|Tales from the Borderlands
|Nov 25, 2014
|PC, PS3, Xbox 360, PS4, Xbox One, Mobile
Tales from the Borderlands always sounded like a strange project to me. I mean, a Borderlands game from Telltale? The guys behind the excellent The Walking Dead adaptation are working on a co-op RPG shooter series that’s never been known for story? Well, as it turns out, all my skepticism was unwarranted. Telltale has not only crafted an amazing story-telling experience from the world of the Borderlands franchise, but got me interested in the lore of the universe.
Now, I will admit right now that I know next to nothing about the Borderlands universe. Most of what I know comes from this game and some of the preview materials for the others. Fortunately, it a very simple setup. Pandora is a planet known for Vaults — treasure troves of technology left behind by an ancient alien race. Of course, that’s very attractive to numerous groups looking to make a big profit. But Pandora is an extremely hostile environment. Not only is it home to multiple giant monsters, but many of the humans living here have gone completely insane. Suffice to say, Pandora is not a place you want to raise a family.
Tales from the Borderlands follows two different protagonists. The first one we’re introduced to is Rhys, a hard-working employee of Hyperion, the megacorporation from Borderlands 2 that rules over Pandora. Or at least used to. This story starts some time after Borderlands 2. The villain of that story, Handsome Jack, president of Hyperion, is dead, and everyone is scrambling to try to fill the power vacuum. That’s where Rhys comes in. He’s now in line to start climbing the corporate ladder. But his corporate nemesis, Hugo Vasquez, muscled in first by way of promising a Vault Key. Rhys heads down to Pandora to swipe the Vault Key right out from under Vasquez’s nose.
This handily leads to our next protagonist: Fiona, female con artist and resident of Pandora. Fiona is working with some partners to scam Hyperion into buying a fake Vault Key. If they can pull it off, they’ll have managed to steal $10 million (American currency, so far as I can tell), enough to do anything, even leave Pandora. And, if you know anything about the Borderlands games, you’ll know that, unless you’re a Vault Hunter, leaving Pandora is a very attractive proposition.
And since this is a combined review, I’ll include some spoilers for those that have already played Episode One, and want to know how the story continues: At the end of episode one, Rhys starts seeing Handsome Jack. Yes, the villain that died at the end of Borderlands 2 is back… sort of. He’s a hologram, but we learn that because he’s data plugged into Rhys’ circuits, he actually can control the robotic parts of Rhys’ body. Wow, does this mean that Handsome Jack will come back in some capacity? Plus, now Fiona is dealing with the betrayal and death of her father figure, who seems to have been hiding more than was initially apparent. All this while trying to figure out exactly what Atlas left behind. So, basically, a lot of good stuff here.
All this is told in a rather unique fashion. Both Rhys and Fiona have been captured sometime in the future, and are relaying their story to their captor. I was always curious if a choice-laden adventure could be relayed after the fact. Of course, leave it to the talented writers at Telltale to make it happen. Not only is it an interesting way to tell a story, it also offers ways to tell some really good fourth wall-breaking jokes that still fit in this context. For instance, the Game Over screen. Obviously, Rhys and Fiona survive if they’re relaying their story, so getting a Game Over is essentially saying that they said they died. Yeah, you can see where that is going.
Gameplay is mostly similar to Telltale’s landmark effort, The Walking Dead. It’s almost a visual novel, in that, most of the time, you’re talking to other characters to advance the plot. Occasionally, there are some more classic-style adventure game puzzles, but these are few and far between. Plus, they are really simple and sensible. Not that I mind. I’ve said before that a traditional adventure game is a broken style of gameplay. And, so long as the story and characters are strong, a visual novel can be just as good at conveying a great narrative as cutscenes. Of course, the reason Telltale became a household name with The Walking Dead was the choices you could make throughout the game that could majorly impact story details and character relationships, and those are here intact and as great as ever. I really do feel in control of the way this game goes, even when it’s pretty clear I’m not. The only frustrating aspect of the gameplay package are the infamous quick-time events. I hate that QTEs have become so common, since every single time, I have to look down at the controller to make sure I hit the right button. Fortunately, there aren’t that many of them.
The presentation is really good. The only thing I thought that Borderlands and Telltale had in common was cell-shaded graphics. Well, the graphical style from the Borderlands franchise makes the transition to the Telltale tool perfectly intact. The western/sci-fi fusion aesthetics are somewhat odd, but I do kind of like them. And, while my PC can’t run Borderlands 2, it can run this game. There are some frame rate hiccups that get really annoying in the QTE segments, but, since, most of the time, the focus is on character interaction, it works perfectly well. The music perfectly fits the theme with its western twangs, high energy hip hop and sci-fi themed tracks. It really helps me suspend my disbelief, which is good with such an odd mishmash of genres. The voice acting is perfect; I don’t know if I could’ve gotten so lost in the world had the voice acting not been as good as it is. This is a really well-built package.
So, if you’re into Borderlands and wanted to know if you’ll like Telltale’s take on it, I think you will. As it turns out, the Borderlands universe is a lot more interesting than I gave it credit for, so, if you already like the world of Pandora, that’s well represented here. For those like me wondering if the Telltale name was strong enough to overcome the limitations of brand, yeah, it is. This is another great Telltale title. I can’t wait to see how it continues.
Review copy provided by publisher, and is based on the PC version of the game.
Tales from the Borderlands is available on Amazon: