I do enjoy a bit of Borderlands. From the open exploration, to the quest driven story and the billions of randomly generated guns, there’s a lot to love about the game. Add in some four-player co-op, with tons of loot strewn over the planet for you to collect, and you can see why it’s a winning formula. Tales From The Borderlands doesn’t have any of those things.
Yet, somehow, it’s perhaps the most enjoyable visit I’ve had to that world yet. It retains the humour, style and menace of Pandora and blends it with Telltale’s episodic adventure game blueprint, but goes above and beyond what we’ve come to expect from those types of games. This isn’t just Borderlands with The Walking Dead’s gameplay – it’s refined, downright hilarious and action-packed while keeping a solid storyline.
It’s not about Vault Hunters, either; frontman Rhys is a relatively normal (backed up with his generic Troy Baker voice) Hyperion worker: he wants to be like Handsome Jack and thinks he can be, until he’s screwed over by his boss Vasquez, who demotes him to janitorial work. Rhys and his friend Vaugh strike up a plan to get back at their boss, which sees them travel to Pandora, a world more savage and less friendly than they’re used to on their moon base.
This takes place after previous Borderlands games and with a well-written plot manages to feel less throwaway than even Borderlands: The Pre-Sequel, the latest mainline entry into the series. Tales doesn’t just reference the world for the sake of it, instead using already established tropes and styles to create something brilliant, which is something Telltale have proven they’d good at time and again. Everything from the menus to the load screens, or even the music and characters is pure Borderlands; there’s no whiff of a cheap knock-off here.
But even if you aren’t a fan of Borderlands – just as you may not have been a fan of Fables before The Wolf Among Us – there’s a lot for you here and you might end up enjoying it much more than you did with the shooter franchise. It keeps the same offbeat humour and runs with it, with plenty of laugh-out-loud moments which are a really fresh experience after the grim worlds Telltale have explored recently.
The game has its own quirks and features too, such as Rhys’ Echo Eye which can scan the environment in a more traditional point-and-click style, an unreliable narration where Rhys might die due to a mistake and then explain away with “no, well maybe I didn’t technically die, but I could have,” and the ability to use cash to barter when playing as Fiona.
Fiona’s the other character you’ll be playing as – hence the plural tales in the title – as her story intertwines with Rhys’, and before you know it you’ll be on an adventure which has the same boisterous and fun overtones as found in Guardians of the Galaxy. It’s a genuine blast after you get into things – which shouldn’t take long – and it’s easy to forget that Borderlands wasn’t always like this.
The action-packed moments of Borderlands: car chases, boss fights, and other set pieces that we’re used to all play out here. While it’s more scripted than the FPS games, there are often several quick choices that you’ll have to make in any given situation, from which way to go to what equipment the Loader you’re controlling will have, this referencing the randomly generated loot and equipment of the main games. These action sequences are great, though, and feel much less awkward and clunky than Telltale’s previous efforts.
Dialogue choices seem much more in-line with what you’re actually selecting, rather than being a vague extrapolation of that option. With great performances all round, and a sublime dual-narrative which really works well for some comedic moments, this is one of Telltale’s best written titles yet. It’s spot-on through and through, not missing a beat and always taking the opportunity to make you laugh out loud, either with some snappy dialogue or even parodying itself. There’s a lot to love here.
Visually, it fits right in with Gearbox’s world with the not-quite-cel-shaded style, with plenty of the series’ staple character introductions. It’s much smoother and more refined that you’re used to seeing with Borderlands though, due to it having more focused environments. It’s a different look into a world which we already know quite well, and one that works better than you could have expected.
When Tales from the Borderlands was announced, I honestly wasn’t sure what to anticipate, but with one (quite long, but well-paced) episode, Telltale have sold me on another one of their ideas. It’s shares a lot of DNA with both Borderlands and the usual Telltale adventure games, and yet it’s nothing like them at all. It’s one of their best offerings, and a refreshing new direction for both a game series that had begun to go stale and a gameplay formula which had started to feel repetitive.
Version tested: PC