Tales from the Borderlands
E3 2014 Impressions
"Telltale is playing around with some of the most basic assumptions in video games."

Telltale is one of the only developers that could make me want to play a Borderlands game that focuses on the lore and setting. I had fun with Borderlands 2, but the story and humor are pretty far from my tastes, and I find some of the characters insufferable, including the mascot Claptrap. It's a wonder, then, that after seeing the first 30 or 40 minutes of Tales of the Borderlands (episode one of five), I want to play it.

Tales of the Borderlands takes place after Borderlands 2 and the resolution of Handsome Jack's story arc. Once again, an infamous Pandoran vault and the rare key that opens it is at the heart of the narrative. This is Telltale's first adventure to feature dual protagonists: Hyperion scoundrel Rhys and con artist Fiona. In the beginning, a mysterious masked man summons them to an isolated outpost and forces them at gunpoint to tell a story in classic in medias res style. Since this is Borderlands, the characters aren't content with the truth and instead must go over the top as always. They tell outlandish exaggerations that provide the other character with a cue. "It wasn't like that at all. This is how it went..."

And so the perspective shifts.

This is everything you know and love about Borderlands elegantly combined with Telltale's trademark narrative design and character development. The style of Borderlands, from its aggressively boisterous humor and celshaded graphics to the music and the unavoidable assholism of every NPC, is evident from the first moment, and Telltale's signature storytelling is noticeable from the opening conversation. There are also some things one might not expect in a Telltale adventure: loot, nifty tech, and battles.

There's loot, but Telltale wouldn't be content without putting their own twist on it, and so the very act of whether to loot or not — something no one ever thinks about in Borderlands — must be questioned. Looting a trunk or a corpse could change the story. We also saw a battle in which Rhys summoned a Loaderbot from Hyperion heaven to obliterate a group of bandits. Although we weren't told much about it, there seemed to be a variety of options involved in summoning the bot: different weapons and armor, and the actual battle consisted of quick decision making and the traditional QTEs. It was exciting, although not nearly as bloody as Borderlands 2.

Tales of the Borderlands is an inherently philosophical game. Telltale is taking a bloody, cool-to-be-violent, badass-to-murder shooter and turning it into an adventure game. There may be guns and monsters and explosions and blood, but there's more conversation than anything else. Telltale is playing around with some of the most basic assumptions in video games. One of Rhys' friends accompanies him on his dangerous mission and, after the aforementioned fight scene, talks about how awful it was. One of Rhys' dialogue options had him be sympathetic, but the demoer chose another, one that tried to convince him that it was at least a little bit fun. The character was adamant: fighting sucks.

It's this sort of commentary — integrated in a subtle and believable way — that makes me want to play Tales of the Borderlands in spite of my apathy toward the established fiction and lore. There are sure to be more surprises too: I think the looting system plays into Borderlands: The Pre-Sequel, and we never really saw what Fiona could do, whereas Rhys had a neat cybernetic eye that can scan and analyze people and objects. If you've been passing this off like I have, take another look. If you think you'll love it, you almost certainly will.

© 2014 Telltale Games, Gearbox Software. All rights reserved.

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