Reviewed on PlayStation 4
This review contains some light spoilers
Telltale’s Guardians of the Galaxy series has been an unexpectedly awesome time so far. What I once believed was an unnecessary cash grab based on an extremely popular film franchise quickly became one of my current favorite Telltale titles. It’s just a perfect blend of exploration, combat, and story, with a plot that’s simultaneously complex and incredibly humorous. The first episode struggled with meaningful character development, while the second turned its problems around immensely. Unfortunately, Episode Three of Telltale’s Guardians series kind of brings the whole season down once again — only this time, it’s not the characters that hinder the experience, it’s the story itself that hurts overall.
You may recall that I praised Episode Two of Guardians of the Galaxy for its focus on Rocket Raccoon’s backstory, and how it seems this season is exploring the origins of the titular heroes we know and love. However, it’s important to note that I appreciated this subplot alongside the overarching story involving the Eternity Forge and Peter Quill’s family drama. Episode Three focused on Gamora’s backstory, but this was no subplot: the entire narrative of More Than a Feeling hinges on Gamora and Nebula, and that really shifted this season for the worse.
Gamora and Nebula are the “daughters” of Thanos, the (recently deceased) Mad Titan. I say “daughters” because they were actually stolen from their families before their homeworlds were destroyed by said evil alien. He picked them due to their fighting prowess and because of this, they sparred together regularly, with Gamora always gaining the upper hand. We find ourselves in one of these sparring sessions during a particular flashback, and it’s here we partake in a large majority of Episode Three’s combat. It’s not really anything special; no break from the normalcy of quick time event fare. For a die-hard fan of the Guardians, this flashback — and subsequently this episode overall — might make for a compelling concept, getting to witness the catalyst of Nebula and Gamora’s feud. However, I found this plotline to be dull and underwhelming, even down to the combat sequence in which the sisters fight their way through a Kree ship crew to assassinate the captain, General Tar-Voll. The sisters’ entire rocky relationship is spawned from a simple disagreement that could easily be solved by a one-on-one conversation. Unfortunately, time and again Star-Lord is forced to intervene before things get ugly, and this episode similarly becomes the same dispute over and over again. Progress isn’t made until nearly the end of Episode Three, and it just feels exhausting in general.
From here, it never feels like the story gets off the ground. Eventually, we’re brought back to reality, and we figure out the real voice behind the Eternity Forge, which has called out to Star-Lord all season long. In an unoriginal turn of events that felt like a cop-out movie tie-in, the voice of Peter’s mother turns out to be Mantis, who took the form of Peter’s greatest desire to lure him in and awaken her from her tomb. Mantis was one of the many new characters introduced in Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 this year, and it seems like such a waste of time to add her into the Telltale series. Sure, she’s a unique character who can feel people’s emotions by touching them, but this provides no bearing on the task at hand — uncovering the secrets of the Eternity Forge and defeating Hala. Even the origin story of the Forge could’ve been explained through a better method than having Mantis know it all. It just makes me ill even thinking about her addition to this game. Perhaps Peter’s mom should’ve been behind the whole secret of the Forge. At least that route would’ve been original, and it wouldn’t have involved someone so unbelievably unnecessary.
I do have a feeling, though, that we haven’t seen the last of Mama Quill. This episode opened with one of the most intense flashbacks we’ve seen thus far. Peter is threatened by a bully at a record store, who outright tells him his mother is going to die of cancer, then proceeds to spout vile things at Mrs. Quill. This causes Peter to question his own morals and whether or not he should keep his promise to use his words or defend his mother with his fists. This incredible moment provided a deeply moving look into Star-Lord’s childhood and the ridicule he received not only from being a loser but being the son of a cancer patient. It’s pretty crazy to me: I remember hating these flashbacks in the beginning when they kept reliving the same memory and never really advancing the plot in any way, but now it seems as though I’m learning more about Star-Lord with every passing flashback, and each glimpse into the past shapes the protagonist I’m playing in a different way. I feel closer to the hero by knowing more about his origins, and I call that a success on Telltale’s part in character development.
While the Nebula and Gamora storyline did nothing but upset me throughout this episode, there was some salvageable plot amongst the wreckage. Most notably, the impending decision to either destroy the Eternity Forge entirely, keeping it out of the hands of all evil beings in the galaxy, or powering it up to its maximum capacity, allowing it to bring any deceased being back from the dead. I’ll keep my choice a secret until the next episode, but I will note that the return of Hala made me extremely happy. Seeing this poor-quality episode culminate in a final battle with the original evil from Episode One made it feel like the slog was worth it. I had trudged through all this exposition and boredom to get back on track and see what the Forge had to offer next. It was well-deserved.
Perhaps the best part of More Than a Feeling was the short-lived, yet always fun exploration section before the episode’s climactic conclusion. Not only was it the typical “walk around and interact with your teammates while looking for clues” gameplay we’ve seen in previous episodes, but it also acted as a puzzle-solving level this time around. Utilizing his time-machine doohickey, Star-Lord is able to see how people solved the puzzles in the past, and redo them in the present. It’s cheating the system, yes, but that’s what the Guardians do best. I just found wandering around and exploring to be a nice break from the boring story of More Than a Feeling, just like old times.
Luckily, the performance of this episode was essentially flawless. I experienced no standout glitches; no wonky facial animations or twitchy body movements. Even the loading times were fairly quick. It’s nice to have a bug-free episode for once, especially when the story was so dreadful that a single glitch would’ve just sent me right over the edge. Sadly another downfall of Episode Three was its length. This truly felt like the shortest Telltale episode I’ve ever played, even though it clocked in at a fair length of an hour and a half or so. But while it felt super short, it also felt like it crawled along at a snail’s pace. I feel this is due to the lack of settings, though. This episode only had about six scenes in it, and two of them were the same flashback relived through the eyes of Gamora and Nebula individually. The Guardians didn’t move around much in this episode, which made the story seem dry and lifeless. It truly felt like it went nowhere, which made it incredibly hard to enjoy.
It’s a crying shame, too, because I’ve been enjoying Guardians of the Galaxy so much. This series has been a real underdog, starting off with an inherent drive to be something new and refreshing, but falling short on so many fronts. Then as it got a little older, it realized what it got wrong, fixed those shortcomings, and developed upon them in ways I’d never imagined them doing. But now it seems they’ve hit a wall long before they should have. For starters, the inclusion of Mantis felt like such a stretch for no apparent reason. Honestly, nobody asked for her, and if she never showed up, nobody’s feelings would be hurt. It just feels like they were grasping for straws; as if they realized a lack of audience and felt they needed something to draw in the crowds, like a familiar face from something much more popular. She just did nothing but bring a lot of confusion to the overall narrative and blow the whole Eternity Forge plot out of proportion. I’d rather they left the detective work up to the Guardians themselves, instead of bringing in some outside source to lay all the details out on the table. Forcing Mantis into this series was lazy, and downright ruinous.
To put it clearly, this whole episode has put a bad taste in my mouth for the Guardians’ origin stories. I thoroughly enjoyed Rocket’s single flashback in Episode Two, which put his emotions into perspective and really gave the anthropomorphic raccoon a sense of purpose on the team. He was given meaning, and his sadness induced a sense of passion and drive within him to get the job done. That purpose even influenced his decision on what happened to the Forge in Episode Three; it advanced the overall plot in a significant way. Nebula and Gamora’s relationship simply has no bearing on that overall plot. It’s just a secondary storyline that went on for far too long and hijacked a perfectly capable episode within an established, enjoyable series. The entire episode felt like a sidebar; a break from the action, which needed no interruption to begin with. It was nearly perfect all on its own, and now after More Than a Feeling, I worry about the future of this season. I’ve never really looked to a fourth Telltale episode to save a sinking ship, but here’s hoping the next installment can keep it afloat. I’ve really been looking forward to Groot’s origin story, so fingers crossed they don’t screw that up.