Reviewed on PlayStation 4
This review contains some light spoilers
Guarding the galaxy is not an easy job, as I have learned firsthand over the last few months. It can be a handful; piloting a rusty bucket of bolts through the cosmos, leading a ragtag band of misfits united by a single common purpose, being pursued by an evil warlord hellbent on revenge for the loss of her family. It’s difficult. But it’s also been one hell of a ride, and Telltale’s Guardians of the Galaxy series finale, Don’t Stop Believin’, is a worthy conclusion to a series of ups and downs, culminating in some of the most difficult decisions I’ve ever made in a video game.
Episode Five sees the Guardians in a bit of a quandary: Hala is back on the warpath, and the team has gone their separate ways. In my playthrough, Drax is considered deceased – along with Nebula – while Mantis, Groot, and Gamora have all gone their separate ways, and Rocket has reluctantly chosen to stay with Peter Quill and the ship. As the two remaining heroes drink their troubles away, half the team returns, hearing of Hala’s reappearance, and they begin working together to reunite the Guardians. I was instantly a bit forlorn to see Hala’s resurgence handled so abruptly. I’ve had problems in previous episodes with the fact that Hala seemed to disappear, rather conveniently, for a long period of time, almost as if all evil had vanished from the galaxy so the team could flesh out their relationships with one another. This felt unrealistic and foolish, hiding the primary antagonist for nearly two whole episodes, only to have her pop up in the finale to threaten the galaxy tenfold.
I’ve felt overall that Hala is a truly captivating villain with a deep history and the ability to captivate whenever she’s onscreen, but Telltale simply didn’t do enough with their big villains this time around. Perhaps this was made most apparent when they killed Thanos, the baddie of the Marvel Cinematic Universe, in the series’ opening sequence; they cared more about establishing their protagonists for future endeavors. Which isn’t even necessarily a complaint as save for Gamora’s story, it’s been a delight learning about each Guardian’s origins. It just would’ve been nice to establish the villain a bit more before moving away from them completely, and then expecting me to care so much in the series finale. Fortunately for Telltale, I hadn’t forgotten about Hala completely, and was eager to see more of her, so I let this slide.
One character I was hoping to forget about was Mantis, however her triumphant return in Episode Five was surprisingly welcome, redeeming one of the series’ weaker allies. Mantis was actually useful this time around, providing a means for Star-lord to see and rescue all of his friends and reunite the Guardians before the final confrontation with Hala. This episode’s most “exploration”-heavy sequence involved Quill melding minds with Mantis to see into his psyche, and by answering questions about his feelings toward the Guardians, Mantis was able to create mental bridges to Peter’s friends and uncover their locations. It was a pleasant surprise to watch Mantis be useful, not just standing around ruining every moment with boring dialogue. Instead, she was helpful, did her job, and acted like an indispensable part of the Guardian team. We’ll just have to wait until next season to see how she’ll screw it all up again.
My favorite part of the Guardians series returns in Don’t Stop Believin’: flashbacks, (begrudgingly) thanks to Mantis.
This time she provides a glimpse into the Guardians’s origins as a team, recalling a moment fans will recognize from the films, with a bit of a Telltale spin on it. This flashback displays the Guardians meeting for the first time in a prison cell and planning their subsequent breakout. It even comes with a mustachioed Star-Lord, and what’s not to love about that? Additional flashbacks include yet another look at Peter and his mom’s relationship, providing a conclusion to the season-long camping trip they went on. Just as I’d envisioned, Mama Quill is getting sicker, and she instils one last piece of advice in Peter, guiding him through some of the final decisions of the season (choices that still have me questioning if I made the right one or not). It’s obvious Telltale did not skimp on the storyline in Episode Five, providing some successful and genuinely thought-provoking closure to all of the plot points I’d questioned throughout the season. Honestly, it plays out as a near-perfect conclusion.
Don’t Stop Believin’ is just shy of that perfection thought thanks to quite a few technical errors along the way. It frequently feels like a Telltale game can be almost flawless in every aspect, but then some glitches have to come along and spoil everything. Such is the curse that Episode Five of Guardians of the Galaxy has been plagued with. During my playthrough, I witnessed some downright infuriating glitches, like button presses being unresponsive and timers for decisions lasting way too long. One time I went to check the codex, and the camera just didn’t zoom in enough, meaning I had to strain my eyes just to read the text onscreen. Perhaps my favorite glitch of them all was the frequent stutter during conversations, in which a character would just freeze in place while talking to me until they finished their dialogue, and then they would unfreeze and go about their business. This is just…amateurish, especially considering Telltale has been delivering fantastic episodes for months; even Batman was free of technical errors in its Season Two premiere. Seeing the game engine acting up in an already glaringly short series finale is a real shame on Telltales’ part, especially as this was so close to perfection.
As mentioned before, exploration was fairly nonexistent in Episode Five, with roughly three scenes that allowed Star-Lord to move around freely and examine objects in the world. He was never given the opportunity to fly around with jet boots or use the fun helmet headset, the thematic trade-off being that everything the Guardians did in this episode they did together. This was made the most apparent in the ultimate final battle with Hala. Without spoiling anything, I’ll say that Star-Lord is tasked with assigning jobs to every crew member, in order to pull off the breaching of Hala’s warship. It is here where the decisions start to get risky, as these choices will affect how the story plays out, and whether or not the operation goes smoothly. Mantis states that it’s a nice surprise to see the Guardians getting along so well in this episode and I must agree. For a team usually at each other’s throats, it brought a little tear to my eye to see my Guardians working in tandem toward a common goal.
Once the ship breaching went off without a hitch, a battle ensued with the Kree leader herself. This quick time event embodied everything I love about the Guardians Telltale series. It was clever in terms of button press prompts, thrilling in terms of utilizing every team member and their own abilities, and the entertaining song selection it was set to: Heart’s “Crazy On You”. The aptly-titled “Rad Mix” that Star-Lord carries with him at all times has made for some of the most riveting action scenes I’ve ever played out in a Telltale series. Hopefully, that facet will make a return in future seasons, as I am always glued to the screen when he presses play on his Walkman. The way every button press and every hit is synced to the music just blows me away, and really gets me into the brawl onscreen; a super fun experience every time.
At the episode’s conclusion, some of the hardest decisions ever are forced onto the team and the player. I had considered making this review full-spoilers, but decided against it as I want readers to feel the way I did upon the season’s conclusion. At the end of the day, I’m proud of the way I led my team, and I felt even closer to them than, say, Clementine and her group at the end of a Walking Dead season. Everything led up to that last big decision, and while I know the endings branched multiple ways, and I could’ve experienced so much more, I’m happy with where I stand because I know that I made the right choice in the eyes of my misfit family. This was proven furthermore by the season’s final statistics, which made me a little sad, to be honest. Seeing how I and 100% of others left almost every Guardian feeling the same way kind of shattered my hopes that my storyline was different than all the rest. I wanted to forge my own unique path, and I left feeling like everything led to the same place in the end. But even through all that, looking at each individual decision, I made choices along the way that others were too scared to do, because as captain I took matters into my own hands, and I shaped this ragtag crew into galactic heroes that anyone would want to get behind.
Telltale’s Guardians of the Galaxy series has, without a doubt, been one of the best gaming experiences I’ve ever played. With the perfect blend of combat, exploration, and a story full of humor and heart, these five episodes have packed an emotional punch that’s left me more attached to the Marvel superheroes than I have been to countless other video game protagonists. While some episodes dipped in quality and entertainment value, the series overall has remained one of the most promising storylines in Telltale history. I’ve had a blast learning more about the titular heroes and their backstories, and stepping into the shoes of Star-Lord to make decisions that affect the whole galaxy has been, frankly, an honor. I cannot wait for the next season of Telltale’s greatest series to date.