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Amid the Ruins Review (Spoilers a Plenty, Be Warned)
Just to be clear, I've only recently finished my first playthrough and therefore I haven't explored every possible option. So I apologize in advance for any points I bring up in which I may be misinformed.
Clementine: As usual, it's always interesting to see just how far the story and choices can shape Clementine's character. While events in the story are often set in stone, the possibilities the players are given regarding Clementine's personality make her more than the blank slate a character in that position could be. The dialogue options could easily lean too far towards innocence and ruthlessness, but the options are pretty well balanced and usually make perfect sense within the context of an given situation.
Kenny: As with many people, I found myself concerned over Kenny's mental state following In Harms Way, and for good reason. So why is it that people are so attached to such a damaged, antagonistic character? Because no matter what, he's somehow able to keep it together just enough to remain an indispensable asset to the group. However, the danger is that if he doesn't have something, or usually someone to fight for, he runs the risk of going too far over the edge. Whether or not Clementine is enough to keep him going is debatable, but the birth of Rebecca's baby seems to have cemented his resolve for the time being.
Jane: So, mysterious Loner, navigates hazardous terrain through unconventional means, constantly emphasizes the importance of self sufficiency, dead sister, and abandons established group. Working off that list, is there anything that significantly distinguishs Jane from Molly at this point? If so, I'm not really seeing it. All the same, her relationship with Clem sets the stage for some of the best moments in the game. They challenge each other, they have disagreements that don't escalate into Lee vs Kenny moments, and they both benefit from the time they spend with each other. Even the moment with Luke had potential, even if it was clearly just a fling for her. Despite her belief in the weakness of numbers, it was fascinating to see those beliefs challenged. This episode could've drastically improved if given a choice between convincing her to stay and letting her leave, although I feel that there's not enough reason to let her go.
Luke: Up until now, as likable as he is, Luke has been a bit of a mary sue. It's good to see this episode tear away at that a bit. He loses his cool, he makes mistakes, and unlike the previous deaths where he mostly felt for others, he was genuinely affected by the deaths in this episode, particularly Nick. Though his fling with Jane doesn't justify endagering the group, it is understandable that he would want at least one moment of levity. I would've liked to have seen that relationship evolve, but when a season 1 idea works you may as well recycle it. That's what I'm picking up on from Telltale.
Sarah: An effective death, but to my mind a wasted opporunity. Valid arguments can be made that 1) her inevitable death completely invalidates the effort of saving her the first time and robs her of the chance to prove herself and 2) that it reinforces the idea that not every situation can be controlled and that not everyone can be saved, thus making it all the more effective. All the same, the series has a bit of a shortage in terms of good kid characters (I know she's teenaged, but I'd definitely say she still counts). And why wouldn't anyone think to have her help out with Rebecca? I would've preferred that her ultimate fate be made a matter of choice between her and someone else.
Nick: Probably my biggest problem with this episode. Was there really a point to making his fate determinant twice if he was never going to impact the story or do anything significant if avoiding death? I suppose you could argue that his sudden death in Amid the Ruins serves to impact Luke's character, but that could be accomplished without giving someone a less unceremonious death than Chuck. I personally would've made it a split decision between saving him or Sarah, in which I would've chosen Sarah. I get that not everyone goes out in a blaze of glory, but an offscreen death just seems like the laziest way to go.
Rebecca: Putting up with the pregnancy plot was well worth it for the cliffhanger in this episode, which may well be the best the game has ever pulled off.
Bonnie: Even though there was a lot going on, it seems odd that no one else brought up the fact that Bonnie's the one who led Carver to them. I'd say she did earn points for helping them escape, but for a guy like Kenny who can pick a fight over just about anything, as well as a pregnant moarning Rebecca, it feels like a missed opportunity. Apart from voicing her concerns to Clem, Bonnie doesn't really do much in this episode. Still waiting on the buildup from 400 days to pay off.
Mike: Similar to Bonnie, Mike doesn't seem to have much to do apart from providing extra muscle. I recall a theory, as well as a bit of photographic evidence, that indicated he was one of the bandits that attacked Clem and Christa. That, or anything else about how he ended up at Howe's Hardware would've been welcome.
Arvo: I can safely say that when I pictured the next antagonist following Carver, Arvo was definitely not the first thing that came to mind. If only it had been less obvious that he would end up as an antagonist. It seems pretty obvious by now that he was lying about that sick sister since he comes after you even if you didn't take the meds (I didn't, though I wonder if that factors in to Rebecca's fate. I'm curious). I get the sense that Arvo is pretty much the Ben Paul of his group, which may indicate that the ambush isn't entirely on him. His introduction does provide an interesting moral dilemma for Clementine. Clearly letting him go will have consequences, but going through with robbing (or killing?) him just aggravates the situation, so the possibility that he's a threat becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy. Either way, Arvo's got my attention.
Conclusion: If it seems like I'm being overly harsh on this episode, let me make it clear that I still enjoyed it. Any criticisms I have are based on the standards the series has already set. But as many have pointed out, the game offers the illusion of choice while largely adhering to a strict, predetermined narrative. Based on my observations, the main differences determined by choice apply to few lines of dialogue, mostly amonst the NPCs. Otherwise you seem to spend your time flipping a coin and having it always land on heads. This was less of a problem with the 1st season because it hadn't really been done before, but it's beginning to wear out it's welcome in the 2nd. But as with the majority of the franchise on whole, the saving grace of this episode really is the story and the characters. While the irrelvantce of player choice is an issue that will need to be dealt with, I'll continue to play based on those merits, or at the very least I intend to see this season through to it's conclusion.