While sometimes taking a back seat to others, the underlying focus to Telltale’s The Walking Dead series has been Clementine. Her story started six years ago when Lee came across a scared little girl. Now, her story perhaps reaches its end with The Walking Dead: The Final Season. Clementine is back in the spotlight in Episode 1, Done Running. She’s found her beloved AJ and is now in a position to be his parental figure. But of course, there’s a new world to start exploring with her taking charge.
What’s It About?
Done Running picks up with Clementine and AJ on the road. Some time has passed since the events of The New Frontier and Clementine has settled into her pseudo mentor/parental role with AJ. You get the opportunity to take much of what Lee taught Clementine and apply it to AJ, but plenty else will have an impact on his development (more on that later).
When Clementine and AJ come across a train station loaded with supplies, things naturally go sideways. They survive a car crash with the help of a group of young adults and children who have turned an old school into their camp. From there, Clementine must decide how she and AJ will integrate into the group and with their leader, Marlon. There are nearly a dozen survivors, none of whom are likely past the age of 15 or 16. It creates an entirely different dynamic in some respects.
At least tentatively integrated, Clementine must navigate through the personalities, concerns, hunts, survival tactics, and more, while setting some type of an example for AJ.
Why Should I Care?
With the experience of several Telltale games under my belt, including the entirety of The Walking Dead to this point, I never felt the level of depth in a single episode like I did with Done Running. The story is fairly rich and the themes are more intense coming from the view of children.
It starts with how you develop your relationship with AJ. There’s clearly something there, but you get to refine it over the course of the episode. The choices you make have an impact not just on how you relate to those around you, but also how AJ integrates. Does he become sympathetic, hardened, or balanced? You get to decide through your choices and what choices you guide him through. Early on, you get to build his relationships with the children around him. It’s an interesting dynamic and shows a widened impact your decision making can have with the in-game world.
There’s a good amount of time to build up relationships and get to know your situation. With that Telltale experience, I fully expected to have the episode last around 90 minutes; 2 hours max. It took me nearly 2 hours to get through the first act of this episode. It moves at a slower pace, which can sometimes work against the game, but ultimately doesn’t drag too much. It allows you to settle into things, explore more, and get to know the new world better. There’s plenty to look into with the number of children around, but most of the focus will end up with just a select few. As the newcomer, you get to decide how much of your previous attitude and story carries over into this situation. I liked how much you’re able to revisit concepts from the first season in this episode without going overboard. It didn’t feel like some love letter to a “better time;” it felt like a developed character bringing her experience and depth to the table.
Some of the ideas and themes throughout the episode are familiar enough: operating within safe zones, internal squabbling, privacy, and such. But they are arguably stronger because they are coming through the eyes of these children. None of them should really be in the positions they’re in, but all of them are the product of their respective environments. Clementine and AJ have come from broken groups and a wide range of adult attitudes. The children at the school have been actively abandoned by adults and have had to survive on their own, losing a few along the way. The capacity of dealing with the stresses and the decision making is stretched even thinner among this group of hardened but still hopeful minds. The attitudes of those around Clementine are far different than what she’s seen. One kid, Louis, is some general ray of sunshine, spending much of his time singing or schmoozing. It’s because, at the end of the day, they’re all still just kids. Their grouping allows them to explore that side of themselves.
Mechanically, there are a handful of refinements to the game that I liked, but didn’t quite like in some areas. The impactful choices that will change relationships or actually matter to the story are denoted with a slightly different color than those that are more casual. It actually relieved some levels of stress when needing to make conversation choices because I knew whatever I said probably wasn’t going to bite me later. I really liked the relationship building through AJ, but you don’t actually get to use him in any sort of fighting situations. He’s noted as a good shot, but you only control Clementine. With her, you can choose to kill or stun/kill. That actually added a different level of challenge to the game. For example, you can stun a walker, but in the time you would take to kill it, would that leave you open to another walker’s attack? Or if you go straight for the kill, does it take too long and now you’re being wrapped up by a walker? I liked the flows here, but sometimes the flow of general interaction felt clunky. Gone is the reticule of vision. Instead, you need to make a more pointed effort to interact with items, which felt strained at times. There’s a new collectible system in place too, but it seemed to just be some low-level additional option that didn’t seem to add much; I could do without it.
What Makes It Worth My Time and Money?
As mentioned, I never felt like I got so much out of a single Telltale episode than I have out of Done Running. Sure, there have been the great emotional moments in their series or awesome action sequences, but end to end, Done Running just does so much in such a good way. You’ll easily get several hours of gameplay out of this episode and feel a much better sense of investment. It doesn’t feel like a cog to the rest; it’s a good story in its own right and a great establishment of the final season’s story. It does so much for the character development of Clementine. This goes a long way to further prove why she’s such a fantastic character and why she’s worthy of being the star of this final season.