With the release of Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 early last month, the band of intergalactic misfits is fresh in the minds of many, leading to the perfect opportunity for Telltale Games to expand on the characters’ stories with their recently-debuted Guardians of the Galaxy: The Telltale Series.
While the series’ debut episode delivered this in spades with its first episode — which also suffered largely under the weight of wooden writing and characterization. Episode 2 marks a big improvement in fleshing out the Guardians as fans have come to know and love them, though the series may not quite be ready to reach for the stars just yet.
After setting the stakes in its first episode by pitting the Guardians against Thanos, the Mad Titan himself, Episode 2 (titled “Under Pressure”) of Guardians of the Galaxy: The Telltale Series pumps the brakes on the larger action and instead brings a more intimate focus on the characters, with Rocket Raccoon in particular getting the spotlight for a good portion of the episode.
Before that though, Episode 2 –– in a lot of ways — makes some improvements on issues that I had with the series’ introduction in the first episode back in April. While some of those are still prevalent here — I’m still not particularly a fan of the visual style — “Under Pressure” does a much better job at establishing some of the elements unique to Guardians of the Galaxy than what we’ve seen in some of Telltale’s previous work.
Specifically, that includes a more pronounced focus on the player’s role as Star-Lord/Peter Quill and your relationships with the rest of the crew: Drax, Rocket, Groot, and Gamora. Where the first episode bounced between the characters a bit too much, the tighter focus on one specific character (and the player’s relationship with them) was a smart move and one that helps to deepen the characters and the player’s understanding of them — an aspect that’s especially relevant to those that may have seen Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2.
While Drax, Gamora, and Groot get a few moments to shine during the episode, the crux of Episode 2 comes down to the player exploring the backstory of Rocket Raccoon, after Peter accepts a request from Rocket outside of the team’s objective. That in itself presented a genuinely hard decision to make so early in the episode, but an important one that calls into question how much value that the player puts into companionship and sticking up for the rest of the Guardians team, compared to some of the more black-and-white choices that the first episode offered.
Outside of that, Episode 2 of Guardians of the Galaxy also delivers on an emotional and human level, even though it happens to focus on an anthropomorphic space raccoon. Where Rocket Raccoon has often been a fan favorite among Marvel fans for his wise-cracking sarcasm and loose cannon approach with big guns, Episode 2 fleshes Rocket out as a much deeper, more sympathetic character than you might expect. As Star-Lord and the player experience his backstory and (essentially) the origin of how he came to be, the reasons behind Rocket’s actions throughout the episode become much clearer in a surprising and heart-breaking way.
The player’s involvement in those actions certainly plays a big role in that, and Episode 2 manages to deliver far more impactful sense of decision-making (and consequences) than what we saw in the first episode, and maybe even since some of Telltale’s earlier seasons. Where the first episode of Guardians of the Galaxy offered a hint at exploring what makes these characters “tick,” “Under Pressure” begins to deliver on that promise to make the Guardians three-dimensional characters.
Most importantly, that also puts the player in the position of making tough calls on whether to prioritize the needs of one character over another, leading to some genuinely tough decisions that made me unsure of whether the decision I made was truly “right” or “wrong.”
Aside from the more intimate focus of “Under Pressure,” Episode 2 doesn’t forget the larger plot points that Guardians of the Galaxy has introduced, even if progression on that storyline comes at a bit of a slower pace, as a result. Nebula and her mission to return Thanos to power very much plays into the larger struggles that the Guardians (and the player) will have to thwart in this episode (and future installments).
At the same time, the introduction of Yondu into the plot is sure to draw some intriguing new storylines down the road for the team, and in particular Star-Lord. Thankfully, Yondu is brought convincingly to life in the game with a great voice performance that had me double-checking whether or not Michael Rooker had actually snuck into the role (spoiler alert: he does not).
Where Guardians of the Galaxy left me a bit uneasy in its first episode if Telltale Games would be able to pull off an interactive adaptation worthy of its quirky band of characters, Episode 2 marked a big improvement in almost every way of where the series is heading next.
Though some of the series’ weaker aspects are unlikely to go away any time soon like some of its technical and visual shortcomings, the deeper focus on characterization and the relationships that players will build between Star-Lord and the rest of the Guardians is one I deeply look forward to exploring in the coming episodes. Telltale nailed the look of Guardians of the Galaxy in the first two installments, and with Episode 2 they’re finally getting a little closer to nailing the heart of it.