Tales From The Borderlands Review

By Mark Delaney, 1 year ago
It would be impossible to talk about modern gaming trends without mentioning the California-based Telltale Games. The decade-old studio has carved out a respected name for itself among gamers and critics for delivering well written, engaging point-and-click adventure games while revitalizing the genre's mechanics for a modern audience. After working with several established movie, television, and comic book properties, as well as some original IPs, Telltale set their sights on doing their first video game crossover title. Debuting all the way back in November of 2014, they released, in conjunction with 2K Games, Tales from the Borderlands. Nearly a full year later the entire story is now told, and despite some nagging legacy issues for the developer, the trip to Pandora is their finest yet.

New look. Same great taste.New look. Same great taste.

If you've played any of Telltale's recent games, the formula in Tales from the Borderlands (TFTB) will be immediately familiar. It is, as previously alluded to, a point-and-click adventure wherein the choices you make and relationships you forge help shape the direction and outcome of the story. Players take control of dual protagonists, Rhys and Fiona. The former is a forgettable cog in the all-powerful Hyperion mega-corporation wheel with fantasies of power. The latter is a smooth talking grifter who, along with her like-minded sister, is always looking for the big score. They're strangers at the outset of the story, but not too long into the first of five episodes, their paths cross when they both seek what everyone in the Borderlands universe is seeking: a vault key.

A necessary but unstable alliance emerges then and there that sets our characters in motion toward an equally mysterious and dangerous vault, said to hold unimaginable treasures for those who can reach it. Veterans of 2K's mainline Borderlands series are surely well versed in the lore of vaults, their rewards, and their dangers.

The story is, like with any Telltale game, TFTB's main attraction. Rhys and Fiona are infinitely likable as characters, and the long list of secondary characters are always interesting too. Like the main games, TFTB is very funny. It should actually be noted that I feel Tales is not just the funniest of the Borderlands games, but is one of the funniest games I've ever played. Even when the characters are in danger, which they nearly always are, the writing is light and humorous. Often times the jokes are presented among the dialogue options, which is a subtly rewarding way of handing the role of comedian to the player. Other jokes are frequently built directly into the story meaning even if you choose to pass on some funny moments, the overall tone of the story won't be compromised.

 Not exactly Iron Man, but he'll have to do. Not exactly Iron Man, but he'll have to do.

At different times, TFTB emulates different genres. Sometimes it parodies heist movies. Other times it's picking on police procedurals. It is, at its heart, an action-comedy and that's what I found most refreshing about it. It's not an action story with funny moments. It's genuinely part comedy. It earns that classification. There are so few actual comedy games, I've always wondered why that is, but TFTB has shown that it can work very well, especially in the Telltale format that is so story- and character-centric. If you've played the action-RPG series before, you'll also see several cameos and nods to the other games. Sometimes these are played out as inside jokes for those who are in the know, but there are also several familiar faces that play key roles in TFTB. The story also captures that signature Borderlands style of staying comical even when it gets gruesomely violent.

A major criticism of this new wave of Telltale games is that the player's decisions don't add up to enough changes. For the most part, I've disagreed with this sentiment because I feel a cohesive story demands certain story beats to remain present. I've long enjoyed the way that we as players have some say in the branches, but a lot of say in the character building. If you disagree with me on that point, you may be disappointed to know that TFTB's decisions carry less weight than their counterparts. There are a lot fewer life-or-death decisions this time and when there are major forks in the road, the lighter tone keeps anything from really feeling dire. When I was starting the final episode, I noted just how few major decisions I felt I had made to that point, and how I didn't feel like I had so greatly influenced the story. Then that finale added something very fun to the story that should appease both Borderlands fans and players looking for some tangible results from their decisions.

Friend or foe?Friend or foe?

In place of those heavy choices comes some evolution of the player agency, however. For starters, dialogue felt more consistent. As much as I love The Walking Dead and The Wolf Among Us, there are moments in both of those where NPCs will speak to me in ways that don't align with what I've said or how I've treated them. Maybe just due to the adage of practice making perfect, this isn't the case in TFTB. Nothing feels disjointed. My character relationships remained consistent, and even when the game tried to influence a romantic relationship between two characters, it didn't force the issue when I refused to take part in it. Telltale has also improved their combat mechanics this time around. Fiona has several scenes where you choose exactly how she will take on enemies, and even in more free-aiming point-and-click moments, the target reticule is more forgiving. it doesn't demand the precision past games from the studio sometimes did.

There are still, however, some recurring technical problems with TFTB, problems that seasoned Telltale fans will recognize. Sometimes the lip-syncing would fall out of place or the scenes would freeze up if only for a moment. This happened mostly when coming in or out of a new scene. This is something Telltale's games have been experiencing for years, so it's beyond tiresome at this point to see them reemerge here. If there's a bright side, it's that this mostly only happened in the fifth and final episode. That suggests to me that updates have repaired past episodes, or maybe the fifth episode just released a bit less stable than the rest because the game's release schedule was already spaced out so much. Still, it's a blemish on a narrative-driven game when audio and visual issues like these jolt you out of that narrative so harshly sometimes.

Hold on to your butts!"Hold on to your butts!"

When the game does work as intended, which again is most of the time, its voicework is another highlight. Telltale often works with the same actors from game to game, and if you've played their other recent works, you'll surely recognize a few voices. Heading up the game are perhaps the two most prolific voice actors in all of gaming, Troy Baker and Laura Bailey as Rhys and Fiona, respectively. Other notable standouts include Nolan North, Chris Hardwick, and the scene-stealing Patrick Warburton. The voice cast goes a long way to hitting on the game's constant jokes, even with the studio's rather primitive character emoting.

Jared Emerson-Johnson has done most of the scores for Telltale lately and returns for TFTB. The score is never at the forefront of any scene, but it works well enough to feel at home on Pandora and works with the editing to sell those aforementioned genre parodies. The game also utilizes several licensed tracks to great effect. The title sequence and its accompanied music in "Episode 2 - Atlas Mugged", was so well done and so stylish, I've since gone back to watch it on YouTube.

Given their similar visual styles, a Telltale-Borderlands crossover seems like an inevitability in retrospect.Given their similar visual styles, a Telltale-Borderlands crossover seems like an inevitability in retrospect.

There isn't much to say about the achievements, and some of you already know why. Most recent Telltale games, including this one, offer only one type of achievement and that's the story-based kind. If you play the game in full you'll unlock all 35 for all 1000 Gamerscore just like I did, just like 18,000+ others on TA have done at time of writing. Each episode has seven achievements for 200G each and it's really that simple. This is actually a strength of these games, though. With branching storylines, it would be dishonest to lead some players down certain paths in search not of story satisfaction but instead just the next achievement. The way they do it, there's no influence of the achievement list on the game's narrative, so players will always make only the decisions they truly want to make.

Summary

In terms of mechanics, each Telltale game is really a sequel to its predecessors. In that way, Tales From The Borderlands is mostly a success. Legacy concerns still plague this game like they have been doing for the last half-decade. However, dialogue options feel the most cohesive they've ever been and the combat adds a few new wrinkles while fixing what didn't work before. Naysayers of their formula won't be quieted with another game in Telltale's library that has especially little to offer for major player choices, but fans who have so far enjoyed their style of video game will absolutely enjoy this one, even if they aren't a Borderlands fan. It's the best Borderlands story told so far. More startlingly, it's the best Telltale story told so far, and should, with any luck, provoke a rise in the ripe genre of comedy video games.
4.5 / 5
Positives
  • One of the funniest games ever made
  • Memorable, lovable characters
  • Excellent mix of original soundtrack and licensed music
Negatives
  • Technical problems familiar to Telltale veterans remain present
Ethics Statement
The reviewer spent approximately twelve hours with Rhys, Fiona, and the rest of the colorful cast of characters. Along the way, he unlocked all 35 achievements for the full 1000 G. A digital copy of this game's season pass was provided by Telltale for this review, though the premiere episode was player-purchased months ago upon its initial release.
Mark Delaney
Written by Mark Delaney
Mark is a lifelong gamer and current Assistant (to the) News Manager on TA. When not playing games, he can be found cheering for a bad football team, playing Batman action figures with his son, or going to concerts with his lover. Days where he does all of those things are his favorite.