Finally, the release that no one expected to actually happen. Back in September and before the release of the second episode, developer Telltale Games announced their untimely closing with all their employees being let go without even severance pay, a disastrous mistake of planning on Telltale’s part. However, thanks to the efforts of new publisher Skybound Games, the once-forborne developers have returned to wrap up Clementine’s story in the right way. And fortunately, outside of some clunky, derivative sequences of dialogue, this third episode, Broken Toys rejuvenates the season’s overarching arc, blending intense set pieces, meaningful character dynamics, and explosive consequences that will surely shake the story beyond the simple “illusion of decision” trick that Telltale was famous for. It’s easily the best episode that this playable season has ever seen, bringing a level of quality unseen outside of some of the developer’s best work in the first season of The Walking Dead and Batman: The Enemy Within.
However, while this third episode makes some remarkable improvements, possibly due to the boosted moral of the developers, it still retains some of the issues that ultimately led to Telltale’s untimely demise. There are multiple moments of stale, derivative storytelling with events that can be seen a mile away. And it seems that the season’s writers still never know when enough is enough when it comes to showing not telling. Plastered throughout the lengthy episode are clunky sequences of dialogue that do nothing to bolster the story, instead only distract it. It feels as if the writers felt the urge to bluff the episode as long as possible almost to the point of breakage, before the timely and well-executed conclusion that will leave players anxious and hungry for the fourth and final episode.
In addition to the story, the gameplay, while still showing the same improvement that the season has over its predecessor, doesn’t show any remarkable improvements in either design or performance. Missions still boil down to quick-time events and searching for an item through mutinous controls, and performance is somewhat unreliable with frame rate drops consistent. These technical inconsistencies don’t drastically alter the quality of the episode, but are rather a nudging nitpick especially during the drawn-out middle portion.
But while these issues are prevalent and constant reminders of the stretch marks that the series has endured, the vastly improved storytelling outweighs them considerably. More than any other episode, the world is fleshed out and explored in new and exciting ways. One particular moment involving Clementine walking amongst Walkers proved to be emotional and a potential turning point for the character. It’s a unique direction that I hope Skybound continues with into the fourth and final episode. And despite the character models appearing more jagged than I would like, the art direction still works, allowing moments such as these to breath with flourish.
Characterization is also a vast improvement. Some devastating consequences of choices from previous episodes will be resonant throughout Broken Toys, pushing the so-proclaimed “illusion of choice” into new territory that feels more dynamic. Rather than the weakened stakes from the second episode following the shocking conclusion of episode one, episode three is bold with its choices and makes each interactive decision something meaningful. Within these decisions, eliminated are the black-and-white impressions where one answer is clearly right. The writers chose moral situations that Clementine can shape, and effectively shape all the characters around her, including AJ.
As for where the fourth and final episode is heading towards, I’m still mostly unsure, a refreshing impression from a Telltale episode. But with an extended flashback halfway through the game with an old fan-favorite that tore on heartstrings, I am more than prepared for the inevitable conclusion. Episode three: Broken Toys is a riveting and enjoyable penultimate chapter to something that has been promised to be exceptional and deeply resonant. Whether Skybound Games and the remaining coalition of Telltale developers can accomplish such a feat, remains to be seen.
Score: 8.1 out of 10
After years on the road facing threats both living and dead, a secluded school might finally be Clementine’s chance for a home in THE WALKING DEAD: THE FINAL SEASON. But protecting it will mean sacrifice. Clem must build a life and become a leader while still watching over AJ, an orphaned boy and the closest thing to family she has left. In EPISODE THREE: "BROKEN TOYS," Clementine is going to war. With the help of a strange new ally, she makes a final stand against a ghost from her past to save her kidnapped friends. All the while, AJ is watching her every move. "BROKEN TOYS" brings fans of TELLTALE’S THE WALKING DEAD one step closer to the gripping and emotional end to Clementine’s story.
THE WALKING DEAD: THE FINAL SEASON EPISODE 3 - BROKEN TOYS is available now on Xbox One, PlayStation 4, Nintendo Switch, and PC.