After some narration, the camera pans to Rhys (you), who is getting dragged through the barren wastelands by his captor in a conical hat and mask.
Rhys: So, who are you?
Captor: I ask the questions.
Rhys: Okay. Do you mind asking yourself who you are?
Thus begins Tales from the Borderlands, episode one of a five part series in what will likely be another hit from Telltale Games. After my first two-to-three hour romp in their take on the Borderlands universe, I’m already hankering for the next installment. Full of refined design, steps into new territory, and bountiful dialogue choices as Rhys and company pursue bounty, fans of Telltale’s recent formula and devotees of Pandora should stop reading this review and buy the series now. Seriously, go now.
To those not convinced by a couple of sentences, let me assure you that Telltale not only understands the Borderlands universe, but also clearly understands more fully how to accept its community’s feedback. For instance, TftB uses Quick-Time-Events more effectively. Yeah, I said it. The QTE enhance immersion and create tension. Regarding the rest of the Telltale formula, high-quality dialogue options, timers, and the occasional roaming remain constants.
If I had not known Telltale was involved in this game, I would have assumed that Gearbox had written it, because the atmosphere and style are pure, unadulterated Borderlands. Those who enjoy the wacky, larger-than-life calamity will find much the same here. Regarding its humor, TftB is somewhere between laugh-out-loud funny and hilarious. I smiled throughout my trek into the wastelands when I wasn’t laughing at the dialogue and voice acting. Telltale buried quite a few easter eggs, as well. Those who want a deep, gritty plot with woebegone characters should venture into the world of The Wolf Among Us and The Walking Dead. Tales from the Borderlands is just fun.
One of the leads is Rhys, a company man who vies for power in Hyperion alongside his partner-in-crime Vaughn. After a major setback sends him chasing a Vault Key on Pandora, Rhys encounters the other playable protagonist, Fiona, who is a con-artist alongside her sister Sasha. Most of the episode takes place on Pandora chasing the Vault Key and money as Rhys and friends encounter bandits, psychos, vault hunters, and blatant references to hit movies. With the Borderlands source, Telltales’ writers have a nigh-limitless well of odd technology and even stranger people to keep the game engaging.
Although Telltale introduces some fresh ideas in terms of gameplay, the core is faithful to their standard design. Using two protagonists works well in TftB because the subject matter isn’t heavy enough to demand one perspective, and it also offers insight into how two strong, similar personalities from different backgrounds grow together. TffB relies heavily on “combat” in the form of QTEs, though this is done in such a way as to pull you in while creating cinematic tension. Unlike previous titles, my eyes were drawn to the action, not to which key was going to show up. This is accomplished, in part, through large icons, but also a lengthy period of time to execute the command; I never failed any point in the game. By now, Telltale seems to have learned that their games aren’t about gameplay in the traditional sense and that challenge shouldn’t enter into the equation. Plus, they offer the opportunity to customize a bot with weaponry, altering how a battle plays out. How cool is that?
This wouldn’t be a review without some critique, however. On more than one occasion, I lost track of my cursor and frantically tried to find it as a dialogue timer zipped by. The cursor seems to blend in with the atmosphere, and when I’m zoned into the action or dialogue on my screen, I’m not exactly prepared to choose something on the fly. Minor interface grievances aside, TftB functions just fine overall.
Visually, TftB looks exactly like a Borderlands title; it flows smoothly without frame rate concerns and still somehow appeals to the eye despite taking place among machines and deserts. That said, those who take issue with gray and brown might dislike the setting, but then why are you playing this game? Audibly, TftB hired quality voice actors, such as Troy Baker and Patrick Warburton. Even though the script could probably hold its own, the talents Telltale hired truly bring the characters to life. If I were to nitpick, I’d call into question the lack of stronger music, but that’s not really what Telltale games are about. Truly, TftB’s presentation complements the design and writing well.
Convinced now? I can’t see how Telltale can go wrong with the rest of the series. Unique in style, the crude, harsh landscape of Pandora is somewhere I can’t wait to return to. If this first episode is any indication of what’s to come, my only hope is that the second episode comes sooner rather than later.