14th May2019

‘Life is Strange 2 – Episode 3: Wastelands’ Review (PS4)

by Xenia Grounds

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It’s been over three months since the last Life is Strange 2 episode. The long wait times between episodes is guaranteed to test the patience of many gamers. The reasoning for these long breaks is to make each episode the best it possibly can be when it’s released. Episode 2 was fine but it’s debatable if it really was worth waiting four months for. In the case of ‘Wastelands’, it’s definitely a stronger episode than its predecessor.

Episode 3 takes place two months after ‘Rules’. Sean and Daniel are in gorgeous California woodlands saving money by working on an illegal weed farm and living with Cassidy and Finn (the two drifters you meet in Episode 2) along with a bunch of runaways and outsiders. However, tensions are running high between the two siblings as Daniel becomes more resentful about life on the run, jealous of Sean’s tendency to spend time with others in the group and annoyed with Sean becoming increasingly sterner about his power. It’s typical younger sibling issues in an already dangerous circumstance but because of Daniel’s power, these issues threaten to become very explosive and harmful for those surrounding a kid who basically becomes a time bomb.

The opening flashback sets up the conflict that Sean and Daniel are currently having which was touched upon in the summary above. However, due to this clash, the two siblings spend more time apart than they have done in previous episodes so you get to see what they’re like when they aren’t around each other so much. I’m pretty sure Daniel will get on the bad side of many people in this episode because he’s very bratty and angry in this episode regardless of how good Sean has been as a brother beforehand. It’s understandable given Daniel is only nine and he hasn’t got the emotional maturity to deal with all the terrible things that have happened properly. Daniel realises his normal childhood is a thing of the past and he doesn’t want to be treated like a kid but he still acts like one. He’s in that angry stage and a lot of Daniel’s mistakes and bad tendencies have consequences for Sean which get progressively worse as the episode goes on. It’s been hinted how Sean’s choices would affect Daniel’s behaviour in ‘Roads’ or ‘Rules’ in the long run but in ‘Wastelands’, you can start to see how your choices have shaped Daniel. Daniel is becoming more defiant because he is more than aware now that he’s capable of doing a lot of damage and it’s truly unsettling to see him dabble with the darker side of using his powers. One scene demonstrating this is when Daniel uses his telekinesis to lift a tree log out of the way but pretends to nearly drop it on Sean as a joke which Sean obviously doesn’t find funny. Daniel knows he is a stronger threat to his older brother at this point and as a player, you find it as worrying as Sean does.

It’s not all drama and conflicts in Episode 3. There are a bunch of new characters to talk to in Episode 3 which takes up most of the runtime. The good thing is these characters are all interesting to talk to. Each has their own backstory and personality to learn more about and it’s fun being able to be part of that camaraderie. The two characters who get the most attention are Cassidy and Finn who I’ll talk more about soon. There are antagonists in this episode like Merrill and his right hand goon, Big Joe. You recognise how dangerous they are because Big Joe has no problem walking around with an armed gun and Merrill has no problem punishing others if they’re disobedient. That said, they aren’t in the episode much to leave a strong impression and you know that they are purely there for the climax of ‘Wastelands’ which I’ll also talk about.

Now we move onto the subject of Cassidy and Finn. If you so desire, one of these characters can serve as Sean’s love interest. I chose Cassidy in my playthrough because I liked the chemistry between her and Sean throughout the episode. Admittedly, it’s very easy to predict what happens in Sean and Cassidy’s romantic arc but that doesn’t mean it’s bad by any means. Sean is shy when it comes to romances and doesn’t recognise he can be quite the catch to some people and even Cassidy points that out. It’s a very cute relationship between him and Cassidy. Cassidy is musical, spontaneous, caring and wild but she lives life to the fullest even in circumstances that aren’t too great so it’s easy to like her as much as Sean does if you choose to go down that path.

I didn’t find out until after the episode was over that Finn and Sean could be a thing so I used my second save file to explore that romance. Judging from how the stats are like at the time of this review, it’s not something that many people have got to see much of either. It’s at 12%. Moving on from that, Finn does flirt with Sean shamelessly in this episode and you must fulfil a certain condition to return his attraction. It is a problem because it involves agreeing to something that you’re not likely to be on board with before it addresses the romantic undertones. That said, it’s great to see Life is Strange 2 explores sexuality as much as the original Life is Strange did and doesn’t shy away from having LGBT characters. Sean’s bisexuality is addressed in a very healthy manner. Sean can say he’s found boys attractive before and is completely comfortable with it. It’s made very clear Sean hasn’t had the chance to explore that side of himself properly and he can get the opportunity to do so with Finn. The whole dynamic feels genuine and is treated like any other romantic storyline. It doesn’t progress at the same speed as the Cassidy romantic arc but it’s realistic writing as this is new territory for Sean so it makes sense that it moves a little slower.

This is another episode that isn’t too focused on gameplay as you spend a lot of time walking around and talking. There are a few mini games and a stealth segment. The mini games are straightforward and inconsequential. It’s basically quick timing trimming weed plants which is intentionally monotonous to reflect the scene but knowing that doesn’t make it any more fun. The stealth aspect is good to play through but it’s ten minutes in a three-hour episode. The episodes where Sean and Daniel are in a place of comfort don’t focus on gameplay much and that might change in Episode 4 if the teaser is anything to go by.

The graphics in ‘Wastelands’ are stellar. It’s the best that this series has ever looked from the lighting, shading and how water looks in this episode blows the pool scene from the original Life is Strange away. It’s like the art design is improving with each episode. LiS is always great with music and there are some great licensed tracks in Episode 3. My personal favourite is ‘Natalie’ by Milk & Bone as it’s like the lyrics were written for the last few minutes of ‘Wastelands’ because it’s a perfect juxtaposition.

Finally is the ending of Episode 3. It is a cliff-hanger ending but it’s a great one even if it’s another one where you don’t have much influence on how it goes. It’s hard to discuss without spoiling but there will be long-lasting effects on Sean and Daniel after the end of this chapter in their story. Both leave this episode with more scars (emotionally and physically) than how they started and I am eagerly anticipating seeing what comes next for them. It was said that this episode has the largest web of interactions and ending results and it feels like it having seen the other endings. It’s hard to know what the best choice was because it feels like going from bad to worse in some cases. It’s great that this ending had left so many people with their jaws on the floor, myself included.

In my review for ‘Roads’, I made a claim that Life is Strange 2 had the potential to be one of the best stories about brotherhood in gaming. Episode 2 faltered that, but Episode 3 has put it back on track and it looks like the story is only going to escalate from here. This is Life is Strange at its best: Diverse, Emotional, Interesting Characters and Meaningful Interactions.

Life is Strange 2 – Episode 3: Wastelands is out now. Episode 4 comes out August 22nd.

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