Only the sharpest of game industry watchers would remember this fact: last year’s multiple Game Of The Year award-winner, The Walking Dead, was first announced as a footnote to the news that Telltale had acquired the license to the DC/Vertigo comic Fables and was planning to create an adventure game around the property. Now the news has come full circle, and the original acquisition has to live up to the phenomenal success that was Telltale's previous release. From the lines and reactions to the game at the Penny Arcade Expo 2013 in Seattle, it doesn't take much to see that Fables: The Wolf Among Us is going to have a happy ending, at least in terms of reviews and sales.
The hands on demo begins with a brief on-screen note that educates the uninitiated into the world of Fables as it existed before the start of the comic book series, the year 1996 to be more exact, if what is gleaned from a bus stop movie poster can be trusted. In particular it notes that non-human fables must have glamor spells cast upon them to appear human and that Sheriff of Fabletown: Bigby Wolf (aka The Big Bad Wolf) is charged with keeping order and with keeping their community's secret from the 'mundane' world.
Starting the game proper, Bigby is summoned to a New York City tenement at the request of Mr. Toad, and while the game doesn't replicate the look of the comic as exactly as The Walking Dead did its characters, the cel-shaded people and animals are more fluid and expressive in their motions. Toad is outside of his home in his natural talking-frog form and via a dislodge select system (again similar to The Walking Dead) Bigby admonishes him with varying levels of aggression to pay what he owes to the witches of Fabletown to get his glamor working or else he'll be sent to The Farm, an upstate colony of non-human Fables. Toad's complaints about a recent price increase for glamors hint at a possible subplot involving Fabletown's magical community, the home of some fan-favorite Fables. Also, just as in this game's spiritual ascendant, as you progress you are informed that the characters will remember how you treated them with your words and deeds.
Finally Toad ushers Bigby upstairs to address the issue he was called out to deal with. While an argument rages between a man and a woman inside an apartment, Bigby has a moment to play detective; picking up objects on the floor with a new ring-based interaction system and a deeper inventory system.
After choosing to knock or just bust the door down, Bigby enters just in time to see his old storybook foe The Woodsman slap an unknown woman across the face. Any attempt to talk down (or conversely talk up) the situation results in a brawl between Bigby and The Woodsman, the latter of which continually brags how he once cut Bigby open to save Red Riding Hood before filling his belly with stones and almost killing the Sheriff in a situation that was objectively a long, long time ago in a land far, far away.
Here a drunk Woodsman is no real match for Bigby even with his magical ax, and the fight consists not just of standard QTE interactions, but options to take the fight in different directions like throwing your opponent into a bookcase or the sink.
The Woodsman is ultimately defenestrated, but when Bigby confronts the woman about the situation, she is coy, though it is revealed that she was hired by The Woodsman at least in part for him to ask her about how well she knows his story, implying that the established in-universe fact that the popularity of a Fable among the mundane population of Earth directly effects their fortunes and power.
Outside, Bigby checks on The Woodsman only to find him revived and eager to choke the life out of the Sheriff. Just before he is able to do so however, the woman buries the ax in the back of The Woodsman's skull, ending the demo.
“Choice. Choice is huge,” explained Telltale developers Nick Herman and Dennis Lenart when asked what they had learned from their experience with The Walking Dead, “Making small choices, making big choices and having that effect all the characters and your relationships,” Herman continues, “People read into everything. Even the smallest choices; people project themselves onto them and try to dissect what that means. So we gave more of that to the player. Even in the fight scene there is more choice.”
“It got to the point that [Bill Willingham] trusted us,” Herman explains when asked about the Fables creator’s input into the game's story. The Telltale representatives explain that they worked with Willingham closely in the beginning to flesh out the story but as the work went on, his approvals came quicker and quicker.
Part One of Fables: The Wolf Among Us will be released as a downloadable title for PC and major consoles in late September of this year.