In the previous episode of Life Is Strange 2, Sean Diaz laid out rules regarding his younger brother Daniel’s use of his mysterious Force-like abilities. Daniel, who is nine years old, is perpetually in conflict with himself because he’s enamored by the power and has learned to control it, now capable of calling upon it at will. He doesn’t share his brother’s view that he needs to hide it from other people, especially when it could really come in useful. Depending on how you’re playing the story, Daniel’s rule breaking could be treated with a slap on the wrist or admonished with a firm talking to by his older brother. I’ve been role-playing Sean as someone who knows that his brother has a special gift but he has to be careful with it. It’s natural, I suppose, that the result of me pushing hard on Daniel has now created tension among the siblings.
“Wastelands” sees Sean and Daniel having fled Beaver Creek and rode the rails south to carry out the plan of running away to Puerto Lobos in Mexico. This is a good opportunity to tell you that if you haven’t been keeping up with Sean’s journal, you really need to start now. Not only is it a treasure trove of his wonderful sketches, but it also recounts what happened to them in between episodes, charting a difficult trek that led them to live with a commune of hippies, stoners, and social outcasts who earn money by working at a shady, illegal marijuana farm. Before getting into that, the episode opens with a flashback to three months before the incident that forced Sean and Daniel on the run. It sets the tone of the episode, with the boys getting into a fight that ends with Daniel expressing his frustration that Sean, who is getting older and more independent, is spending less time with him and more with his peers and that they don’t play together anymore. Daniel’s jealousy and loneliness comes back to the forefront and while Sean was able to talk him down once before, Daniel has his power now. And he’s also becoming arrogant.
Episode three represents the “dark middle chapter” of Life Is Strange 2. Although Sean and Daniel are content among the troubled but free spirits, sharing chores and swapping stories underneath the canopy of a lush Californian forest, there’s an edge and a feeling of unease, especially any time Big Joe enters the picture and delivers the camp to their work assignment. Big Joe is a white man, an assault rifle toting enforcer for Merrill, a well-dressed and faux-sophisticated pot dealer working under orders to harvest the crop. Merrill and Big Joe run a tight ship, routinely yelling and threatening their laborers to keep them in line. The long and tedious work allows the episode to flesh out its new cast which includes Cassie and Finn, whom Daniel met at the Beaver Creek Christmas tree farm in the previous episode. The men and women have their own reasons for being there, be it to get away from big city life, to work through a crisis of faith, or because they have no where else to go. Sean makes friends easily with the crew, even sparking a budding romance, which drives a wedge between his relationship with Daniel. While Sean hobnobs with everyone, the impressionable Daniel becomes a hanger-on to Finn, whose freewheeling attitude inadvertently causes friction, leading the two brothers to have the exact same fight from the beginning of the episode.
I called Sean and Daniel’s relationship with each other the best thing about Life Is Strange 2, which helps to really differentiate it from the previous game. Wastelands is the game’s finest episode yet as it challenges that relationship further because Daniel is far more eager to push back and act of his own accord. We get shades that this kid might actually be dangerous in a scene where Daniel pulls out a massive tree stump faster than Yoda could lift an X-Wing out of a swamp. I was left questioning the “tough but fair” decisions I’ve been making up to this point because I’m seeing Daniel get away from Sean. But the thing is, I also recognized the friendships Sean was making with the likes of Ingrid, Cassie, Penny, Finn, and the rest of the crew. This is the first time in a long time that Sean came in contact with people in and around his peer group so I had a tendency to let him throw his hair down a little bit, leading to a well-deserved romance option. This moment was the true calm before the storm as a really, really bad idea is acted upon that has serious and troubling ramifications for Sean. And judging by the teaser for episode four, things aren’t likely to get any better.
We’ve reached the climax of Life Is Strange 2 and the rollercoaster ride down is liable to be a rocky one. This is definitely one of the better episodes in the game because there’s real danger here. Sean and Daniel have been doing pretty OK for themselves but this is the first time things felt truly unpredictable. The episode has a real sense of agency and urgency, that the boy’s peaceful living space could easily be disrupted at a moment’s notice. Their campsite may not be comfortable and have working plumbing, but the crew make it all work and build themselves a nice community that could easily be destroyed. It didn’t happen, but during every night time sequence, I was expecting the campsite to be raided by police or see Big Joe come running with his dogs and pointing a gun in Daniel’s face. Their stay in Beaver Creek was a visit to Disneyland compared to the drug farm, which includes an overly long minigame that doesn’t serve a purpose outside of giving you another bullet point to the “results” screen. “Wastelands” is great because it marks a real turning point in the story and offers an ending that promises to seriously test the Diaz brother’s resolve.
Librarian by day, Darkstation review editor by night. I've been playing video games since the days of the Commodore 64 and I have no interest in stopping now that I've made it this far.