both of them when about half the episodes were out, and played through one episode a week (alternating weeks between the two games), so I got a slightly compressed but still episodic experience out of them. If I’m remembering correctly, the last episode of each was the only time when I had to wait for episodes to come out, otherwise I played through each game on a biweekly cadence.
And I’m glad I made the pairing; on the one hand, I seem to be more temperamentally suited to the Telltale style, but on the other hand, I liked Life Is Strange a lot more.
The aspect of the Telltale style that I’m referring to is how it forces you to make choices: you have a limited amount of time, and you have to make your response by then or say nothing. Thinking about this more, there’s actually a split in my personality when it comes to decisions: if I’m playing a game where I’m, say, fighting with limited ammo, then I’ll save all the time, and sometimes even reload if things go less than optimally. Whereas I never take back narrative decisions in BioWare RPGs, and in fact I’ve never replayed one of their games, as much as I enjoy them: the way I played them is the way it really happened, so why would I want to try doing it differently?
I’m not sure exactly what’s going on here, what it is that causes me to respond in a “never reconsider” way instead of an “everything is temporary” way: maybe it’s the narrative aspect and a belief in the sanctity of story, or maybe it’s just that I trust games to be accepting of a range of narrative choices in a way that I don’t trust them to be accepting of a range of combat choices. Whatever it is, Telltale games trigger it even more: I don’t have time to calculate possibilities, I have to react as I (or as my interpretation of my character) really feel at that moment.
Having said that, though: I’m happy enough to have played Game of Thrones, but I’m also happy to be done with it, and I doubt I’ll play the likely sequel. Maybe I’m a bit Telltaled out after two seasons of The Walking Dead; or maybe I’m a bit Game of Thronesed out after watching four seasons of the TV show (yes, I watch them a year late) and after finally reading the books this year.
And I do think that those are both playing into my feelings about the game, but also part of it is the game itself. Like The Walking Dead, Game of Thrones takes place in a horrific world (though arguably one that is less pervasively so); but The Walking Dead focused on a few characters that it suffused with love and humanity, while this game has a large cast of characters that are frequently horrific themselves, and with their calculations primary in their mind. Which, actually, works well in the books and TV series (though I almost stopped watching the TV series after the first two episodes), but those are of a much broader scale, about the world as a whole, or at least the continent. This game, though, is focusing on one minor family; and while, in general, I prefer a much more human scale, part of the reason why I prefer that is because a human scale allows games to focus on, well, humanity.
Life Is Strange is the opposite in all these dimensions. On a mechanical sense, it not only allows you to think about your decisions as much as you’d like, it actively encourages you to experiment and rewind time until you’re comfortable not with your choice but with the outcome of your choice. Which I did a couple of times, but it wasn’t my style, so eventually I just stuck with my choices.
They also use the rewind time mechanic as a puzzle mechanic there; works well enough, my only issue there was, because I didn’t want to use the mechanic in narrative bits, I sometimes forgot I could use it in puzzle bits! But that’s on me, not on the game.
In terms of scale, Life Is Strange is the polar opposite of Game of Thrones, and I far prefer that. A teenage girl, a small town, her problems; and her amazing magical ability, but one special thing I can deal with! I got sucked in pretty well, the twists that started about halfway through drew me in much more than anything in Game of Thrones.
And then there’s the final episode. That one, I don’t know what to make of, but I’ll give them credit for going out on a bang and giving me something to think about. I’ve seen claims that the intended true ending is saving the town; that’s not the ending I chose, I haven’t even watched it on Youtube, so I don’t have an informed opinion on the matter. I will say, though, that halfway through the episode, Warren made a case that every time you rewind time, you make things worse; I wasn’t completely convinced by his argument, but I’m more convinced by that than I am by the idea that it’s supposed to be obvious that, if you intend to make a choice that will save the town, then the town actually will be saved!
So, based on Warren’s argument, it made at least as much sense to choose with my heart; and, after my dream sequence in the episode, there was absolutely no question where my heart led. The dream sequence showed you all of your fears, and they felt real as fears; but it also showed you how you and Chloe mattered to each other, and that felt real, period.
And that’s what can be so great about small-scale personal games, what grandiose games have a much harder time with. My life has nothing to do with saving the world; it has a lot to do with a few people who matter a lot to me, though. I’m a very different person than Max, than Chloe (especially than Chloe!), but that questioning and that feeling hits me very much indeed.
This post has not been revised since publication.