REVIEW: Tales from the Borderlands Episode One

There is a hell of a lot to like about Borderlands. It’s a fantastic world filled with interesting and fascinating characters and it is a ball to play. Despite the futuristic and interplanetary setting, it reminds me more of a really well crafted game of Dungeons and Dragons. The game thrives on a fantastic multiplayer dynamic in a deep immersive world. It’s interesting that the latest instalment (a co-production with Telltale Games – who has a long history of emotional stories in video games), is focusing on characters and stories instead of the questing run-and-gun play of the previous three outings. It’s a “dual character” single player adventure, highlighting something that I’ve always wanted to know: What about the Pandorans who aren’t Vault Hunters?

Tales from the Borderlands is the long awaited “sequel” to Borderlands 2. Like all franchised Telltale games, it’s an episodic adventure, set this time in the kill or be killed alien world of Pandora. The game revolves around Rhys, one of the Hyperion stooges left in the power vacuum of Handsome Jack’s death.

I love Rhys. Rhys is exactly the type of character I like to play when I roleplay. Imagine Han Solo, but for the 90’s and working for Smugglers Inc. He’s a frustrated corporate lackey trying to climb a slippery ladder – all he wants to do is survive comfortably in a cut-throat world. A deal he stole from his boss (voiced by the always spectacular Patrick Warburton) goes quite south quite quickly. In order to recover a ridiculous sum of money (which leads to one of my favourite jokes in the game), he’s forced to work with Fiona. She takes the counterpoint in the narrative, and is an amazing character in her own right, but to tell you too much about her would ruin the story (and that would be criminal). I will say this though: Of the two of them, I’m much more interested in Fiona’s past.

The dual character dynamic is actually a first for Telltale, with each character’s chapter happening roughly at the same time. I’m actually in two minds about it (no pun intended). On one hand, each episode’s play time could have easily have been divided in half by creating separate episodes or even seasons for each character, creating more suspense and anticipation. On the other, I really like that the game doesn’t wait for you to ask “What is the other character doing now”?

The game is built on the, by now very familiar, Telltale Engine. Like the games before it, it’s a point and click adventure, with most of the meat of the game coming from dialogue choices. It feels a lot like a cross between (possibly the two games most likely to be canonised), Monkey Island and Mass Effect. The game isn’t asking you how you would react as such, it’s asking what type of person you are.

Like previous episodic sagas (most notably The Walking Dead and The Wolf Among Us), Tales from the Borderlands really likes to let you feel like your choices matter, although how much is kind of hard to say at this point. I was so very glad to see one character I chose to let live turn up at the end, but until Episode Two comes out (I’m kind of used to binge playing these games…) it won’t be obvious how much your choices mattered. Clocking in at only two hours, Episode One – Zer0 Sum – will probably leave you wanting a little more as is the nature of episodic gaming.

[img_big]center,13116,2014-08-14/tales_bossanova_shade.jpg,Tales from the Borderlands[/img_big]

Tales from the Borderlands is filled with the series’ trademark humour. It’s dark. Really dark. I should warn you that if you don’t see the funny side of a dead body floating past just as its murderer makes a dramatic point, this probably isn’t the game for you. If you do see the funny side, this game will have you in stitches. The comedy isn’t of the “random so wacky” variety, it’s clever, witty and lovingly crafted. I only wish I knew more specifics of the Borderlands universe so that I could properly appreciate more of the jokes.

Being a point and click adventure, the game’s strong points are mostly story-based. The characters are engaging, each one believable and whole in their own right while also being out of this world insane and colourful. The plot makes sense in and out of context with the events unfolding logically based on the personalities of the aforementioned characters. The victories you get by overcoming the game’s (often menial) challenges feel real and authentic, all the more so because you aren’t a Vault Hunter armed with several large guns.

Where it falls down for some people is that it is still a point and click adventure game. It’s refined and it’s you’re not that likely to get stuck in a locked room, but if that gameplay style doesn’t appeal to you, you might find the whole thing a little frustrating. I urge you to struggle through it, as the game’s writing is strong enough to hold it up.

I adored the first episode of Tales from the Borderlands. This game puts you in one of the most hostile environments it could find and arms you with only your wits. I really like that. With the added roleplay element this game is a sure-fire hit for fans of either Borderlands, Telltale Games or old-school point and click adventure games. I can’t wait for the next Episode.

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