The season finale of Tales From The Borderlands had all the work to do and, holy crap, it delivered in the best way possible. Episode Five: The Vault of the Traveller mixes story, emotion, action and humour to brilliant effect, where all your seemingly unimportant choices from previous instalments finally mean something.
At the conclusion of Escape Plan Bravo, Handsome Jack gave Rhys a proposition; one which players either accepted or refused. With the presidential position of Hyperion on the line – something Rhys had strived for leading up to Episode One – saying no is a tough choice. With the second Gortys piece secured at Episode Four’s conclusion, and Jack as the built-in AI of the Helios space station, returning to Vallory as company president seems fairly straightforward. That is, until Jack, at his conniving best, shares his plans for the future with Rhys. It’s here that Telltale’s masterful storytelling of Rhys and Jack’s relationship comes to a head and the events that follow reveal why Jack had always maintained a high threat level in the game.
The repercussions of this encounter are quite damaging, as Fiona, Sasha and Gortys are apprehended by Yvette and a bunch of Hyperion guards. At this point, Telltale Games offers the first awesome choice in Episode Five whilst Fiona and co. are escorted. If, like me, you found Yvette’s double-crossing ways against Rhys distasteful, players have the option as Fiona to knock her out via a fist to the face and chuck her in a holding cell. Due to my out-of-character behaviour when playing Tales From The Borderlands, the redemption was only sweetened when, as Rhys, I briefly gave Yvette a lecture on loyalty and friendship. In retrospect, it is quite a profound moment and something unexpected from a Borderlands-related title.
The rush to evacuate Helios is Episode Five’s first chance for some gripping scenes where characters contemplate their allegiances and will do anything to escape the station before it’s too late. A member of Fiona and Rhys’ gang sent to retrieve the second Gortys artefact does not make it, and faint musical strums soon manifest into a highly emotive track for an intro into The Vault of the Traveller. Where a highly energetic song might’ve done the job, the song of choice stirs uncertainty entwined with sadness as Fiona, Rhys and the remainder of the group are sent plummeting back to Pandora.
Separated, Rhys and Fiona encounter their own roadblocks after Vallory wastes no time in getting down to business. It’s here where players are sent on an emotional rollercoaster as Rhys encounters a vulnerable Handsome Jack, whose emotive monologue is met with a tinge of pity. However, players’ sympathy could soon turn to anger, even hatred, as Jack makes one bold, last-ditch effort in asserting himself as Rhys’ main threat. Meanwhile, Fiona makes a bold move of her own, clashing with Vallory and ending any hopes of claiming what lies beyond the Vault.
Players are brought back to the present day, as the season’s storytelling method of continuously recounting events comes to an end. This lets character development and plot take the lead from a variety of different angles. From this point onwards, The Vault of the Traveller shines as the best chapter in this newly formed series, as all previous decisions as early as Zer0 Sum come to the fore. The masked bounty hunter is revealed; familiar faces are re-united; all player choices are reflected in who is able to help you tackle the End Game.
This section is the most fun part of Episode Five. There is on-the-fly strategic planning and epic battles with tons of action, all of which are sewn together with humorous anecdotes: essential ingredients of a great Borderlands game. Players may even spot a Power Rangers reference somewhere. It is also satisfying to see Loader Bot take the lead as squad captain, co-ordinating who goes where and which tactics to use.
In the end, though, The Vault of the Traveller ends on a fantastic note and the dialogue, though conversational, is quite moving. We never know if Rhys and Fiona part ways but its conclusion leaves the door ajar for a second season of Tales From The Borderlands – perhaps even leading into the next Borderlands game.
There is a lot that Telltale Games has done right here. The comical writing and musical inclusions have been faithful to the Borderlands IP, as well as the trademark cel-shading graphical techniques. Maintaining continuity with the Borderlands games was always going to be a high priority, and while there have been rough patches along the way, Tales From The Borderlands offers another side to Pandora I wasn’t expecting. Playing as Rhys and Fiona, and exercising my inner-rebel, has been very entertaining, while building relationships with Pandora’s support cast has been a joy, too. The gameplay of Borderlands has always been centred around guns, but substituting them for narrative-driven gameplay instead has been a surprising and welcomed change; Gearbox Software should be taking notes, that’s for sure.
The game’s misdirection from gunplay was strange, as it’s a big part of what gives Borderlands its uniqueness. In time, maybe Telltale will integrate this a bit better should Tales From The Borderlands receive a sequel, and delve into of the hectic squad-based gameplay which made this final chapter so damn good.
After some missteps, Episode Five makes this new series a fantastic offering from Telltale, and is a nearly faultless representation of what Borderlands is all about. Hopefully season two is on the cards and we can look forward to another lot of episodic goodness in the Borderlands.
Hayden played The Vault of the Traveller for just over four hours, mixing up gameplay choices that ultimately effected the game’s final section. Tales From The Borderlands is now his favourite Telltale Games series.
Out With A Bang
Season One's conclusion makes Tales From The Borderlands a great package of gaming loot.