The Walking Dead: The Telltale Definitive Series is now out. This release means that, despite some bugs, it’s now easier than ever to play through the entire series. There are five games in Telltale’s The Walking Dead series. This list includes four main games and one spin-off mini-series. Let’s see how they stack against each other as we rate them from worst to best.
5. A New Frontier
There were some neat ideas going into A New Frontier. Having Clementine take on a non-playable role again could have been interesting. Including Jesus from the comics could have been awesome. Javier had a lot of potential as a character.
Unfortunately, a lot of the potential that A New Frontier had was diluted by its execution. Narrative-driven games that are based on player choice are often criticized for not having “real choices.” However, A New Frontier takes this to a whole new level. Many decisions are just slightly different ways of saying the same thing. Sometimes what the player character ends up saying is entirely different from the choice that they picked. And, worst of all, there are several plot points in the game that make no sense if you didn’t pick certain decisions earlier in the game. This leads to a horribly contrived plot unless you play the game in a particular way.
Not to mention many of the characters in this season are unlikable or just uninteresting. It’s hard to care about a story when you don’t care about most of the characters in it. The overall tone of the game feels more like an over-the-top action movie. This makes it feel inconsistent with the horror drama of the larger The Walking Dead franchise.
Additionally, the complete disrespect that this season has for previous seasons is not appreciated. Clementine’s personality is shoehorned into a particular archetype regardless of how her character was shaped by the player in the first two seasons. And, of course, the way this game throws out the player’s Season Two ending is borderline unacceptable.
It’s not all bad, however. There are some great scenes here and there. And despite a general lack of it, there are a few good characters. Ultimately, though, this entry doesn’t come anywhere close to the standard set by the other seasons.
This is a mini-series consisting of three concise episodes. As such, there isn’t as much material as the main seasons. This means the player isn’t given as much time to develop attachments to characters or interest in the relatively short story. There is also a lack of narrative branching compared to other games in the series. This leads to less replayability overall. It can also result in some frustrating situations where the player isn’t given as much agency as they would like in a choice-based game.
Despite some of these shortcomings, Michonne is still generally enjoyable. The characters are interesting, including some of the best villains in the series. This mini-series also does a great job of presenting the moral ambiguity of the world of The Walking Dead. Some of the antagonists aren’t especially terrible people, but are just trying to survive. Some of the player character’s allies aren’t great people, often doing bad things for selfish reasons. Ultimately, there are few traditional good guys and bad guys. There are mostly just people doing what they can to continue to live. Sometimes this leads to situations where groups are on opposite sides, but not because one is right and one is terrible. Instead, unfortunate circumstances have pitted two groups of survivors against each other and both just want to live. This is illustrated tremendously in Michonne.
3. Season Two
Following up the critically acclaimed Season One was always going to be an incredibly difficult task. However, Season Two still managed to pull it off with great success. Some fans have been disappointed by the season’s shorter episode lengths, fewer explorable hubs, and choices that often don’t branch very much. Despite this, the extension of Clementine’s story here is still great.
Season Two performs very well as the dark middle season. Clementine has to take care of herself more than ever before. The concept of a highly competent, but not cartoonishly capable, child survivor in the post-apocalypse is executed wonderfully in this season. There are great new characters, some of which are the best in the series. And, of course, there are moral conundrums that present some of the most challenging decisions you’ll have to make in a video game.
It was nearly impossible for anything to be able to successfully follow up Season One. But Season Two keeps Clementine’s story compelling and doesn’t let up. It’s a great game that often gets a bad wrap unfairly for merely not being its predecessor.
2. Season One
How could this season not rank highly on this list? It’s the one that started it all. In 2012, this game came out of nowhere from an unknown studio and turned into a global phenomenon. It went on to change the way the entire video game industry looked at interactive storytelling.
Putting the player in charge of protecting a young child during an apocalypse was an incredibly risky move. But the developers managed to pull it off. What resulted is one of the most emotionally investing and rewarding stories ever told in the world of fiction. The relationship between Lee and Clementine would become the hallmark for the rest of the series and the standard to which every narrative-based game that came after would be held to.
Aside from Lee and Clem, the rest of the cast is filled with exciting and relatable characters. The moral choices the player will have to make are unlike anything anyone ever saw at the time from video games. Plus, the whole thing was tied together with cool, comic book-inspired graphics and a moving soundtrack.
This game pretty much single-handedly changed the whole industry for the better. Few games are as influential to an entire genre as this one. Replaying it seven years after its initial release, it’s still easy to see why it earned so many accolades.
1. The Final Season
This was a tough call to make. No one can deny the greatness of Season One or the influence it had on the medium of video games. But The Final Season took everything learned from previous seasons, changed things where necessary, and resulted in something spectacular.
The Final Season continues the series’ tradition of including a lovable cast of characters, morally ambiguous choices, and an incredibly emotionally investing story. It’s also a return to form from some of the missteps of previous seasons. Episode lengths are longer again, letting players have more time to develop relationships with the characters. There are plenty of explorable hubs, allowing the player to get acquainted with each location. The player also gets more agency over the general personality of the playable character once again.
But this last season also makes some changes. Things like unscripted action sequences and collectibles to find in hubs keep things fresh. Also, graphics have never looked better in a Walking Dead game. This mix of taking and returning to what worked while changing what didn’t is also presented in the soundtrack. Classic songs from earlier seasons, like “Take Us Back” and “In the Pines,” return in this season. Also introduced are new fan favorites like “I Am a Poor Pilgrim of Sorrow,” “Safe and Sound,” and “Don’t Be Afraid.”
But more important than anything else, this season packs one hell of an emotional punch. Several emotional punches, in fact. I have never experienced so many emotions so strongly from a work of fiction before. Some of the most thrilling, disturbing, emotional, or even heartwarming scenes in the entire series come from this season.
I hold Season One, Season Two, and The Final Season all very closely to my heart. Ranking them has not been easy. But at the end of the day, franchise creator Robert Kirkman has said that the point of The Walking Dead is to make people cry. I’ve played Season One many times and the last scene still gets me to tear up every single time. However, there are at least three scenes in the last episode of The Final Season that all get me to tear up every time. If making people cry is the benchmark for a successful Walking Dead story, then The Final Season delivered threefold.