New Tales from the Borderlands - With Added Flavour
New Tales from the Borderlands is a narrative-heavy game set in the Borderlands universe, one more famed for its myriad of guns and offbeat humour than player agency or branching story, and takes place after Borderlands 3. The name is of course reminiscent of Tales from the Borderlands, which was developed by Telltale Games before its shutdown a few years ago. It was the first to marry the wild frontier worlds of the setting to a choice-driven style, and while the exact froyo flavour may taste different to those who remember the old, there is something about a dialogue-heavy take on Borderlands which just feels right.
Even the first game was spun in the fashion of a campfire story, with the character Marcus Kincaid framing the story of those first aspiring Vault Hunters, and it’s only fitting that he’s here in New Tales for the adventure on Promethea, as seen through the eyes of three new characters.
Borderlands as a setting feels like something that should have worn out its welcome before it launched, but through a mix of zany characters, wildlife that could’ve been lifted from David Cronenburg’s nightmares, and entertaining writing, it turned a shooter on a barren world into something that tasted unique.
It also benefited a ton from its signature look, which was lifted out of Ben Hibon’s CodeHunters short and into the series. What could have been another stock-standard shooter with a touch of personality instead became something bigger, greater than the sum of its parts, and in turn gave us a world (or worlds) that let so many different elements work together in a downright memorable way.
With that setting as our guiding spark, New Tales takes us through the lives of three hapless sorts who are each struggling with their respective circumstances, and wrestling with some imposing obstacles, the biggest of which being themselves. The focus is on three characters across the menagerie, and you play each of them in their own scenes. As the three threads of their lives become intertwined and they’re put together in a situation well outside their comfort zone, the pre-existing bonds between them rise to the foreground.
If you are so inclined, you can actually jump into one of the later episodes without playing those before it. You are warned that doing so will randomly make choices in the narrative for those earlier episodes, and you won’t have full awareness of what happened previously in the story, but it does its best to catch you up in a ‘Previously On’ type cutscene.
There is also a regular divergence from the base gameplay, with one particular minigame. Vaultlanders. It’s a strange addition to the universe, being a duel between two characters using a chosen minifigure. Each mini relates to a character in the Borderlands universe, and has different flavours in their attack abilities – so Mordecai from the first Borderlands will snipe for his special attacks, while Phuong, Anu’s assistant and the first Vaultlander figure you receive writes a scathing review for her final move.
The aspect of Vaultlanders that elevates it is the way some characters attach to the concept, though one in particular. We’re here for Vaultlander Dude. That’s not his actual name, but you’ll know him when you see him. You almost want to lose the Vaultlander minigame just to give the poor guy something to smile about, and it’s a testament to the writing and animation that he presents the same as all of the literally-faceless corporate goons, but each time you run into him, you know that it’s him again.
Borderlands always goes in for that Larger than Life character type, teetering on the edge between eccentric and caricature. That’s certainly true with the three main characters, and whether they happen to be book-smart, world-smart or street-smart, they have a myopic view of the world.
Anu is permanently teetering on the edge of a breakdown, and forced into situations that seem more suited to the abilities of the other two (which of course, is what makes those things interesting). Octavio should be annoying, and probably would be if you had to deal with him in real life, but in universe, you’re torn between feeling sorry for him, but also gunning for his special delusional worldview to pan out. With Fran, you aren’t sure if you want her to master her anger through overcoming it, or by embracing it. But it’s Borderlands, so embracing is the more useful outcome. Their flaws and foibles aside, somehow they all remain likeable.
There are a myriad of antagonists that the trio face across the story, but in a way, the real enemy is themselves. In a much real-er way though, the real enemy is Capitalism. And in a much, much more accurate way, the real enemy is [REDACTED].
Marcus is back as a Narrator. The assortment of characters is great, whether they’re on your side or not. Brock is worth a mention, the sister. LOU13 makes for another fine addition to the wisecracking-assassin-robots we know and love, plus the aforementioned Vaultlander Dude. It also does the usual freeze-frame intro for every Important character in the story, which again, is it doing the Borderlands thing.
With such a dialogue-heavy game, everything hinges on its acting. It needs that combination of believability and delivery to satisfy the ineffable requirements of good comedic timing, and it’s here. All of the characters are well-spoken and hilarious, and its the acting that transforms some of the characters into absolute riots.
One of the style choices that really sings, is in three specific montages that have a song play with title and artist, as it shows what’s happening to each character in the moment. It’s extradiegetic music, but with attention called to the shift, it gives the scenes stronger emotive impact. The rest of the music just blends in, calling attention early on, but soon melting into the background.
The sounds within New Tales are one of those where you know the team did a great job, because you don’t notice them. Nothing sounds wrong, so it doesn’t stand out, and just feels like a seamless part of the world. It’s not that object making that sound, or this boot thudding on that surface, but it sure feels like it.
The quick-time events within cutscenes can be somewhat jarring, as they feel like an antiquated approach to player agency that is gradually being left behind. Thankfully you can change their difficulty or even turn them off through accessibility settings, as well as change how other types of button presses take place. If you do switch off the QTEs, the cutscenes will progress with neither failure nor shame, as you won’t expressly be told there would have been a cutscene. There are other accessibility options through the menu, as well as access to the custom skins the characters can wear throughout the game. There is a really obtuse moment of jiggle physics for Fran when changing her skin, and it’s completely unnecessary.
You can come into New Tales from the Borderlands without much prior knowledge. It doesn’t really feed through much of the backstory in the setting, but gradually paints outward from the opening scenes. The fact that the played characters are all kind of “focused” on their own selves also means a lot of what came before is glossed over. It might help to know the specifics of what a Siren is, what a Vault is, and what a Gun is, but the general meaning says enough.
It’s strange and almost unexpected to be returning to Borderlands. One of the extremely interesting facets about the game is that it was developed mostly in a pandemic-afflicted world; one that we’re still dealing with. Maybe it doesn’t compare with the hardships on those hostile frontier worlds in the Borderlands universe, yet at the same time, it’s something very real that has affected (and to some extent) unified the entire world. Perhaps not in the opinions or approach to it, but definitely in the way it’s become a shared part of what it means to have been alive in this decade. The best thing I can say about New Tales from the Borderlands is that it’s funny. Fun, of course, but ultimately it’s funny. It’s essentially the driver for coming to a Borderlands game, a particular one without the same frequency of shooting things as the others. It gets the tone perfect, and kind of makes you want to crack open a cold Borderlands game.
For those eager for more Borderlands, there isn’t any solid news at the moment. Rumours of a Borderlands 4 have been circling for the past two years, and the last game linked to the series, Tiny Tina’s Wonderlands came out earlier in the year. If you like the style of this Borderlands more than the rest, maybe there’ll be a ‘Newer Tales from the Borderlands’ at some point, but it’s unlikely as I just made up the title. There’s also meant to be a Borderlands movie in the works, which seems to be loosely based on the first game. Please be funny. Gods, it better be funny.
But anyway. New Tales. NTFTB. New Tales from the Borderlands. It’s a title that captures all of what the game is, in a neat five-letter sentence that helps you hit any sort of writing quota. Listen to how it rolls off the tongue; New Tales from the Borderlands.
In terms of living up to its nearly-but-not-quite predecessor, New Tales does a solid job. Maybe it’s not a vital addition to the universe in terms of story, but Borderlands has always been a case of style elevating substance. New Tales from the Borderlands may not turn the origins of Handsome Jack on its head, reveal the true horrors behind the vaults, or deliver a new Siren, but it adds flavour, and there’s nothing more Borderlands than that.
New Tales From The Borderlands was reviewed on Steam with a code kindly provided by 2K Australia