The people at Telltale Games have certainly spread their wings this year. The second season of The Walking Dead received nothing but praise and their announcement of an episodic series set in the world of Borderlands, with help from Gearbox Software, came out of left-field.
As a big fan of the Borderlands games, I was right on this. There’s so much potential and a lot of good stuff at Telltale’s disposal here: humour, locations, characters, and guns. Lots of guns.
The great thing about Tales from the Borderlands is that players assume the role of a rising Hyperion employee, Rhys, and a con artist of sorts called Fiona. While Rhys has done some unspeakable things to get his current position, he is somewhat blinded by the immeasurable amount of perks available in the top job at Hyperion. Fiona, however, teams up with her sister Sasha and long-time mentor Felix to chase the next small or, in this case, substantial haul. Their paths intersect in Episode One: Zer0 Sum due to high demand for the remaining Vault Keys; considering the events that concluded Borderlands 2.
Telltale does a fantastic job of painting a picture of Pandora with their depictions of the people and towns with a varied colour palette. The aesthetic is spot-on and feels like an enjoyable piece of Borderlands DLC.
Fans of the Gearbox franchise needn’t be worried, since the humour from the Borderlands games has remained intact. Encounters with others range from tense, to wacky, to laugh-out-loud moments – the conversations between Rhys and Fiona, in particular, make this first episode all the more amusing.
Telltale’s formula in building narrative hasn’t veered too far from tradition in Tales from the Borderlands. Players still have a time limit on selecting Rhys and Fiona’s dialogue options, but the consequences of these choices were few and far between; most choices were on-the-fly decisions that did not affect the overall plot. However, these small decisions did fit well within the Borderlands world, such as selecting a specific gun loadout or toying with the intelligence of Psychos.
There is a newcomer that breaks the mould when it comes to Telltale’s game mechanics here. Rhys, a cyborg of sorts, has the benefit of an ECHO eye-scanner and gets vast amounts of information from items by scanning them. It’s invaluable in certain situations as it displays facts on products and inhabitants within Pandora. He also has a hologram that extends from his palm, used mainly to interact with Hyperion-only products.
However, the first episode does have some obvious flaws. The chosen storytelling method, in medias res (starting from the end and recounting events), won’t work for the whole of the series and needs to be addressed. Pandora has always been about playing ‘in the moment’ with frenetic fire fights and rewards of substantial loot – reflecting on past events for the whole series would be bad move. Also, Borderlands has a love affair with guns and it was slightly disturbing for them to have such a small part in Zer0 Sum.
Aside from these points and the occasional stuttering frame rate during cutscenes, this is a strong first offering from Telltale Games. There’s something about a Borderlands game that makes me want to take more risks from a verbal and physical standpoint and Tales from the Borderlands fed the beast, for over two hours, to great effect.
I’m looking forward to traveling around Pandora again through the eyes of another highly skilled developer.
Welcome to Pandora again, kiddos!