Penultimate episodes, when executed well, can be the unsung heroes of an inconsistent season. Their job is to lead into the season finale, and manage to keep the excitement high yet manageable, all without prematurely ending all the individual story threads that the season was busy weaving together. Episode 4 of Telltale’s Guardians of the Galaxy manages to walk this tightrope with authority, all while providing some truly emotional moments that have me questioning just how in the world they are going to bring this thing back to a recognizable status quo.
As with all reviews of Telltale games, spoilers will follow. I will attempt to keep them light, but talking about the episode, especially one like this, in just broad generalities is no fun. If you don’t wish to go any further, here’s your TL;DR: Who Needs You is easily the best episode so far, showing just how far someone will go to keep a family together, even if it means letting it fall apart.
As they do, Episode 4 begins right where Episode 3 left off. The Guardians, having found their way into the Eternity Forge’s main antechamber, were attacked Hala and her Kree in the process of either powering/destroying the Forge. Being the embodiment of Video Game Jesus, I chose to destroy the Forge, which in turn led to Hala absorbing the power herself. Whether or not she received all of it is a matter for the final episode, but we know just from her interaction with a member of her crew, that she can kill with a touch.
Hala’s insanity ends up tearing the room apart, with the Guardians tumbling down a huge hole into some caverns. What follows next is about an hour and a half of character building in the form of arguments between Rocket, Gamora and Peter, a flashback into Drax’s past by way of Mantis, and an amazing set piece involving the Milano escaping from a giant Rock Worm.
Drax’s flashback is the easiest to talk about, mainly because it's a simple scene involving a dad and his daughter. Teaching her what it means to walk the path of a warrior, Drax is preparing Kamaria for some kind of right of passage. When the scene starts, we are in the middle of a lesson in deception, as Kamaria catches Drax with a trap while he is hunting for her. He then brings her to the edge of a rock overhang, and explains that part of being a warrior is dealing with the unknown. What follows is a beautifully quiet moment, where Drax gets to enjoy what just might be his last embrace with his daughter. As a dad, it was easy to appreciate the scene, as I often wonder what that day will be like when my boys make their way into the world. It’s also incredible to see Drax in this situation, as he’s often responsible for breaking the tension through comic relief, and rarely if ever actually allowed a true dramatic moment.
The giant rock worm escape is not without its share of dramatic moments, but also serves as possibly the greatest action set piece Guardians has had yet. Everyone is involved, be it Peter and his jet boot shenanigans forcing him to make quick fixes while the Milano is in flight, Drax and Groot clearing out rock worms from the main living area, or Rocket just running his mouth (Nolan North normally does a stand out job as Rocket, and episode 4 is no exception) while flying the ship. I’m not sure how different choices influence the ending, but it is absolutely one of the saddest, most affecting moments Telltale has written. Involving the death of one of the Guardians, and I am torn mess at this moment, desperate to know if the death remains (it can’t!) and how we get back to normal after this. Leading right into the ending of the episode, this moment sets the tone for the finale.
The final set of moments that I mentioned is the continued bickering between Peter, Rocket, and Gamora. While I don’t question Rocket arguing every single issue that comes up, sometimes just for the heck of it, other times to defend his own interests, Gamora, with the recruitment of Nebula as a Guardian and the events of this episode, places an undue amount of stress on Peter keeping the group together. The hurt she’s dealing with is played subtly, with her emotional escalations and outbursts rising through the episode until she has an “I just can’t” that sets the stage for quite the apology in Episode 5. Peter is left to pick up what pieces he can, and Telltale has been brilliant in the build up to these fights, at least how I see it, as my decision to stay close to Rocket when the group splits up to explore the caverns was a direct reflection of how I felt I mistreated him earlier in the story.
Family has always been at the crux of Guardian stories, and as Gamora puts it before the episode comes to a close, “sometimes family sucks.” With one episode left, I am at an absolute loss as to how this adventure is going to come to a close, and how, with who has been lost along the way, any kind of status quo can be reached. I was shocked when we killed Thanos in episode 1, and am still shaken by Episode 4’s conclusion. How do Peter and the rest of the Guardians come back from this?
Episode 4, Who Needs You, has done its job. Now all that left is to see if Telltale can finish with a season finale worthy of this fantastic buildup.
Reviewer and Editor for Darkstation by day, probably not the best superhero by night. I mean, look at that costume. EEK!