The gap between Episode 1 and Episode 2 of Tales from the Borderlands might be the largest of Telltale’s episodic adventures to date. Episode 1 debuted last November and that’s, like, three years ago! Ridiculous. That said, I was amazed at how much I remembered from the previous installment given the unwarranted hiatus. This speaks to the novel, engrossing quality of this comical series, but can Telltale keep up the clever wit?
When last we left our… heroes(?), they encountered Handsome Jack, the villain Gearbox promised was dead. Well, he is, I suppose, but you know what you were doing, Gearbox, you cheeky fellows and fellow-ettes. What follows is explanation, of course, and further zany antics. Rhys and gang scoop up their rewards, craft yet more tall tales, and continue the plot.
Unfortunately, Telltale seems to falter on Episode 2 of nearly all of their recent series (but at least they can count past “two”). While this entry of TftB is in no way a snooze-fest, it lacks the same impact of the first installment. Is this the result of tired tropes or a lack of creativity? I can’t say for sure, because Telltale used similar mechanics to yank out the yuks, but they also seemed more interested in forwarding the plot than implanting the Gearbox-esque style of comedy. Rhys’ echo-eye offers less creativity, the dialogue and established personalities inspire some internal laughter, and the over-the-top lies from Fiona and Rhys’ perspective are infrequent and offer little outrageous hyperbole. Instead, the drama and conflict between characters sponges more time than the previous entry and more characters are introduced.
From a narrative perspective, Episode 2 makes sense. Substantial foreshadowing smacked me in the face in a way Handsome Jack could only hope to, and the path relationships are following is predictable. However, one must wonder what TftB is trying to be: a ridiculous series of escapades or a story with frenemies and heart-ache? Telltale can do both — I believe they can — but this is far more difficult than offering what Episode 1 promised, which is frequent hilarity. Telltale’s used to crafting enticing tales, but comedy’s an avenue they haven’t ventured down for some years. They impressed at the outset; can they recover from this stumble?
Functionally, Episode 2 flows like Episode 1. Customization and money management remain constants, and some choices result in guaranteed differences in the experience. As a bit of a departure from Telltale’s growth, walking around a small locale finding clickables is a mechanic revisited in this installment, which is a shame as it offered absolutely no laughs or substance. While the filler is disappointing, the majority of the trek contains average dialogue choices and decisions. By no means an episode to “wow” the audience, it still maintained my attention and left me wanting more.
Telltale has amped up production with two active series. Game of Thrones has shown some growth, but Tales from the Borderlands has taken a few steps backward. Is this the result of ambition or the standard Terrible Two’s Telltale has with their recent series? Living up to the surprising quality of Episode 1 is going to be difficult, but one of the rules of comedy is that the laughs and story need to get progressively more outrageous and powerful as the plot continues. Comedy is something old salts know Telltale can do. I have faith.