We were not entirely convinced by the first episode of Telltale Games' Guardians of the Galaxy. It was a bit of a feeler episode and its weird structure that started with the defeat of Thanos felt a bit anticlimactic. Fortunately, the season picked up speed with the subsequent episodes, and episodes two, three, and four were all largely entertaining. While the final episode did provide us with some interesting choices and decisions at its conclusion, the big showdown and master plan felt underwhelming as did the re-use of locations. What we're left with is a season with a disappointing start, a great middle, and an underwhelming finish.
The main story arc about the Eternity Forge and the Kree works really well overall as it allows for some natural flashbacks and some focus on the relations between the Guardians and their past. Without spoiling too much there can be an option to bring someone back from dead towards the end and that choice is a hard one, given all you've come to know during the season.
Guardians of the Galaxy felt like a great fit for Telltale Games, but we found one issue with it and that was how hard it was to "role-play" Star-Lord (Peter Quill). We can't quite divorce him from Chris Pratt's likeable rendition and so we tended to always pick the cheesiest lines. He didn't feel like a character made of clay for us to mould as we saw fit, and so some of the choices just felt out of character. Other players may feel differently, but for us, it meant we didn't feel the same sort of expressive freedom we normally would.
One of the highlights for us was in episode two when we got to learn more about Rocket's background and his cellmate Lylla. Given how Rocket acts for most of the season it was a much-needed segment. The many flashbacks of Peter and his mom offered a bit of reflection and underlined that while very much a tongue-in-cheek Guardians adventure, there were some serious issues that were dealt with here. These were actually some of the best bits of the game in our opinion. The thorny relationship between Gamora and Nebula was another highlight. However, the main villain, Hala, felt a bit one-dimensional. Drax and Groot had more supporting roles, as you'd expect.
Prior to release Telltale claimed that this game would offer larger areas to explore, and while there were some more open areas to investigate, Guardians never strayed outside of the typical Telltale framework we've come to expect. The areas that offered a bit of free exploration didn't really feature much in the way of secrets and so on, and the puzzles there were pretty straightforward. The bonus content and optional stuff were mainly onboard the often abused ship, The Milano, and its computer. We also enjoyed the fourth-wall breaking epilogues that featured in the first few episodes and were a bit disappointed there wasn't one after the fourth, even if it perhaps made sense from a story perspective.
In terms of visuals and production values, Guardians of the Galaxy is further evidence that Telltale Games hasn't been able to push their technology far enough in recent years. It's a decent looking game by Telltale standards, but we certainly would have wished that facial animations, and animations in general, were smoother. There are frame-rate issues at times as well (we played on PS4 Pro) and while the load times aren't excruciating they certainly feel longer than they should be given the size of the environments and the production values. Maybe this is what we get when Telltale releases five episodes within seven months? We do appreciate the swift delivery, but maybe it comes at the cost of less iteration during the course of the season?
Most of the episodes clocked in at around 90 minutes, which can be argued is on the short side of what episodes ought to be in terms of value. It's hard to say though as Guardians of the Galaxy certainly feels like a property that benefits from a shorter format, but perhaps it was just a little too streamlined. In some ways, it also felt like we didn't come to appreciate the amount of decisions and branching available until we saw the various outcomes presented to us at the very end. We're not sure if this is a good thing or a bad thing. It is, of course, good that the story had a natural flow to it regardless of our decisions, but sometimes signposting major decisions means the player feels more empowered. It's a difficult thing to balance.
The season ends with a rather major cliffhanger, a teaser ahead of a potential second season. Will there be one? We really don't know, but if there is one maybe it's good if Telltale takes some time to look at what they want to do with it. For some reason, this feels more like an end of something they've been doing for many years now than the beginning of something new and different.