Developer: Telltale Games
Publisher: Telltale Games
Release Date: Episode 1: November 25, 2014, Episode 2: March 17, 2015, Episode 3: June 23, 2015, Episode 4: August 18, 2015, Episode 5: October 20, 2015
There’s a now-infamous puzzle in the first episode of Telltale Games’ 2012 The Walking Dead adventure game where you have to find and put batteries in a radio. It’s ridiculously simply to the point of insulting, but I remember thinking “Hey, at least we got a classic inventory puzzle in this otherwise very narrative-heavy game.”
Since then, Telltale has doubled-down in their unique subgenere of adventure game that tells an incredibly solid story filled with choice-driven dialogue and action-packed quick-time events – and almost no actual puzzles. Their latest adventure, Tales from the Borderlands, exemplifies this philosophy to the point where I feel like I’m watching a series of cutscenes at least half the time.
And yet, the story is good. Really, really good. It begins as a classic thieves tale and zany con-artist scheme and expertly weaves together a fantastic mix of cultures and players within the Borderlands world to create a truly memorable and fun experience. I ranked it #8 on My Top Ten Games of 2015.
For the first time in a Telltale adventure, we get to play as dual protagonists, Fiona and Rhys. Fiona is a native Pandoran, an orphaned thief with a good heart and a sassy sister. Rhys is a corporate stooge working for Hyperion in the orbiting space station Helios. Thanks to an elaborate con being pulled by Fiona involving a valuable vault key, Rhys tries to take advantage and the two become embroiled in a much bigger plot.
The first episode, “Zer0 Sum” does a fantastic job setting up the tone, characters, and nice balance of action, comedy, and drama that would continue throughout all five episodes. I waited until all five episodes were released to play it; I can’t imagine having to wait nearly a solid year from playing the first episode to the last.
The plot is intricate but never confusing, and the cast of characters is kept relatively small, while still including a ton of really neat cameos for Borderlands fans. The high-speed chase and fight scene climax at the end of Episode 3, “Catch a Ride,” was especially fun and noteworthy.
The Borderlands series is best known for its humor. Like South Park the series doesn’t shy away from crass dick and fart jokes, but also layers in incredibly clever satire, social commentary, and complex callbacks.
For example: near the beginning of Episode 4, “Escape Plan Bravo,” Rhys has to talk his way past a pair of male guards. You can choose to say, “Sup, ladies? Talking about boys?” The guards reply with a smart, quippy remark about discussing casual misogynism in the workplace, then turn it around by saying that yes, they were in fact talking about boys as one of them was finally marrying his boyfriend. It’s a fantastic mix of gut-busting humor and smile-inducing comments that keeps the story engaging throughout the 10+ hours.
Dialogue is snappy and fun with that classic Telltale timer giving you a constant sense of urgency. Nearly every Episode also has at least one major action-sequence involving quick-time events. The only other Telltale adventure I’d played was that first The Walking Dead game, and I remember being occasionally frustrated by some of the quick actions I had to take. Not so here, where the movements are well integrated into the action, very easy to pull off, and your targeting reticle always starts practically on top of the target.
I would almost complain that it was a tad too easy, but then I remember how terribly immersion-breaking it is to fail one. I only failed a handful of times in the entire adventure, but the autosaves are far enough apart that it is definitely a pain to replay entire dialogue sessions, and the entire structure tends to break down. I ended up appreciating that they were all easily designed, and keeping the controller in my hands without simply watching events unfold.
A Telltale game lives and dies by its story and characters, and Tales from the Borderlands absolutely excels at both. The voice-acting is top notch from many of the industries now-recognizable talents like Nolan North and Lauren Bailey. Telltale’s art style of exaggerated facial animations works incredibly well with the comedic tone and timing.
I fell in love with the cutesy budding relationship between Rhys and Sasha, the inner conflict and macho attitude by August, the utter badassness of Vallory. And, of course, Loader Bot, my favorite character of 2015.
Even if you’re not invested in the uniquely goofy world of the Borderlands games, Tales from the Borderlands is a solid, light-hearted romp that will make you laugh out loud and appreciate a damn fun story. If you can accept the matching light gameplay elements, it’s definitely one of the best games of the year.
- Amazing writing, pacing, and voice acting
- Nice mix of action and dialogue
- Great use of established Borderlands characters and continuity
- Not a single weak Episode
- Each Episode has an incredible opening credits sequence
- LOADER BOT
- Barely any puzzles
- Very few opportunities to walk around and explore
- Auto-saves are annoyingly infrequent
- Most choices don’t seem to matter all that much