Published on December 4th, 2014 | by Chris Scott0
Tales From the Borderlands Episode One Review
Summary: Tales From the Borderlands is fun. Really, really fun.
On occasion, a game comes out of left field and surprises me. Tales From the Borderlands is one of those games.
When Telltale Games announced it was going to be making a game set in the Borderlands universe, I thought it was nuts. Borderlands as a series is all about shooting and looting. Telltale makes dialog-driven adventure games. The pairing just didn’t make sense.
Add in the fact that I had already gotten my fill of Borderlands by about 10 hours into Borderlands 2, and needless to say, my excitement level for Tales From the Borderlands wasn’t anywhere near full. But it might be the most irreverently fun two hours of gaming I’ve played all year.
Tales From the Borderlands Episode One “Zer0 Sum” starts off with Rhys, a middle manager on the Hyperion moonbase Helios, walking to a meeting he expects will be to give him a promotion. He quickly finds out that things have changed as his boss was blown out an airlock and his nemesis Vasquez is now in charge, demoting him to assistant vice-janitor. A plan is hatched to get revenge, as Rhys and his accounting buddy Vaughn head to Pandora to seal a deal for a vault key.
Anyone that has played a Telltale adventure game in the last few years will feel right at home with Tales From the Borderlands. Like The Walking Dead and The Wolf Among Us before it, Tale From has players interacting with the world via dialog choices, simple quick time events, and refined point and click investigation. However, Tales From spices up the standard formula in a couple of unique ways.
The first of these unique twists is the introduction of a second playable main character: Fiona, a sassy con-artist looking to make a big score courtesy of some dumb Hyperion schmucks. In terms of narrative, Fiona is on equal footing with Rhys, with both relating their tales to an interested third party. Both narratives intersect and compliment each other allowing for broader storytelling.
Having two characters also directly plays into some of the mechanics that Tales From the Borderlands adds to the formula. As I said before, Borderlands as a series is about shooting and looting. The gameplay doesn’t deliver a whole lot of shooting, although there are a few instances of that type of action, but it does deliver with some “loot.” Certain containers can be looted for equipment and cash, just like in Borderlands proper. Fans of Borderlands will appreciate the light beam emanating from loot that can be picked up. And the cash can be used to buy things at certain junction points.
Make no mistake: this isn’t a shoot and loot game, and the characters aren’t world-saving heroes. Yet,t Tales From the Borderlands certainly brings that feel to the game. While Fiona is busy looting every random box in her path, Rhys has a more informational ability. Using a cybernetic eye, Rhys can scan things in the environment to gather more information and that brings out a little more of the irreverent flavor the series is known for. Neither the limited looting nor the scanning change the overall formula too much but it is enough that the game feels a bit different when playing it.
However, what feels most different about the Telltale release is that it is very light and humorous. The actions and encounters that Rhys and Fiona experience are no less dire than anything that takes place in The Walking Dead or The Wolf Among Us, but the writing is more fun and upbeat. And the world, already outlandish, allows for some pretty absurd encounters and set pieces. Death awaits around every corner for Rhys and Fiona, but they face it with a slice of snark, and I loved it because of that.
From a technical perspective, Tales From the Borderlands looks and plays as you would expect a Telltale adventure game to play. By that I mean janky animations and sometimes stuttering transitions. It doesn’t feature the more game-killing bugs that the original season of The Walking Dead did, but it also isn’t a fully smooth experience. It is a shame, but it is kind of a notable calling card of these Telltale adventures that they are just a bit janky.
But the jank is forgivable for the most part because Tales From the Borderlands is fun. Really, really fun. It is two hours of action packed hijinks with fun writing, interesting characters, and just enough of a shift to the Telltale formula that it feels fresh and exciting. I can’t wait until Episode Two releases.
This review was written with material provided by the publisher on the Xbox One console. For more on our review process, please read here.