While I adored the original Life is Strange, I can’t deny just how badly it fell apart in its finale. After four episodes of increasing quality, the ending buckled under the pressure with a haphazard mess of rushed characterization, dangling plot threads and sloppy time travel solutions. My big fear was that Life is Strange 2 would follow in the footsteps of its predecessor, but thankfully it managed to stick the landing. Maybe it’s because telekinesis is a lot more straightforward a superpower than time travel?
The episode begins like any other – the brothers are on another leg of their journey, a few weeks and a few hundred miles from where we last left them. This time they’re hiding out in a reclusive community in the middle of the Arizona desert, which finally puts them within striking distance of the Mexican border. They’ve been taken in by a group of adults who’re all trying to start a new life; they’re a kind bunch, but feel too much like the adult equivalent of the runaway teens from Episode Three. The game usually does low-key moments well, but aside from a couple highlights with known characters it feels like the game’s just going through the motions. The Diaz’s time here is also a bit short, making the emotional goodbyes to these new faces feel a bit unearned. Before long they’re off to complete their journey, and that’s when the game really kicks into high gear.
The back half of the episode is the finale this season so rightly deserved. It distills the season’s core themes of freedom and brotherly love into climax that is not monumentally epic in terms of action, but with unbearable stress, moral complexity and emotional catharsis. The ending’s most impressive flourish is one that’s not obvious until after the credits roll: the gut-wrenching choices you’re faced with may appear binary, but Daniel has just as much say as you in how his story ends. He’s learned a lot from you throughout this journey, and now he’s actively putting those lessons to use. Your decisions are now only part of the equation, as Daniel will also react to the situation in a variety of possible ways. His actions often felt so natural to the story I thought they were scripted moments everyone will see; it wasn’t until reading the after-credits statistics that I realized what happened under the hood. The way you built Sean and Daniel’s relationship since Episode One truly mattered in determining the outcome, making this the most impressive ending I’ve seen in any story-based game.
Most similar games can leave you deflated when you consider how little you actually altered the story, but this is the only one that left me feeling like I actually was in control, and therefore more culpable for how it ended.
Life is Strange 2: Episode 5: Wolves was developed by Dontnod and published by Square Enix. It was released December 3, 2019 as part of the season pass.