Tales From the Borderlands (Review)

Image result for tales from the borderlands

Developer: Telltale Games
Publisher: Telltale Games
Format: Android, iOS, OS X, PC, PS3, PS4 (Reviewed), Xbox 360, Xbox One
Release Date: November 25, 2014 – October 20, 2015
Copy obtained via GameFly

Tales from the Borderlands is easily my biggest surprise of 2016.
Sure, it technically released in 2014 and distributed its five episodes into 2015, but the complete game was just released on disc this past month, making it new to me. In fact, this is the way I’ve played through every Telltale game. Playing a two-hour experience, and then waiting a month or two (or three!) for the next installment sounds like absolute torture to me. I always wait for the story to complete and for Telltale to release all episodes on disc so that I can play through them all back to back. As a HUGE fan of Borderlands, the wait for all five chapters to be released was excruciatingly difficult. However, the wait was entirely worth it, because not only is this Telltale’s best video game to date, it’s also my favorite entry in the Borderlands series.

I’ll admit, I was actually a little worried going into this game.
Don’t get me wrong, I’ve loved most of Telltale’s games — The Walking Dead, The Wolf Among Us, Game of Thrones — but I was extremely skeptical about how they would pull this one off.

The Borderlands series is essentially a satirical parody of Mad Max.
It takes place on a dangerous planet where society has collapsed and everyone has reverted to their  primal nature. Bandits wander the wastelands, people fight over food and fuel, and everybody is generally bonkers. The series has always focused on gags, puns, and crazy personalities, so it makes perfect sense for Telltale to approach this franchise. However, although Telltale is well known for their storytelling prowess, the Borderlands video games have always revolved around tense first-person combat, leveling up your character, and collecting loot. I was nervous about Telltale messing these aspects up, but thankfully I had nothing to fear. They simply reworked how these elements play out.

This isn’t too surprising, since Telltale has always made the focus of their games revolve around character and story. Although a lot of the more game-like elements have been stripped to make Tales from the Borderlands work with Telltale’s formula, it doesn’t prevent it from telling a wonderfully hilarious tale set in a universe I adore.

The game takes place after Borderlands 2 and the fall of Handsome Jack.
The first of two playable characters is Rhys, a young Hyperion individual who dreams of one day running the company he works for. He’s a little silly, kinda dumb, and scares easily, but he also has a determined spirit. When a promotion opportunity ends up being nothing like he had planned,  Rhys — with the help of some friends — decides to get payback against the new boss of Hyperion, sabotage an expensive business deal, and seek fame and fortune on the dangerous planet of Pandora.

The first episode also introduces us to Fiona, a con artist who believes in talking her way out of tough situations, using deception and trickery as her ally, and swindling people out of their hard earned (or easily stolen) money. Her sister, Sasha, helps pull off the cons, and the two of them together make a terrific team. Without giving any spoilers, events happen that make Fiona and Rhys — along with their friends — cross paths, resulting in an unlikely partnership and countless laughs for the player. At its core, this is what Tales from the Borderlands is all about. Two unlikely people having their paths entwined and being forced to work together to reach their goals.

While Borderlands has always had a sharp comedic wit about it, Tales from the Borderlands — which I’m now going to call TFTB, because I’m lazy — takes the humor level up a couple notches. One of the things that totally pulled me into the story was the humor. Rhys, Fiona, and all of their friends are genuinely hilarious. Even better, each character has a certain type of humor, making everyone funny in a different way. I was also impressed by how Telltale managed to throw in smaller character moments, giving the laughs a pause and letting you connect with the characters on a more personal level. Everybody has their own motives, and as the game progresses across the five chapters, the characters all grow and transform, due to being around each other. In fact, TFTB has the best handling of character arcs that Telltale has ever done.

The other thing that helped pull me in was the action.
While it’s nowhere near as interactive as the core Borderlands games, TFTB puts largely the strongest emphasis on action I’ve seen in a Telltale game. It’s still just button prompts and displays of which direction to flick the thumbstick, put combined with the absurd humor of the game, these segments are made all the more awesome. From sending people flying with stun batons, to gigantic imaginary gunfights with finger guns, TFTB has a confidence and style to its action that’s equal parts satisfying and entertaining. There’s a few segments where you can even tell they tried experimenting with Borderlands ability to customize your weapon loadout, giving you some different options to rain death down on bandits and creatures. While these parts were pretty neat, they’re few and far between, coming off as more of an afterthought than an actual mechanic.

Last but not least, even though Telltale always uses cel-shading for their graphics, TFTB looks terrific. Since the Borderlands series was already cel-shaded, this feels like a natural extension to that universe. The characters all look great, combat looks amazing, and the world design is as great as ever.

FINAL VERDICT

Tales from the Borderlands is a terrific experience.
It continues the clever wit Borderlands is known for, has a stellar cast of character, and does a wonderful job of making them extremely likable. It also tells my favorite story in the Borderlands saga. One full of unforgettable dialogue, characters, and silly, dumb action. I don’t know if we’re getting another season, but after playing through this game I surely hope we do.

– Zack Burrows

 

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