Telltale’s become really famous the past couple of years, in part due to their fantastic emotional storylines and tough decision making gameplay. And when the company announced its partnership with Gearbox Software and 2K Games to deliver Tales from the Borderlands, I was a little surprised. But then I started thinking – and the two seem like they could be a good combination. The art is similar, the world is large, so surely this game would have to be somewhat decent, right?
There’s one problem: I’ve never properly played any Borderlands game. I played about half an hour of the second game with a friend once, but that’s all I had when I started playing Tales from the Borderlands. So I was not discovering whether this game is good from the point of view of someone who is familiar with the franchise, but a newcomer, who knows next to nothing about the world.
Game: Tales from the Borderlands
Platforms: PC, PS4, PS3, XB1, XB360, iOS, Android (mobile versions are the full game)Price: ~$25 USD for the complete season on PC. On other platforms, the first episode can be played for free, and the other episodes can be bought together in a season pass for about ~$25 USD.
A Copy of this Game was Provided for Review
For those of you unfamiliar with Telltale Games, allow me to fill you in on the genre of games they make. Telltale develops episodic adventure games. The games generally revolve around a character that the player controls, and makes decisions, dialogue choices, and also solves basic puzzles to advance the game. Telltale games are known to have tough decisions to make, such as choosing whether to keep a character alive. If that sounds a little boring, its because Telltale games are a heavy, emotional narrative that causes you to become emotionally attached to the characters, which is what makes these decisions so difficult.
Episode One, Zer0 Sum, opens with the player-controlled character Rhys, his accounting buddy Vaughn, and their helpful secretary friend Yvette. Rhys is expecting a promotion at his company, Hyperion, famed for the psychopath Handsome Jack, and Rhys has killed a lot of people to get to his position. However, he finds his rival, Vasquez, at his old boss’s desk, as Rhys’ old boss floats past the window. Vasquez demotes Rhys, and Rhys wants revenge.
To take revenge, Rhys and Vaughn head down to Pandora, the planet their space station orbits around, to take advantage of a deal Vasquez was going to make regarding a “vault key”, which can open a vault which leads to treasure. But the deal starts going wrong.
At this point, we’re introduced to a second player-controlled character, Fiona, at a camp in the future (the majority of this game is told as Rhys and Fiona were telling it to their kidnapper). Fiona promptly explains that Rhys is wrong, and starts telling her side of the story.
Fiona is sisters with Sasha, and they work with their father, Felix (who adopted Fiona and Sasha). They’re con artists, and are attempting their biggest con yet: to sell a fake vault key to a Hyperion employee (Hyperion isn’t liked much on Pandora). This is, of course, how they run into Rhys and Vaughn. A host of unlikely events ensue, and ultimately the characters must work together.
That’s all the necessary context you really need to understand the game, and since so much of this game revolves around the plot, I won’t talk about any other part of the plot in order to prevent spoilers.
Because the plot in this game is really, really, good. I thought episode one was a rather bland affair, with too much backstory, and then it just seems to drag on and on. The first episode took two and a half hours for me to complete, whereas the others only took about two. And even though its only an extra half an hour, in the first episode when you haven’t developed an emotional attachement to the characters, it just seems to drag. But episode two is a lot better. And episode three was even better. And episode four was even better. And episode five was a thrilling and fantastic conclusion to the series. Each episode seems to take everything up a notch, and it really works. In Telltale’s The Walking Dead, I thought the series dropped off a little after episode three. In Tales from the Borderlands, each episode keeps getting better and better. And I think that’s because there’s several constantly developing mysteries that expand over the course of the episodes.
The plot is also helped with the fantastic voice acting. These characters all manage to convey so much with their voices, and also have a varied cast. There’s a few robots, for example, that behave like the other characters in that you can interact with them. The superb acting in this really makes it feel like it’s real. It helps a lot with the immersion.
The graphics in the game are Telltale’s usual affair, cel-shaded graphics, and they looked pretty good. The Steam page says its not recommended for computers with Intel Integrated Graphics, which I have, and so I was surprised the game even ran. I had the graphics on low, but the game still looked nice. The art is superb, and it fits in the Borderlands universe perfectly.
An example of the art and humour that is in Tales from the Borderlands
The gamplay was also great. Dialogue choices are displayed on four lines at the bottom of the screen, and you just choose one with your mouse to advance the plot/make a decision. All of the decisions are timed as well, and if you don’t make a decision quickly enough, you say nothing. Fortunately, there’s usually more than enough time to read your options and make a decision. The puzzle solving sequences are nothing complex, but are still enjoyable. They’re usually walking around and pressing some buttons. The action sequences are much more enjoyable, and revolve around quick time events using WASD, Q and E, and mouse clicks. They’re also simple, but some of my favourite moments of the game come from the quick time action events.
An example of what the puzzle solving view looks like
I was also somewhat surprised at how good the humour was in this game. There’s some really good moments of genuine humour, such as Rhys and Fiona bickering with each other in the present day, Telltale poking fun at how their games work (such as substituting the infamous _______ will remember that for other things), and general moments of absurdity. I was chuckling at some moments, because this game manages to pull of humour really well.
Telltale poking fun at themselves with a different message instead of the “remember this” message
But, this game also manages to pull off other emotions great as well. There’s some really saddening moments in this game, and at times you do have to make some tough decisions. Things that seem like small decisions can come back and surprise you later. And the game transitions from humerous moments to sadder moments great as well. No part of this game feels out of place.
However, I think this game has a few problems. The first major one I have is with episode one, I honestly think it was too long for an episode. As I played the rest of the series, I see why episode one was so necessary, but playing it was just so unenjoyable. Episode five felt like it dragged on a bit at the start as well, but it kept having new developments to keep it interesting, so it didn’t stay that way. Episode one doesn’t really have the new developments until the final half an hour, and then it just felt a little too late to get me interested again. So if you download episode one for free to try it out, and you think it drags on a little, trust me, it gets better.
I had two minor problems with the game, which aren’t that big of a deal, but would have been the icing on the cake. The first is that the quick time events would sometimes come out of nowhere, and I would miss them and die. Fortunately, the game only restarts at the start of that scene, which is a five minute wait maximum, so it’s not too bad. Some missed quick time events can be recovered from without a penalty, which is nice. The second is that I didn’t always feel like the choices I made mattered. I feel like some of the major choices of the game would have resulted in the same outcome anyway – and with some reading, I found this to be true, which is a little disappointing from a studio that prides itself on having choices matter. I didn’t have this problem with The Walking Dead, but apparently that was the same way. I had a hunch on this one though. I’m willing to overlook this flaw because the story was really good, and also because there was a section at the end that did have consequences for you depending on how you treated certain characters, and whether you said the right thing at a certain time. I was impressed by that, because I think that’s actually a fairly sizeable consequence, some of which resulted from really small decisions I’d made earlier in the season (and when I say consequence, I don’t necessarily mean something bad).
All in all, I was really impressed by this season. Even though I knew next-to-nothing about the franchise, the game fills you in on the pieces you need to know, and still delivers a fantastic storyline even if you don’t know the franchise. I was reading that sections of this game tie in with The Pre-Sequel!, which is another Borderlands game, so I think if you are a fan you will definitely have an even better time playing through this than I did. In fact, if you are a Borderlands fan than this game is definitely worth playing. If you’re not a Borderlands fan, but want a good, exciting, humourous and tragic sci-fi story, than this game is worth playing. But I think that to some people, the humourous nature and style of this game might not appeal, which is a shame because this game has really good plot twists and is probably one of my favourite games from the past few years.
I found it quite difficult to rate this game, because I probably would have been willing to look past its minor flaws, but I just couldn’t get past how much I found episode one average. I would have given episodes three, four, and five a 10/10 score, but I think overall, this season is dragged down slightly by its first episode, which is a real shame.
+ Fantastic Plot
+ Fantastic Voice Acting
+ Fantastic Humour
+ Great Graphics
+ Great Gameplay
– First Episode was Average Compared to How Good the Rest of the Series Was
– Unexpected Quick Time Events
– Some Decisions Felt Like They Didn’t Matter