When I left off my last review of Telltale’s ongoing Batman season, I was wanting more. Well, turns out I got a lot more of what I wanted in the latest release: What Ails You. The title is incredibly apt in that it’s a deeper dive into each character’s driving factors. It creates an incredibly engaging story that barely needs Batman in it at all.
What’s It About?
What Ails You will drop you into the action just shortly after the events of Fractured Mask. The Pact, the group of rogues that Bruce Wayne has to consider best friends for a temporary period, is on the verge of getting their hands on what they need to literally cure what ails them. Or so they think.
Bruce finds himself in a position to figure out what exactly he wants to do to push the story truly forward. How does he handle his relationship with John, who’s on the verge of being pushed over the edge? How does he handle the shadiness of Amanda Waller? Does he respect what toll everything is taking on Alfred? A lot of these questions are answered without forcing these oddly impossible positions.
Why Should I Care?
As mentioned, the episode barely features Batman. You won’t actually suit up in the armor until the last chapter of the game. But did I feel that I absolutely needed to be anything other than the Bruce Wayne persona throughout? Nope.
The story told through Bruce Wayne’s eyes is so strong and so engaging that it’s hard to want anything else at the time. You’ll get the access to what you are seeing simply by seeing Bruce Wayne. It opens the character’s driving factors much more than if they were around Batman. If that was the case, they’d simply want to be about punching things or blowing buildings up. But around Bruce, they show off their sinister intentions more publicly.
Unsurprisingly, John gets the biggest spotlight as he moves even further into his straight Joker persona, but it’s never at too much of the sacrifice of the other members of the Pact. Harley, Bane, and Freeze are all given at least some opportunities to get their motivations revealed. For how much time the episode has to tell its story, I found myself satisfied with what I got. I would have liked some more Harley content, but this episode had just enough. John’s spotlight was more than earned.
It’s easy to dismiss the Joker in Batman stories because he’s such an easy crutch. I know I personally had that problem with the Arkham series, which I thought relied too much on some Joker elements in Batman: Arkham Origins. But here? The payoff is just way too good. The glimpses into his mind are fantastic. You get to see Bruce’s unease about how to approach his “friend.” You are put into beautifully designed locations that are just so pure Joker, I found myself feeling so much more refreshed with the character. I can’t deny that the way John’s been brought about has so much to do with this. If they had just dropped Peak Joker at the beginning of the season, it would have felt like business as usual. But introducing an unstable man who you are directly influencing makes this characterization so much more satisfying.
And it ultimately allows you to feel the impact of the stressful situations so much more. You’ll feel what ails Bruce a lot more than what’s been seen so far. The impact on Alfred is increased. The impact on Tiffany Fox, Lucius’ daughter, is starting to be felt more directly. Your relationship with Amanda Waller and one of her agents, Iman Avesta, can be strained in other ways. All of this happens without you feeling like you’re questioning why you are even the Batman. And for this story, that confidence in what you’re doing despite all the stress is key.
What Makes It Worth My Time and Money
For an episode that doesn’t bother itself with putting you into the Batman cowl in the Batman series, it’s arguably the best in the season, if not the entire series. Telltale tells an impactful and engaging story that shows off why you can care so much about these storied characters. It dives into the driving factors with just enough plausibility that makes everything so relatable; it allows you to connect with the characters to a healthy enough degree. And that John payoff is just so damn good.
By the end, you can feel that the season is settling so much more into itself that it could have an insanely good payoff. This time, it’ll just be much more under the cowl.