Editor’s Note: The following review is based on all five episodes of Tales from the Borderlands.
It’s probably fair to say that not a lot folks expected a whole lot out of Tales from the Borderlands. A spin-off of the horrendously successful series from which it partially borrows its name, Telltale has not only crafted an episodic adventure that does justice to its parent franchise but has also fashioned an effort that is on par with its bombastic inaugural season of the developer’s Walking Dead adaptation.
A big reason why Telltale has struck gold so thoroughly with Tales from the Borderlands is because for the first time in a long while the Californian developer has had a chance to properly exercise its comedy glands, making Tales one of the funniest and most downright entertaining adventure titles on the market.
A big reason why the comedy works so well in Tales is because the cast of characters are both extremely well written and performed by their respective voice actors. Troy Baker gives a brilliant performance as Hyperion company man turned cheeky mercenary Rhys, while Laura Bailey excels as wannabe Vault Hunter Fiona and the two of them together create this kind of buddy movie dynamic where they go from helping each other out of tight spots to sniping and making sarcastic remarks at one another.
Oh also, in case you’re wondering; yes, Nathan Drake himself Nolan North does voice a character in the game. A career thug by the name of August, the character itself exists in more of a supporting role than the primary one, yet North makes the character stand out with an exceptional performance by bringing a darker, more villainous side to the table than we’re used to seeing from him.
While frequently rib-detatchingly hilarious, Telltale expertly balances the relentless gags and comedy with a smattering of tender and somber moments too. As well as showcasing the impressive range of the voice cast, these touching and personal scenes also show an episodic series which is as tonally dynamic as the cast of characters which inhabit its virtual stage. So, if you were expecting laughs and nothing else, you might want to consider bringing some tissues too just in case.
In terms of plot, the episodic series focuses on Rhys and Fiona, throwing them together on the heist of a lifetime to obtain an extremely hard-to-get Vault Key and the masses of riches that lay beyond. It’s a story strewn with crosses, double-crosses, angry robots, killers, psychos, faces from the past and all the other assorted insanity that the Borderlands universe has conditioned us to expect.
Of course this being a game which is based on the Borderlands franchise, many of the notable characters from the shooter series frequently cross over into Tales, with the likes of Scooter, Janie, Athena, Brick, Mordecai and a whole heap more besides all serving to flesh out the events and narrative of the series. Nevertheless, while it is definitely a thrill to see favourite characters from the core series cross into Tales, it remains a credit to Telltale’s writing team that the best work is actually achieved with its unique creations Rhys, Fiona and a small handful of others that really brings them up to the same standard as the other pre-established personalities.
The writing team are simply tremendous; cleverly bookending mysteries from the beginning to the end and setting up some truly unexpected twists and turns in the narrative. Another thing that Telltale has built upon with Tales from the Borderlands is its decision making system, or more specifically, the effect that those decisions have in the long-term. Without giving away a Pandora-sized spoiler, let me just say that the sum of all your decisions is keenly and strongly felt in the final episode’s last act in such a way that no other Telltale game has managed to date.
One of the greatest things that Telltale has achieved with Tales from the Borderlands is the appeal that it elicits for both Borderlands veterans and newcomers alike. While the adherence to Borderlands lore pretty much makes the attraction of the game a triviality to those who enjoy the core series, it’s just the sheer quality of the dialog and narrative that allows the series to sink its hooks into folks who have never played a Borderlands game before. In the case of this reviewer, the strength of Telltale’s adaptation was such that it actually got me interested in the core franchise itself – which surely must be the most effective measuring stick for any franchise spin-off.
In terms of how Tales actually plays, the episodic series follows the same remit as previous Telltale efforts in so far as there’s nothing to really tease the brain but plenty of QTE-powered action scenes and dialogue exist to push the story forward. In actual fact, it’s no exaggeration to say the action scenes are some of the best in any Telltale effort to date. From the brilliantly conceived destruction derby death bowl which closes out the first episode to the laser fingers gun fight in the penultimate episode, Tales from the Borderlands arguably boasts the best use of the QTE this aside of Asura’s Wrath.
If any real criticism can be levelled against Tales from the Borderlands it could perhaps be directed towards the use of Telltale’s aging game engine. While the engine does a reliably fine job of keeping Tales stylistically in line with the core entries in the Borderlands series, it still suffers from all the usual technical hiccups, such as random frame-rate drops and jerky loading screens, which will sadly prove familiar to players of previous Telltale Games outings.
A special mention must also be given to the introductory credit sequences that open each episode of Tales from the Borderlands. With a belting selection of soundtracks and superbly animated on-screen action, the opening introduction for each episode is every bit as exciting to look forward to as the content of the episode itself.
Despite the fact that Tales from the Borderlands strays from the series usual shooting stomping grounds, it still manages to effortlessly hit the mark and elevate the core franchise in a fashion that few, if any, spin-offs have ever managed to achieve. Part Firefly, part Borderlands and part Raiders of the Lost Ark, this is Telltale Games operating at the peak of their considerable creative powers and you would be crazy to miss out.