Tales from the Borderlands – Episode 5: The Vault of the Traveler

 

Review by · October 20, 2015

Left with the biggest cliffhanger to date in Tales from the Borderlands, fans (myself included) chomped at the bit for Episode 5. Low and behold, Telltale delivered. Although TftB faltered in the middle quite a bit, the ending almost justified the lags in quality. Let’s put the past behind us, though: as far as this review’s concerned, Telltale did the Borderlands universe justice with this finale.

Admittedly, I went into Episode 5 with low expectations, but the writers thwarted my negativity. Full of surprises, tears, laugh-out-loud moments, and choices paid off (kind of), TftB wraps up the package with a pretty bow, and few strings, if any, left untied. Without divulging too much, TftB follows an odd trajectory in terms of storytelling, but this works to its advantage.

Not all concludes in a clean fashion, however. Given the villain, some potential was lost. Telltale rushed part of the episode along and some successes didn’t quite make sense. Given a potentially omnipotent opponent, the heroes should be insurmountably clever, with excellent outs and resources used, and absolutely no deus ex machina. Telltale seemed to go the route of “heart” rather than “brain,” which works in a sense, but meshing the two would have ultimately been more satisfying. If it sounds like I’m looking for something to crab about, you might be right, but I am still underwhelmed with the beginning half of the episode.

From a gameplay standpoint, Telltale continues to frustrate with odd dialogue timers that detract from immersion by forcing rushed decisions during meaningful conversations. At the outset, this works, because relationships are developing and impulsive choices make a difference from a “realistic” perspective. At a game’s conclusion, though, this is unforgivable. Players invest several hours in relationships and the conclusion of a tale, and to have a deep conversation — one of the last — interrupted by three dialogue choices and a timer hurts the experience. Human beings cannot multi-task (yes, not even you — it’s science, just trust me on this), so to have us listen to a character speak while making us read three choices and pick one quickly because we know we’re being timed displays a mindlessness in design and lack of testing. I’ve given Telltale multiple passes on this tired mechanic for far too long. Lessons have not been learned, and it could work with a tweaked system or much more time — anything but what’s forced upon us here, game after game.

On the other hand, the quick time events work better here than they ever have within TftB, in other Telltale titles, or any game ever (I’m looking at you, Capcom). The QTEs showcase a level of creativity never before seen, and I’m not sure if Telltale should be lauded for this or if all of the other developers should be admonished for being devoid of any thought with regard to this mechanic. I had fun. Visceral fun. In an adventure game! How often does that happen? This parallels the story in that the “cool” factor takes hold versus the cerebral, meaningful factor. Sometimes stories should just be ridiculous and fun, not emotional. Of course, given that this is a Borderlands game, one might already expect that.

The visuals continue to woo the eyes, battle scenes are just fun to watch, and facial expressions say more than characters’ words do at times. Telltale included some tasteful tunes that accentuate some emotional scenes, but the episode is otherwise devoid of music. Rest assured, the voice actors continue to characterize their roles as firmly as the script does. Controls are virtually seamless, with a few inconsistent timers on QTEs.

Telltale’s Tales from the Borderlands – Episode 5 is a satisfying ending to a bumpy ride. Does it justify the entire excursion? I honestly don’t know. If Telltale put this game out as one whole title, or with briefer breaks in between each episode, I would say yes, but having to slog through entire snoozers of episodes betwixt a hell of an opening and closing, I find it hard to make a strong recommendation. Most people will enjoy Tales from the Borderlands, but it’s not going to turn the heads of those who aren’t adventure gamers in the first place. Telltale’s episodic model is starting to show its age as it continues to hurt each title, but if you’re reading this review after the game’s already been fully released, you probably don’t care much about that, hmm?


Pros

Outwardly funny, outstanding closure, no loose ends.

Cons

Dialogue timer, rushed in parts, it's over.

Bottom Line

For those willing to suffer through a couple hours of mediocrity, this ending justifies the investment.

Graphics
95
Sound
95
Gameplay
75
Control
90
Story
89
Overall Score 84
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Bob Richardson

Bob Richardson

Bob has been reviewing games at RPGFan since 2009. Over that period, he has grown in his understanding that games, their stories and characters, and the people we meet through them can enrich our lives and make us better people. He enjoys keeping up with budding scholarly research surrounding games and their benefits.