The Expanse: A Telltale Series 1
Image: Push Square

The Expanse: A Telltale Series is a newly-reanimated Telltale Games' first outing since filing for bankruptcy in 2018, before reviving a year later under LCG Entertainment. Now, with many of the studio's original staff having returned in a freelance capacity, the first episode (of five) is available, and we were eager to dive in. It's a strong first showing, reminding us how the Telltale snowball got started in the first place. Our only real issue with The Expanse was how quickly it was all over, but more on that in a moment.

If you didn’t know, The Expanse is an immensely popular sci-fi series, first in the form of nine novels (written by James S. A. Corey), then later as a six-season TV, which began its run on Syfy, and was completed under Amazon. The Expanse grapples with a believable vision of the not-too-distant future, one where both life and labour are exceedingly cheap commodities.

Finally ditching the dated proprietary tech, The Expanse is powered by Unreal and is the best-looking game Telltale has produced by a country mile. The voice work is top-notch, with several of the TV show's actors returning to voice their video game counterparts. Nowhere else is this more apparent than with the player character Camina Drummer, who serves as XO aboard The Artemis.

The Expanse: A Telltale Series 4
Image: Push Square

As Executive Officer, Drummer is second-in-command, and one of her responsibilities is maintaining the ship's log, an official accounting of everything that happens aboard The Artemis. The developers, in a cute turn, give that well-worn Telltale mechanical trope narrative meaning; Drummer will remember that, because she's the one writing everything down. Without giving too much away, what was supposed to be one last job goes awry, and The Artemis is beset by threats both within and without. Almost from the outset, Drummer is making life-or-death decisions with incomplete information and reaping the consequences in real-time.

Another cool thing about The Expanse is that it tells a self-contained prequel of sorts; Drummer is a recurring character in the later TV series (played by Cara Gee), and fans of Telltale's game will be primed for the show. Similarly, fans of the show can learn more about the origins of one of its central characters.

That said, we have to imagine those entirely unfamiliar with The Expanse might find themselves lost if they choose to start here; several members of The Artemis' crew are Belters (Drummer included), a distinct society of space-born humans inhabiting stations within The Belt, the asteroid-strewn region between Mars and Jupiter. Generations of living in low-gravity environments make their bones longer and more brittle, they are pejoratively referred to as Skinnies and ruthlessly exploited by the "Inners", inhabitants of Earth, Luna, and Mars. As such, Belters comprise an oppressed working class stranded in space, speaking a distinct Belter Creole full of industrial slang. It's a fascinating culture that Telltale doesn't have the runtime to explore properly, although you get the gist from context.

The Expanse: A Telltale Series 2
Image: Push Square

As in previous Telltale games, the gameplay is largely comprised of Drummer exploring environments and interacting with other members of the crew. These two activities are oftentimes smartly combined, and rather than interact with an object of interest directly, Drummer can radio a relevant crewmember for a second opinion or extra information. Exploration will take Drummer into the hard vacuum of space, and occasional quick time events will keep players on their toes.

Our biggest concern, then, is the runtime, which is significantly shorter than the standard Telltale fare. Episodes of The Walking Dead averaged about two hours (even in the first season), whereas the first episode of The Expanse took us barely one, and even that might be generous. Obviously, the additional quality is appreciated, and The Expanse plays better than those old games ever did, but the series is only five episodes long. As great as it is, if the entire season clocks in at under five hours, we imagine that might be a tough sell for some at its current price point of $39.99 USD, or £32.99.

The Expanse: A Telltale Series 3
Image: Push Square

It's a strong first showing from Telltale and one we are genuinely excited to continue. Episodes release fortnightly, with Episode 5 slated for 21st September. Once we've seen the season through to the end, we'll circle back and let you know what we think, but so far, so good.

Are you planning on picking up The Expanse: A Telltale Series? Have you played through the first episode, and if so, what did you think? Run a tight ship in the comments section below.