Borderlands spinoff sets high bar

BY SAMUEL GUGLIELMO
Features Editor

Reviewer’s Note: I played this game on a PlayStation 4. There may be differences between versions.

When “Tales From the Borderlands” was first announced, it was one of those things that most people weren’t sure what to make of. Some people thought it was an early April fool’s joke, others were convinced it would be a misstep for what was one of the most popular developers. “Tales From the Borderlands” manages to be neither, instead being one of the best games Telltale has ever put out.

Story

“Tales From the Borderlands” follows two different characters: Hyperion lackey Rhys, and con artist Fiona. Rhys is trying to get promoted to the head of Hyperion while Fiona is trying to make the biggest heist of her career. The two’s paths collide when a heist goes wrong and they lose $10 million. What starts as a simple job of getting money back from bandits becomes a rather complicated affair involving another vault, vault hunters, and fighting the entirety of Hyperion itself.

Like with most Telltale games, the story is the most important part, and the characters are where it shines the brightest. Each character, from the minor one scene background characters to the major main characters, kept me far more entertained than I thought they would. Characters from previous Borderlands games show up as well, and each of them are fleshed out in more interesting ways. Zer0 showing up during the first chapter was great, and Athena is probably going to be a favorite after this.

Like most Telltale games, “Tales From the Borderlands” suffers from the fourth episode curse, where the fourth episode is the weakest of the bunch. It has some good scenes, the ending is great and the “step three” part is going to be a real surprise to anyone playing, but the rest of the episode falls short. It’s hilarious and entertaining, but it doesn’t really move the plot forward much. It’s not a deal breaker, but it a bit disappointing to see.

Presentation

While the game uses Telltale’s signature engine, “Tales From the Borderlands” does have a “Borderlands” art style backing it up. Everything looks kind of nice, but nothing particularly stands out. Each episode starts with it’s own song, and Telltale seems to have gone out of it’s way to make some particularly great choices: I loved listening to Jungle’s “Busy Earnin'” in the first episode, and James Blake’s “Retrograde” is a particularly amazing song. Of the six songs that played in the game, five of them ended up on my iPod. The other one was already on it.

Accompanying the amazing music is particularly great voice acting. Troy Baker and Laura Baily play Rhys and Fiona with some particularly amazing talent. Nolan North is always fun, and it’s nice seeing him break out of his usual roles as bandit August. Dameon Clarke returns as Handsome Jack and there’s little more that needs to be said about that: he’s still completely perfect for that role.

“Tales From the Borderlands” unfortunately suffers from problems that a lot of Telltale games suffer from. At one point I had Rhys saying two different things at the same time, characters would snap to different animations, audio would cut out, subtitles would break, and the game has framerate issues. Usually I’m forgiving on a lot of these things, but they’ve been problems for so long that I’m wondering when Telltale is going to get around to fixing them.

Gameplay

“Tales From the Borderlands” doesn’t do anything to really change the Telltale formula. Most of the game was spent walking around, having conversations with characters, picking dialogue options, and the occasional quick time event for the combat. Most of it works well enough and I never had a problem with quick time events failing to register like I had with some past Telltale games (I’m looking at you, “Walking Dead: Season 2”).

Conversations with characters often gave four choices and a limited time to make those choices. While the story will eventually follow the same general path no matter what you do, each dialog option can change little things about the story. For example, a decision in episode two determines how the characters escape a situation they’re trapped in. While the same characters will always get out, one decision will leave one paralyzed for a good chunk of the next episode while the other sees you gaining a new, though incredibly stupid, robot buddy.

So despite everyone having a similar plot, your decisions do change little things. The last episode does come around to making all the decisions matter in an interesting way, and also changes up the Telltale fighting formula just a little bit by adding in arcade fighting game styled quick time events. You’ll feel right at home if you’ve ever tried to throw a Hadoken.

Conclusion

“Tales From the Borderlands” doesn’t improve the gameplay of past Telltale games in any significant way other than making sure it works (which, after 3 years, shouldn’t really be seen as an achievement). Yet, it tells such a heartwarming and hilarious story that I’m more than willing to give this a pass. Die hard “Borderlands” fans or just casual acquaintances with the universe should be entertained and impressed with “Tales from the Borderlands.” Anyone looking for the best of what Telltale has to offer should pick this up.

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