Compared to the attachment that players surely had to Clementine in the series’ first two seasons, The Walking Dead: A New Frontier had a bit of an uphill battle to face by focusing its attention on an entirely new character, Javier. From the third season’s strong two-part premiere, Telltale Games has (so far) done an admirable job of focusing the story on Javier and his family’s struggles along with weaving in the story of a fan favorite, Clementine. The newly-released third installment of the series continues to build on its interesting characters, but lacks the same push, story-wise, that the premiere handled so well.
The third episode of The Walking Dead: A New Frontier, titled “Above the Law,” picks up from the table setting that Telltale Games provided in the season’s first two episodes. With Clementine, Javier’s family, and a few other companions having now reached the settlement of Richmond (which serves as the titular New Frontier’s homebase), Javier’s story has reached a literal and metaphorical crossroads with discovering that his brother, David, is leading the charge on the deadly community. This leads to all sorts of moral and emotional questions for both Javier (and the player) to process and act on accordingly.
Just as the two-part premiere made clear, A New Frontier is very much meant to be Javier’s story and, on that front, Telltale Games has delivered quite well on making him a protagonist that’s just as complex and likeable as Lee or Clementine were in the past two seasons. Javier is very much a man trying to do right by others, especially when it comes to his family. Episode 3 continues to delve deeper into his past and fleshing out more of his backstory.
While sometimes delving a bit into heavy-handed territory, the importance of family and those you love are crucial — now more than ever — for Javier and his companions. The Walking Dead: A New Frontier uses that material well, not only to drive some engaging character development for Javier and Clementine, but also within the context of the larger narrative.
In particular, the evolving thread between Javier and Kate (David’s wife with whom he has a clear attraction towards) is a strong plot device to build into Javier’s backstory and provide some context for his actions and thoughts throughout what we’ve seen so far. Despite some of its predictability, the building relationship between Javier and Kate provides some sympathetic context for Javi and his desire to do what’s right by protecting his family, but also examines his own morals and actions in a world that, largely, is now derived of a meaning of “right” and “wrong.”
Although the action takes a bit more of a backseat compared to the premiere, Clementine also sees some notable character development in “Above the Law” that serves to fill players in a bit between the events of Season 2 and A New Frontier. Clementine has continued to blossom into a badass survivalist, a trope that plays off what players remember of her character from the past two seasons.
Her personal development in “Above the Law” falls a bit flat compared to Javier’s storyline, with her flashback sequences lacking some of the punch and drive that made her appearances in the premiere so engaging and curious to learn more about how she has grown.
“Above the Law” is filled with plenty of moments that give the player some greater insight into its characters and their backstories, but ultimately ends up coming short when it comes to developing the story and a clearer direction of where the season is headed. Given that we’re now officially halfway through the season, Episode 3 of The Walking Dead: A New Frontier feels more like it is just getting started rather than reaching a big revelation that will guide the remainder of the season. With only two more episodes left in the series’ run, I found myself wondering about how A New Frontier‘s story will develop more than how things will be wrapped up. I can’t shake the feeling that a more direct focus on the story might have served it better as the halfway point of the season.
In particular, “Above the Law” also feels sparse — or at least more than usual, by Telltale’s standards — when it comes to player interaction and providing meaningful choices or decisions. Compared to the usual “life or death” scenarios that players have been faced with in the past from the series, “Above the Law” largely confines players to dialogue-based options and choices rather than impactful decisions with a direct influence on the story, making Episode 3 feel like one of the most directed installments that The Walking Dead has seen yet.
Telltale took a big risk when it comes to setting players inside a fresh season of The Walking Dead with a new protagonist and different focus. And the developer has, for the most part, succeeded in providing an interesting new roster of characters but without losing The Walking Dead‘s strong writing and characterization. However, “Above the Law’s” weakness in terms of moving the narrative forward is noticeable, especially with only two episodes left in the season. Hopefully we’ll get a satisfying sense of where the season is heading before it’s over.