Platform reviewed: PS4
Fact is, I’ve know absolutely nothing about the Borderlands universe. Apparently, that doesn’t really matter, because TellTale Games’ Tales from the Borderlands is a stand-alone story set in the Borderlands universe and succeeds in being accessible to non-Borderlands followers such as myself. So lacking any sort of expectations as to what I would encounter, I found myself diving into a humorous, character-driven story set in a crazy, colorful, and chaotic world. I call that a good start.
Episode One weaves the story of two protagonists into its tale. We begin the game as Rhys, an ambitious, fledging employee of the Hyperion Corporation residing on a space station hovering above the planet of Pandora. Rhys and his friend and colleague, Vaughn, desperately wish to climb the corporate ladder as they embark on a scheme to do so, which takes them to Pandora. There, we also meet and play as Fiona, a con-artist and thief living with her sister, her cohort in crime. Both tales are told to a masked kidnapper who has captured the two and forced each of them to tell their own version of the crazy events that are to come in the game.
The gameplay itself consists almost entirely of quick-time events and time-limited responses conversing with other characters as the story progresses. Action sequences require mere button presses or directional jabs with the analog sticks, which the typical gamer will have no problem performing. The quick-time events were a bit cumbersome when it came to navigating point-and-click actions with the DualShock 4 analog sticks, but the game is very forgiving with the time allowed to perform the actions. I counted one missed event during my playthrough. So be aware, this game is not challenging at all.
There are no puzzles and very little of the searching and exploring that were commonplace when I played the Walking Dead series. This point is a bit disappointing, but hopefully these mechanics will return in coming chapters. Having said that, the game and story are presented so well that it wasn’t until after I completed the game that I realized Tales had diverged a bit from the previous TellTale formula.
There were only a couple of times that I was able to actually control my character and move around in the game. But even then, the motion was robotic and stiff. It was like I was controlling a mannequin. What is worse is that it was all a bit contrived. Rarely was there any point to moving except as filler to advance the story.
The true crux of Tales’ gameplay is the conversations and choices presented. Typically, you have three choices in how to respond to others. How you respond may have implications in the rest of the game. Occasionally, the game informs you that Vaughn, for example, “will remember that” after making a choice. Is that a good thing or a bad thing? Sometimes the characters response in return will give you hints about how they feel about your choice, but that’s not always the case. On the other hand, the game will offer you a choice to do one thing or another, and there is a constant sense that things you say or choices you make may come back to help you or haunt you. And the implications of your choices are the crux of Tales that makes it so much fun.
Visually, Tales from the Borderlands is wonderful. Pandora is vibrant and colorful and correlates nicely with the chaotic nature of its inhabitants. The character design fits the personalities and voice acting perfectly. The crazy inhabitants of Pandora are like something ripped right out of the Mad Max movies and it works very well with the overall theme and tone of the story.
Episode One of Tales from the Borderlands not only left me wanting more episodes but more of the Borderlands universe that I have wrongfully neglected. And if the rumors are true, then I may be able to venture back into this world on my PlayStation 4. Either way, Tales, Episode One is a great introduction to this world and an excellent beginning to the series. Great characters, voice acting, and overall design far outweigh the flaws. More challenges in exploring and puzzles would be welcome additions in coming episodes to balance the heavy offering of QTE gameplay, but I’m hooked on the story and can’t wait to see how this tale unfolds.