Much like how the previous episode of Life is Strange 2 felt suspiciously like a delayed Christmas adventure, Episode 3: Wastelands feels like it just missed out on a much more fitting April 20 launch. If the long gaps in this season’s release schedule are meant to mirror the story’s year-round journey, it’d be nice if the episodes weren’t a few weeks behind being seasonally appropriate.
This episode also mirrors the last one structurally, as we’re again treated to a slow single location story. Sean and Daniel have spent the last month camping in the woods of California with a group of young vagabonds, spending their days working for an illegal pot farming installation to earn money for the next leg of their journey. Despite the rough living conditions, there’s a sense of comfort in how welcoming this small community has been to our protagonists. They’re colorful oddballs with interesting stories and distinct personalities, making all the optional interactions with them particularly engaging. Despite the fun new cast and great character writing, trapping the Diaz brothers in a daily routine kills the narrative’s forward momentum. The conditions of their day job are a source of tension, but the job itself so uninteresting the game depicts it with a long, monotonous QTE sequence. Back at camp Sean spends his time developing friendships and/or romances with his peers, leaving Daniel by the wayside. Most of the episode feels too distant from the main conflict, even more so than last episode as there were still stakes hiding out in modern society. This episode is basically an “average teenager” simulator that, drug dealing aside, could have easily fit before the tragic events in Seattle. While the characters keep it engaging, it’s hard to imagine these relationships having a lasting impact down the line.
The true narrative progression of the episode is the growing tension between the Diaz brothers. Daniel hates working, hates his brother spending time with others and hates their plan to go to Mexico. Their fights are growing beyond simple sibling squabbles, especially since Daniel’s control over his powers is only getting stronger. Even the most basic of interactions with Daniel carry a greater sense of weight; you try to do right by him, but still feel him getting more distant. The episode’s climax is sudden and quick, but easily the highlight of the series thus far. Each time the game paused for a major decision I was left dumbstruck, wary of my next move. While the major story beat won’t change, the scene can play out in numerous ways based on your heat-of-the-moment actions and Daniels’ current status. It’s amazing what a good ending can do; the episode seemed like the least important yet, but those final moments are a much-needed jolt that now has me anxiously awaiting what comes next.
Life is Strange 2: Episode 3: Wastelands was developed by Dontnod and published by Square Enix. It was released May 9, 2019 as part of the season pass.