Tales from the Borderlands: Season 1 – Review
PC, Xbox One, Xbox 360, PS4, PS3
Coming to fruition thanks to a collaboration between Gearbox Software and Telltale Games comes Tales from the Borderlands. The game, an episodic adventure game set in the Borderlands universe, plays out over five 1.5-2.5hour long episodes that tells a brand new story in the world of Pandora. Perhaps Telltale’s best work to date, Tales from the Borderlands masterfully balances the humour of the core franchise with the branching narrative, and escalating ramifications of typical Telltale games.
Tales from the Borderlands’ narrative structure is an entertaining one. Two characters (Rhys and Fiona) tell the story from two entertainingly different perspectives, with both exaggerating things significantly and the other offering an alternate take (often a correction) to the originally embellished story. Rhys is a Hyperion employee, Fiona a con artist, and they find their lives intertwining when (as is always the case in a Borderlands) a Vault Key gets involved. After finding themselves on the path of something called the Gortys Project, they meet up with the aforementioned Gortys, a little robot with the ability to show the group how to find the Vault Key. The paths of many collide with Pandora’s most dastardly all converging on Rhys, Fiona and co. making for an engaging power struggle between all invested parties.
The greatest strength of Telltale’s games are the choices placed in front of you to engage with. All too often I’ve made choices that I’ve later regretted and there were a handful of these once again in Tales from the Borderlands. The toughest choices impact the wellbeing of key characters, and with Telltale having crafted such resonating characters, supported by fantastic voice-acting, even when I was faced with a choice to kill off one of two antagonists I still struggled to decide which path I wanted to go down. Typically we’re used to the outcomes of big decisions playing out within the same episode, and as always this is the case, but what surprised me the most was that not only were consequences felt immediately, but further ramifications were felt much later within the series. What this shows is that Telltale is still learning and expanding their storytelling arcs in clever new ways; something that I much appreciated as a regular consumer of their work.
A notable addition to Tales from the Borderlands was a currency system, and while in general it does little more than add cosmetic changes, there is a great deal of fan service attached to these changes, most notably at the point where all your decisions come to ahead in the final minutes of the game a cool possibility presents itself to you if you’ve made the right decisions along the way. There’s a tonne of fan service present in Tales from the Borderlands with the inclusion of several references present from the three core games (including Buttstalion!), a number of existing characters playing parts in the game and some well-placed Easter eggs also being present for the most hardened of fans.
The engine that has been powering Telltale’s more recent releases has copped a bit of flac over the last year largely due to how dated it has appeared in recent releases. Many of these concerns are alleviated with the release of Tales from the Borderlands, not because a change in engine has brought about crisp new visuals, but because the stylistic choices of Gearbox when developing the Borderlands visual engine lends itself nicely to Telltale’s engine making the game shine visually. Excellent voice-acting takes centre stage with stars Nolan North, Laura Bailey, Troy Baker, Ashley Johnson, Patrick Warburton all doing fantastic jobs as new characters August, Fiona, Rhys, Gortys and Vasquez respectively. These big names are supported by the experienced Borderlands cast, with cameos from Handsome Jack, Zer0, Marcus, Scooter and a host of others all lending their talents, allowing Telltale to expand the narrative further. Telltale have also done a fantastic job at putting together a musical score that both elevates and intimidates at all of the game’s most pivotal moments. Possessing the token Borderlands charm, the musical score and choice of licensed music could at any time make you laugh, cringe or smile gleefully.
Telltale have done it again. Building on a fantastic established base, through five 2hour episodes they’ve crafted an unmissable chapter in the Borderlands universe. Existing Borderlands fans as well as newcomers are welcome here with enough with the game still serving as a standalone story while linking into the established lore enough to give invest. Jam packed with humour, engaging characters, an interesting plot, a pile of fan service, and an episodic format that makes it far easier for players to consume, Tales from the Borderlands is the game you’re looking for. It’s been a long wait to play through every act in this season, but the wait proved to be well worth it, so whether it’s in Borderlands 3 or a follow up season, I’m intrigued to see what adventures lay ahead for Rhys and Fiona.