A notable resident of Earth once wrote that “Nothing can be said to be certain, except death and taxes.” Residents of Pandora have a similar expression: “Nothing can be said to be certain, except death and explosions…and blood, and betrayal, and psychos…and bike races, sand, skags, and sporks.” It doesn’t quite have the same ring to it, but it is accurate.
Tales From the Borderlands is an interactive storytelling experience from Telltale Games. Three months on from the gut-wrenching finale of The Walking Dead: Season 2, Telltale Games have turned their attention to the Borderlands universe. The result is a comedic, adrenaline-filled juggernaut that is not afraid to poke fun at its own tropes. Fair warning: The game is not afraid to spill some blood in the process. But let’s face it, if you are ready to re-visit Pandora then a little blood isn’t going to put you off this time. Set after the events of Borderlands 2, we follow the adventures of semi-handsome, Hyperion employee: Rhys and the smooth-talking swindler: Fiona. The story focuses on the acquisition of a vault key; a sought-after item that will lead Rhys and Fiona to untold fortune and favour. Business deals are never usually simple affairs but this one leads the duo across the arid wastes of Pandora, dodging death at every corner.
Rhys and Fiona are the narrators of their own story which leads to some outlandish fabrications. The game starting mid-way through the story rang some alarm bells for me. (“I bet you’re wondering how I got here.) But once things got into full swing, the unreliable narration kept me on my toes. Did Rhys just do THAT to that guy? Was there really a “Geyser of blood”? The characters also steer the narrative by scoffing at their counterparts’ preposterous embellishments. This method of storytelling becomes more important as the story develops and the game also uses it to explain any off-camera events that may be happening during a scene. This made me excited to find the resolution of any out of frame screams (of which there are a lot!)
The characters are exactly what you would expect from a Telltale game: well-developed and memorable. Rhys and Fiona share the majority of the screen-time and you develop a close bond with both of them. Telltale has always been a master of making you care about each character that you interact with and this game is no different. No character is left unscathed. The supporting cast shines through and adds significant depth to the narrative. ‘Loaderbot’ and ‘Vaughn’ deserve special plaudits for their impact in the story. It is a testament to the storytelling that even one-scene characters leave a lasting imprint. The dialogue is on-point and the comedy is administered with surgical precision (often too surgical). But, with an exceptional script, there is a lot of focus on the voice acting to deliver. Stories are only as good as their storytellers, right? The good news is that Telltale games hired the services of some of the best in the business. Troy Baker, Laura Bailey, and Patrick Warbuton lead an already stellar cast and deliver a memorable performance. Oh, did someone also mention Nolan North? That’s right, you have been spoiled here.
The most impressive feature of this adventure lies in the balance between action, comedy, and drama. If you are in any way familiar with the Borderlands series then you know that all three are part of daily life in Pandora. It would be easy for Telltale to take a step back from the chaos to tell the story but in fact, it is quite the opposite. Tales From the Borderlands feels exactly like it should: a story about Pandora, told on Pandora. Dramatic moments, action scenes, and laugh-out-loud moments come and go with seamless effort. This game does not try too hard to be funny.
Graphics and Gameplay
The graphics are consistent with other Telltale games and the signature cell-shaded graphics tie in nicely with the Borderlands aesthetic. Telltale Games do care about their graphics but the sole focus is always on the story. This does leave the quality of the character animations lagging behind but it is an acceptable tradeoff. The other big tradeoff lies in the action scenes – key interactions are reduced to a swipe of the analogue stick and any skill-checks are limited to the mashing of a button. This lack of complex interactivity may be unappealing to some but this isn’t Dark Souls. With all this being said, there is no cause to panic. Tales From the Borderlands stays firmly in its lane and does not attempt to dilute the experience by shoehorning in new features. The game knows its strengths.
In true Borderlands style, the game is not afraid to make fun of itself and it plays out in a mature fashion. The dialogue choices will attract a lot of people and it is refreshing to see that in amongst all the chaos, you will still be sweating over every choice. It is also great to see your favourite characters from Borderlands pop up and become part of your story. Any dips in intensity are short-lived and you always find yourself asking: “What if I would have done that differently?” Whether “that” sometimes involves you choosing between unleashing a barrage of rockets or a hail of gunfire; your choices will always leave an impression.
If you are familiar with Telltale and Borderlands then this game will not disappoint. The story is engaging, the characters are memorable and the set-pieces shine bright. If this is your first Telltale experience as a Borderlands fan then you will love your next trip into Pandora. There may not be Bazillions of Guns, but there is a story filled with charm and maturity amongst the blood, sand, and motor oil. An unforgettable experience awaits you…just try not to get yourself killed.
(This review covers the PS4 Version – All episodes)
GameRev was provided with a digital download of the game for the purpose of this review.