Life is Strange 2 – Episode Three: “Wastelands” Review
The newest entry in Life is Strange 2 gets the season back on track.
When the first episode of Life is Strange 2 came out last year, it set up a premise that I thought had a lot of potential. Unfortunately, the second episode didn’t live up to the expectations I had after the first, and I walked away from it kind of disappointed. Leading up to the release of the third episode, it had a weird place in my mind where, on one hand, I had high expectations set from the first episode, as well as the earlier games in the series, but on the other hand, I didn’t want to get my hopes too high, in case the new episode ended up being as bland as the last one.
Fortunately, things seem to be back on track with “Wastelands,” as this third episode sees the season starting to push towards the potential set up by the first. The episode isn’t without its issues, which we’ll get to, but overall, Episode 3 is an enjoyable experience.
The crew the player is introduced to in “Wastelands” is a memorable and likable one.
It starts off a little bit overwhelming as Sean and Daniel have joined a new group of people in between the events of Episodes 2 and 3. Most of these people are characters completely new to the Life is Strange universe and it can be a bit daunting trying to keep track of them all. However, the episode gives ample time to almost all of these newcomers and most of them will feel like well-realized characters by the time you finish the episode. Life is Strange 2 is in a bit of a tricky position when it comes to its cast since the nature of a road trip story about runaway brothers kind of means that peripheral characters are in and out of the narrative a lot, but despite this, the crew the player is introduced to in “Wastelands” is a memorable and likable one, with just about every member having their time to shine.
There isn’t a whole lot that happens in this episode on a narrative level, since almost the whole episode is centered around a single plot point. However, this means that most of the scenes could be dedicated to building the characters and the relationships between them, which was welcome as far as I was concerned. The episode never felt like it necessarily needed more narrative than it gave anyway, and taking the time to build up character relationships makes the eventual choices the player will have to make feel much more impactful.
Unfortunately, choices are again a department where this new episode feels like it falls a little bit short. In my review of Episode 2, I mentioned how Life is Strange 2 in general has had a tendency so far of hardly presenting choices to the player (whether they be big, narrative-altering choices or even just multiple dialogue options) and that most of the choices the game does offer feel meaningless or are immediately discarded by the game. Episode 3 suffers from this problem as well, though I have to say, not nearly as badly as the past two episodes have. There were definitely a few very important choices in this episode, some of which end with serious consequences, and it will be very interesting to see how these results play into future episodes. However, the fact remains that choices are pretty few and far between, with sometimes entire scenes going by in which the player doesn’t have any kind of say at all, and a lot of the time when there is an actual choice to make, it’s a choice that you can tell will have little-to-no effect on anything. It’s also disappointing when you’re faced with an important-feeling choice that you take time to really think about, only for your choice to immediately get swept under the rug two seconds after making it.
As a fan of choice-based narrative adventure games, I feel a bit obligated to explain that I realize most games of this sort have a set narrative path they set the player down and that choices the player makes may make changes to the narrative in terms of the player’s relationships to other characters, but very rarely cause huge diversions in the developer’s planned story. However, in the best narrative adventure games, the player may not determine the overall narrative of the game, but their choices will at least influence it. In Life is Strange 2, many of the choices the player is given (which aren’t that many to begin with) don’t feel like they’re letting the player influence the narrative at all. Most of the time, the player is just along for the ride, watching the story unfold, rather than actively participating in it. That said, the story that this episode tells is still entertaining, even if the player doesn’t have a ton of personal involvement in it, and the few choices that do make a difference feel like they REALLY make a difference. Additionally, we still don’t necessarily know to what extent all of the small choices will end up adding up and just how much they will influence Sean and Daniel’s relationship by the end of the game, so we’ll just have to wait for the last two episodes to see how all that ends up playing out. Ultimately, it’s a bit of a shame that the game doesn’t involve as much player interactivity as other games of the genre, but the story is still good enough that some players won’t mind that much (others, however, probably will).
There were definitely a few very important choices in this episode, some of which end with serious consequences.
One last thing I want to address is the options this episode gives for the player to have Sean get involved in a romance. There are two characters that can be romanced in this episode, both of whom were fleshed out very well in “Wastelands,” making Sean’s attachment to them feel at least somewhat earned, even though they’re both pretty new to Sean’s life. These characters are also both likable, so the player will likely grow fond of both of them over the course of the episode, even if they decide to not romance either of them, as I did. I also appreciate the variety of having two very different potential love interests, as opposed to the game just trying to force one particular character down the player’s throat. However, the choice between the two did feel a bit unbalanced to me, as I felt that one of these two characters was treated like the obvious love interest throughout the entire episode, while the other is kind of randomly introduced as a potential romantic partner near the end of the episode, despite that character playing a large part in the narrative up to that point. I think another recent narrative adventure game, The Walking Dead: The Final Season, did a very good job at setting up two potential love interests, each of whom were very different characters, had very different narrative arcs, and played a very different parts in the game’s overall narrative, but both of whom felt equal in terms of their viability as love interests. In Life is Strange 2, Character A is treated as an obvious love interest from the get-go, and while Character B is also an important part of the story, it felt like the game was definitely pushing the player in the direction of Character A, at least in terms of romance. Of course, the player can still choose to be with Character B if they want – I just wish equal romantic attention was paid to both characters before the player is given the option to make that decision.
Though it’s definitely not without its flaws, “Wastelands” is a huge step in the right direction after the previous episode was pretty lackluster. After Episode 2, I was still willing to give Life is Strange 2 a chance, but now, after Episode 3, I’m actively excited to see where the rest of the game goes.
Life is Strange 2 Episode 3
- Available On: PlayStation 4, Xbox One, PC
- Published By: Square Enix
- Developed By: DONTNOD Entertainment
- Genre: Adventure
- US Release Date: May 9th, 2019
- Reviewed On: PlayStation 4
- Quote: "Though it's definitely not without its flaws, "Wastelands" is a huge step in the right direction after the previous episode was pretty lackluster."