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access_time May 14, 2019 at 8:30 AM in Microsoft by David Poole

Review | Life is Strange 2 — Episode Three: Wastelands

The story of Life is Strange 2 continues with the third episode, titled Wastelands. The Diaz brothers were last seen on the run after briefly staying with their grandparents. Wastelands has a little time pass by and has us see the brothers taken into a group of drifters. The brothers face more conflict than ever before, but some technical issues hurt the overall experience. We’re just over halfway through this season and we’re about six months away from the finale. Can Dontnod’s tale of two brothers keep the momentum going? Or is it starting to lose steam? As this is a narrative based game, there may be minor spoilers in this review. Reader discretion is advised.

Three episodes in, I’m finding myself with the desire to see more of the plot between episodes. Each episode has a number of months between them and it feels like so much of the story is being skipped. While the actual episode narrative may be the most relevant, it’s starting to show some downsides. Wastelands does do something a bit different than the second episode, providing a playable flashback for the first time. With this flashback, we get to see more of the home life of the brothers before the plot of the game started. It’s nice to see more of what “normal” was like for them, even if it’s only for a brief moment. It’s pretty reminiscent of the humble beginnings of the first episode.

After the flashback, players are brought to a campsite with the various drifters Sean and Daniel have met. Finn and Cassidy return from the previous episode, being major characters in the group. The rest of the characters, not so much. Life is Strange 2 has been at its best with the “less is more” approach. Previous episodes didn’t introduce a lot of new characters all at once. It always had a gradual pace that made it easier to follow. Wastelands introduces five new characters at the campsite alone, making it rather difficult to process all the personalities. While Finn and Cassidy maintain relevance, the others are mostly unnecessary.

The people in this group all have one main thing in common: they all work on a pot farm. Under the strict management of Merrill and the cruel supervision of Big Joe, the drifters make the best of their situation. As mentioned, Merrill is strict on his workers, and due to Finn’s referral, he gives Sean and Daniel a job on his farm. He doesn’t fully accept the idea of having a 9-year-old like Daniel work with marijuana, so he puts a lot more pressure on Sean. Merrill’s character in general seems to be somewhat inconsistent. One moment, he’ll be nice and understanding, and the next, he’ll show a sadistic side. At least Big Joe seems more consistent, even if he is a big jerk. Without spoiling too much, it’s best to let players see for themselves.

Also speaking of the pot farm, there’s one part in particular that just feels cumbersome. When the player first arrives, they’ll end up pruning marijuana plants. The sequence acts as a sort of minigame, but it’s not very fun, and the payoff isn’t very rewarding. A counter on the side of the screen will count how many plants were trimmed and every so often, players will want to clean the scissors. Cutting is performed in a timed rhythm, alternating between triggers at the right moments. All of this is done at a table while other characters have a conversation, much to the chagrin of Big Joe. As mentioned before, it’s just not a very fun sequence and it feels somewhat out of place.

Most of the episode takes place on or near the campsite, and while there are a lot of characters to balance, there are some big moments in Wastelands. Sean and Daniel have a powerful moment at a nearby lake that can potentially improve their brotherly bond. Players will even get to explore Sean’s sexuality, getting a lot of freedom to express Sean the way they feel he can be. Things get really interesting and intense later on in the episode as well. It really builds potential for the next episode, which unfortunately won’t be for a few months. Hopefully the next episode goes back to basics by having less characters, or at least finds a way to balance them more efficiently. This is Sean and Daniel’s story, and Wastelands almost makes that easy to forget.

As mentioned earlier, this episode has some technical issues. During my sessions, I found animation glitches and sound bugs. While nothing was game breaking, the biggest problem I faced was a dog at the drifter camp. To get the question out of the way, yes, you can pet the dog. Regardless, the dog will follow you around camp early on, and unfortunately, his scripting allows him to get in the way of cutscene cameras. There was a moment where Sean and Daniel were having a discussion and a good portion of my vision was just “dog”. Again, it’s not game breaking, but it’s an oversight that I feel should’ve been seen during testing.

Music is great like always, though Wastelands does spice things up a bit with the licensed tracks. “On Melancholy Hill” by Gorillaz plays during the flashback sequence, giving a fitting theme to a past that the boys can never return to. A bit of an unexpected song, “D.A.N.C.E” by Justice plays and brings a more uplifting mood to the forefront. Getting back to the indie music, we’re treated to Milk & Bone’s “Natalie” and Ben Lee’s “I’m Willing”, both setting the tone for their respective sequences. Life is Strange is well known for musical sequences, though this episode was lacking a traditional “sit down” moment.

Overall, Wastelands is a small bump in the Life is Strange 2 road. The story is still engaging enough to keep players going, but perhaps this episode was too ambitious. Too many characters and not enough substance with them to give a lasting impression. Regardless of technical issues, the presentation is still solid and players are given more impactful decisions. With the ending of the episode, there’s still a sign of interesting things to come. Straying away from the brotherhood theme a bit, Wastelands does well to encourage the player to want it back.

Final Score: 6.5 out of 10

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