The wait for Episode 2: Rules is finally over, but it has been an agonizing experience waiting for the episode. When the first Life Is Strange was released in 2015, co-director Michel Koch revealed at E3 that Dontnod Entertainment aimed for each episode to launch in the “same [release] window of eight weeks.” This time around, however, the French studio has been unable to meet the same levels of consistency. Episode 1: Roads debuted in September last year and kicked off the episodic adventure series with the best opener possible. Fast-forward to January and the second episode has arrived. Truthfully, it can feel like a distant memory since players followed Sean and Daniel Diaz on the beginning of their journey, but it also left Dontnod with a bigger challenge: to once again build momentum for Life Is Strange 2, especially after a long period of waiting. Sure, most fans would return to the series after Episode 1: Roads’ fantastic storytelling, but if there is another couple of months before the third untitled episode is released, then Episode 2: Rules would have to leave its mark on players. While that is no easy task — it couldn’t be with how excellent the first episode was — it’s safe to say that Episode 2: Rules is a well-thought-out story from start to finish.
Just like Life Is Strange, Dontnod has continued to place the central theme of Life Is Strange 2’s episodes in its respective titles. The sequel, however, does benefit from how simple the choice of one word can define the entire storytelling experience. Case in point: the notion of rules is the perfect way to pick up the story after Episode 1: Roads’ climactic ending. From the moment that Episode 2: Rules kicks off, Sean is well aware of the consequences of Daniel’s newfound power. As Sean continues to resume his active duties of being a big brother, he quickly recognizes that his teachings are worthless without instilling rules for his younger brother to follow. Unlike Life Is Strange protagonist Max Caulfield, who never had to develop her time-bending powers, players are treated to an amazing experience where they are instrumental in teaching Daniel to unlock his real potential. Remember, though: all of those lessons come with following the rules, which Sean lays down to Daniel time and time again to ensure that his power is kept hidden from others and only used when it is absolutely necessary.
The idea of rules perfectly encapsulates Sean and Daniel’s relationship in the second episode. Depending on the choices made by players, they can feel frustrated with how Daniel doesn’t follow Sean’s instructions and decides to break the rules. It’s only reinforced by the fact that Dontnod put forward the question before the release of the episode about whether a nine-year-old boy would respect the rules or not, especially when they have discovered a unique superhero-like power is at their disposal. It allows players to project themselves onto Sean, assuming that big brother role and the challenge it can be when he is selflessly sacrificing everything to protect Daniel. In fact, it is shown in one of Episode 2: Rules’ most poignant scenes, with Sean stepping outside for a smoke when their puppy, Mushroom, needs to do her business. Life Is Strange 2’s protagonist decides to stretch out his hand in a Daniel-esque way to see if he also has his own form of power and fails to do anything. The brothers retain their brilliant chemistry in the episode, too, with different scenes continuing to develop on their relationship and showing where the cracks have started to emerge. Just how fans adored Max’s relationship with Chloe Price, Sean and Daniel continue to build that same lasting impression on players over the course of the episode.
With Daniel falling ill on their journey, the two brothers must put their plans of returning to their family’s hometown of Puerto Lobos, Mexico on hold. It’s from here where players stop at their grandparents’ home and two new characters are introduced to the fold: Claire Reynolds (grandmother) and Stephen Reynolds (grandfather). Again, it’s like watching a TV series play out, seamlessly exploring the relationship between the two brothers and their grandparents. There’s a cloak of uncertainty surrounding their first segment together, mainly for how Claire and Stephen are well aware of the crime that they are being accused of. Just as some of Episode 1: Roads’ strongest scenes came from Sean and Daniel interacting with their deceased father, Esteban Diaz, players will instantly have that same feeling with the brothers’ estranged relationship with their grandparents. It’s once again commendable on Dontnod’s part for how rules become an important focus in the story, but with a nice twist this time around. While Sean is keen to stress the rules to Daniel, Claire does the same with the older Diaz brother. That’s right, their grandma puts in force rules for Sean to follow if the brothers stay with them, creating the perfect vicious circle. Daniel’s childlike mentality means that he has no fear for the rules, but it’s funny to see how he can tempt Sean into breaking them. It’s the repeat of the same circle: enforce the rules, try to respect them and then break them. Yes, it’s arguably one of the best handlings of a theme from Dontnod to date.
The boys stopping with their grandparents opens up a brilliant plot surrounding their past history, specifically when it comes to exploring more about their mother, Karen. It’s fair to say that players will be left yearning for more information by the end of Episode 2: Rules, especially for how the story begins to unfold about her in such an interesting way. Players will quickly understand how much of a touchy subject it is for Claire, Stephen and Sean, while Daniel is eager to know more about his mother. The plot point develops throughout the episode and is handled well, going from strength to strength before the ending of Episode 2: Rules. Dontnod should be commended for how it handles this character, mainly as players don’t see her in person at any point (maybe that meeting between the Diaz brothers and their mom comes at a later point in the series). It shows shades of Rachel Amber from Life Is Strange, who was such an interesting enigma even though she never made a physical appearance over the five-episode story.
Despite Karen coming into focus for the story, Esteban has not become a casualty of this shift in direction. In fact, his story has been subtly intertwined throughout the episode, which includes how Sean and Daniel are handling their father’s death. Life Is Strange 2 maintains its social commentary through this plot point, with Sean getting the opportunity to access his social media account and to see how people have reacted to the shooting in Seattle. Following in the same footsteps as Episode 1: Roads, players will see how some users have responded to Sean with racially abusive messages. Okay, the political commentary and racism have been downplayed compared with the opener, but it actually works in its favor. The second episode feels balanced for how much it touches on these areas, avoiding the need to indulge in them unnecessarily. Meanwhile, players can see how the incident has been picked up like wildfire by news outlets — as it would in real life — how it has been reported and even the police officer’s family reacting to what happened. It’s simply excellent the level of detail put into the background of the episode, keeping in tradition with the Life Is Strange series.
One fact that Dontnod was keen to reiterate was that Episode 2: Rules would be the bridge that connects Life Is Strange 2 with The Awesome Adventures of Captain Spirit, the spin-off title set in the same universe. The developer does suggest that players should try out the title before the second episode, though it’s not completely necessary. With the two brothers spending time at their grandparents’ home in Beaver Creek, Oregon, their next-door neighbors are none other than Captain Spirit protagonist Chris Eriksen and his father, Charles. It doesn’t take long for players to cross paths with the two characters, giving them full clarity behind the ending of Captain Spirit. Chris strikes up a meaningful relationship with Daniel, showing the two kids’ innocents with everything that’s going on in the world around them. As Sean, though, players can probe Chris about his relationship with his father. Speaking of the father, Charles also has a superb scene involving Sean. The two share a deep and meaningful conversation, putting into perspective how Chris is dealing with the loss of his wife, Emily, and how Sean handled growing up without his mother. Considering how Sean and Daniel’s story ends with Chris in Episode 2: Rules, it opens up many possibilities about the direction of their relationship with the Captain Spirit protagonist in the final three episodes.
Episode 2: Rules manages to effectively build on relationships shared between existing characters while propping up new ones for the story to focus on. Sean’s emotional feelings resonated with players after his final conversation with Lyla in Episode 1: Roads, so it’s only fitting that it continues to develop in the next episode. Players can see how Lyla continues to defend Sean on social media, while there is also a touching conversation they can have over the phone. The voice acting remains as strong as it was in the original Life Is Strange during these types of scenes. Dontnod has also come a long way in its writing for Life Is Strange 2, though there are still some cringeworthy moments of dialogue. When players travel to the Christmas tree market with Chris and Charles, they will meet a new character, Cassidy. There is no expense spared in this encounter with the mystery singer. Sean can interact with her and listen to a beautifully-composed song from start to finish. It’s even better for players who sit through the entire performance, with them getting treated to a nice interaction with Cassidy. It’s a very moving scene, hitting a chord on the same levels as Jodie Holmes (portrayed by Ellen Page) playing the guitar and singing in Quantic Dream’s Beyond: Two Souls. While the interactions are limited with Cassidy in the episode, she leaves an immediate impression on the player — and Sean — by the time that they leave the Christmas market.
Gameplay, as most players would expect, remains as strong as it was in Episode 1: Roads. While the sketching mechanic was a bit of a problem in the first episode — the controls didn’t match up with the direction for drawing — it does seem easier to use in Episode 2: Rules. It might be that the player has become more familiar with it after Episode 1: Roads, but pushing the analog stick in any direction seems to make Sean put pen to paper. Dontnod doesn’t heavily rely on this mechanic for the episode either, keeping it away from turning into a novelty factor. While the developer wasn’t responsible for Life Is Strange: Before the Storm, it does feel like it has taken a page out of Deck Nine’s book with the introduction of the ‘Ship, Captain, Crew’ mini-game. Before the Storm caught many people by surprise with its brilliant tabletop mini-game, but players are treated to a dice game between Sean and Daniel. It’s a welcomed introduction to the title. That’s not to mention that it’s nicely worked in with the overall theme of the episode. For example, players will have moments where Daniel will try to use his power to swing the game in his favor. Of course, it’s the perfect time to intertwine that overarching theme into the gameplay and remind him not to break the rules.
Choices and consequences have remained at the forefront of almost any episode in the Life Is Strange series, and it is no different when it comes to Episode 2: Rules. Players will understand how the minor choices have an impact on Daniel’s behavior over the course of the episode, specifically for how Sean has reacted to him in a certain scenario. Sean and Daniel will encounter major decisions to make and it will test whether the rules are being followed. In the post-Telltale Games era of episodic gaming, Dontnod is well and truly keeping this genre alive. After all, there is no illusion of choice. Sure, there are some cases where a decision won’t completely alter the course of the story, but it will have an impact in some way, shape or form. There’s a reason to keep two ongoing saves for Life Is Strange 2, adding instant replay value to the title. Players will also be treated to an enticing teaser at the end of the episode, only building the anticipation and excitement for the next chapter in Sean and Daniel’s story.
The music was covered in our review for Episode 1: Roads, but it needs to be said again: Episode 2: Rules has perfectly been brought to life thanks to the efforts of Life Is Strange 2 composer Jonathan Morali. Just when some segments would strike a chord with any player, Morali amplifies those feelings through the soundtrack used for the title. It would seem that there is a magnificent selection of licensed tracks for Dontnod to use, not to mention a beautiful score from Morali. When players make their first visit to the Eriksen household, the Captain Spirit music will kick into action and it will leave them feeling like they never stopped playing that title in the first place. During the montage scenes, the music really does work its magic. It can make players feel like they are actually living that moment. Speaking of montages, though, it’s worth mentioning that the novelty does begin to settle in after the first time it’s been used.
Bouncing off from the fantastic work in Episode 1: Roads, Dontnod builds on the relationship between Sean and Daniel in more than one way. Players will understand how each brother is handling the death of their father, as well as dealing with Daniel’s power and Sean enforcing the rules set out from the early stages of the episode. There’s a deeper exploration of Sean and Daniel’s relationship with their grandparents and allowing players to discover more about their mother. Lyla is nicely worked into the story and her lack of on-screen time doesn’t diminish the connection she has with Sean. Dontnod ties Captain Spirit in well and shows why the Life Is Strange universe has limitless potential for more stories to be told in spin-off titles. Cassidy is a brilliant introduction to the episode and will leave players excited at the opportunity to build her relationship with Sean and Daniel going forward. Episode 2: Rules also doesn’t need a cliffhanger ending to entice players. Its simple ending is satisfying, especially after the developer has already done the work of raising many questions for Life Is Strange 2 to answer in its remaining episodes. Episode 2: Rules is a fantastic experience and continues to build on Dontnod’s reputation as the king of episodic gaming. Life Is Strange 2 has the potential to mesmerize players with its three remaining episodes and become a worthy contender for 2019’s GOTY (despite the first episode being released in 2018, of course).