To say that Telltale Games has been on something of a streak lately would be a vast understatement. It’s hard to imagine that there was a time when this team was considered second-tier at best, especially after not one, but two highly regarded hits in a row. The team looks to continue that trend into new territory, this time exploring a universe which has already been established in the game form. Sure, the Borderlands series doesn’t seem like the perfect fit for Telltale’s brand of point-and-click adventure, but, remarkably, it might just be.
By this point, most people have had a chance to explore either The Walking Dead: The Game or The Wolf Among Us, and most people have probably already made up their mind as to whether this is the sort of experience they’re looking for in a game. That said, the Borderlands brand is something familiar to many gamers, and Tales from the Borderlands may draw in a new crowd. Telltale is seemingly aware of this possibility and works vigorously to welcome that group with open arms.
Whereas The Walking Dead: The Game made a serious push towards heart-breaking decisions that could drive beloved characters away, Tales from the Borderlands’ decision making process is decidedly less heavy. Yes, nearly every phrase you speak or action you perform could have some impact on the way a character looks at you, but in the end, the general mood of the Borderlands saga doesn’t leave much room for weepy moments. More than anything, the decisions you make as one of the two playable characters, Rhys and Fiona, impact the trust that your friends may hold in you. But because Borderlands is, more than anything, a comedy, you’re not always concerned with the way in which your choices impact the story. Instead, Tales from the Borderlands almost encourages you, not completely unlike The Wolf Among Us, to stay in character.
Rhys is a bit of wisecrack, while Fiona is an ornery con woman. While story is key to any Telltale game, Tales from the Borderlands is more invested in developing interesting characters. Both of the playable characters, which are both player-controlled at given points, fit in perfectly within the Borderlands universe. Fiona has been raised on Pandora, the run-down, Mad Max-esque moon that was host to both Borderlands and Borderlands 2. She’s been raised by Felix, a man of questionable character, with her sister Sasha to become master con artists. Rhys has been a Hyperion lackey with his best friend Vaughn for years, trying to get that next promotion. Rhys discovers that his boss has been killed by his arch-rival at Hyperion, Vasquez. When Rhys overhears that Vasquez is interested in buying a Vault key for $10 million, Rhys and Vaughn decide to screw over their new boss and get the key, and thus the riches within the vault, for themselves.
Meanwhile, on Pandora, Felix is building a mock Vault Key to be sold to, you guessed it, Vasquez. But when Rhys shows up to purchase said Vault key, things take a turn for the worse. The money is taken, the fake key is destroyed, and Rhys and Vaughn are forced to team with Felix, Sasha, and Fiona in the search for the $10 million. It’s a wonderfully simple story that is easy to follow and gives the characters a lot of room to do their thing. It does a great job of allowing the player to get into character and play how they think the character would play without worrying too much how each individual action will affect the overall outcome.
The simplicity of the story and the relative ease with which you can make decisions still allows for one or two moments that seem to be interested in eliciting some iota of emotion. There’s a relatively major twist toward the tail end of the first episode which took me by surprise, and my choice in how to handle said situation certainly surprised me. It also seems to be setting up another character arc for the following episodes, and I wonder how significant the difference would be had I chosen differently.
Tales from the Borderlands, like The Walking Dead: The Game and The Wolf Among Us before it, suffers from several technical issues, albeit at a significantly lower rate than it’s predecessors. From time-to-time, voices aren’t in sync with the animations and there are several awkwardly placed loading screens. Aside from that, Tales from the Borderlands is presented in a strangely half-Borderlands, half-Telltale Games manner. Much of the aesthetical choices feel more influenced by Borderlands than a direct interpretation. The musical choices and voice acting is all superb, much in line with the original series. Troy Baker and Laura Bailey (two talented individuals who previously worked together on Infamous: Second Son) lead a stellar cast which includes Nolan North (Uncharted, Batman: Arkham City), Chris Hardwick (TV’s Talking Dead, @Midnight), Patrick Warburton (Seinfeld, The Family Guy), and Erin Yvette (The Walking Dead: The Game). All actors are performing top-notch work and all contribute to one of the most impressive casts I’ve come across in years.
Telltale Games has, once again, crafted a fantastic experience around a great narrative and even better acting. It’s far more action-packed and comical than their previous two games, which is certainly a relief.