Tales from the Borderlands is a weird game. Logically, this series would only appeal to two different groups of people: 1) Fans of Borderlands who are interested in learning more lore of the universe, keeping in mind that Borderlands is a game better known for its gameplay than its narrative, and 2) Fans of Telltale Games, who just like the stories they come up with. In theory, to really get into the game, you are going to need to be partially acquainted with the Borderlands universe, if not you’re going to need to pay extremely close attention while playing in order to figure out what’s going on. You’ll also need to get used to the way Telltale does things, otherwise you are probably not going to have a good time.
I say all of this, but as fate would have it, full disclosure and all, I have actually never played Borderlands or a Telltale game. Shocking, I know. I was just never particularly enamored by either, but I know just enough about both to get through. Thus, this knowledge makes it all the more surprising when you find out that I really enjoyed Tales from the Borderlands: Episode 1.
It’s kind of hard to review a Telltale game. The fact is, Telltale Games live and die by their pen. They’ve managed to make gameplay secondary to the narrative in their games so that they end up relying on the quality of the plot. So far, their games have had a pretty good track record at making quality plots, but the real issue is whether Tales from the Borderlands has one too. Thus, it would be difficult to write a review without spoilers. So, I’m not going to try to.
However, it’s still a game, so as a compromise I will run through the nitty-gritty non-story related parts of the review first for those of you who don’t want to get too spoiled, but still want to know if the game is broken or not. Then I’ll leave the spoilers at the end (where you will get a very clear warning beforehand) where those of you who don’t want to read them can easily avoid it. Sound good? Let’s go!
Both Borderlands and Telltale games are renowned for their use of cel-shading in their games and thus, in that regard, they are a match made in heaven. You will find that the art-style of Tales from the Borderlands does well in staying true to previous Borderlands games. Tales from the Borderlands also looks like the prettiest game made by Telltale so far, for in my research leading up to this review, I’ve seen many playthroughs and screenshots of other Telltale games where there have been some less than desirable textures and blockiness. These graphical uglies do not exist in Tales from the Borderlands, although I have seen the odd tearing of an outline as well as object clipping, like a head going through a hat.
The tone is very light-hearted and fun
In addition to letting you take control of two different characters, Rhys and Fiona, which is a first for a Telltale game, each character also has additional “special” abilities where Fiona’s is being able to find and use money to do things with said money and Rhy’s is using his mechanical eye to scan his surroundings, which adds a point-and-click vibe into the mix, whilst giving you more information on the Borderlands universe if you take the time to read everything. Rhy’s ability therefore makes the camera angle all the more important as you sometimes pick up narrative-changing items in the mechanical eye view. Unfortunately, it can be particularly difficult to figure out when you should use your ability because using your ability shifts you to a pre-made scene and not a first person camera view of your surroundings, as you would expect. Add in the fact that the scene you are looking at doesn’t correspond to what direction you were facing and it can all become quite fiddly and annoying. Otherwise, the game isn’t particularly difficult, as the quick time events are pretty easy to successfully complete.
The voice acting is superb with acclaimed voice actors such as Nolan North (Drake from Uncharted and Deadpool from Deadpool), Troy Baker (Joel from The Last of Us and Pagan Min in Far Cry 4), Laura Bailey (Catherine from Catherine) and Patrick Warburton (Joe from Family Guy). The writing, which can get pretty meta and self-referential, is also enjoyable with plenty of funny moments mixed in, some of which were made even funnier if you are familiar with Borderlands lore. The story is well crafted, especially when you get to see the same scene from a different perspective, which is actually a very compelling way to make something you’ve already seen all the more interesting. The tone is very light-hearted and fun, definitely not as serious as some of the previous Telltale games we’ve played in the past. All in all, you’re going to need just a scratch more than 2 hours to complete Tales from the Borderlands: Episode 1.
The (Non-Spoilery) Verdict
Tales from the Borderlands: Episode One is just one (relatively) big nudge in the ribs to all Borderlands fans as if to say “did you get that reference? Did’ya?” Luckily, in true Telltale style, there’s something good for the rest of us as well. There are some minor mechanical niggles here and there, but overall, there’s plenty of light-hearted fun and excitement to go around which makes you wonder, what does Telltale Games have in store for us next?
From here on out, thar’ will be spoilers. You have been warned.
Seriously. Spoiler Alert.
You play as Rhys (Troy Baker), a Hyperion, yes, the “bad” guys, company man looking to make his way up the food chain who, before you know it, gets screwed out of a promotion by your rival, Vasquez (Patrick Warburton). Thus, in order to get back at him, you and your best friend Vaughn (Chris Hardwick from Nerdist), try to snake Vasquez out of a deal which leads you to Pandora with 10 millions dollars. Obviously, it wouldn’t be a story without the deal going bad. Really bad. I’m not going to give away the whole thing, but let’s just say you eventually meet Fiona (Laura Bailey) and learn that she’s actually a con-artist. Yeah, you can probably put two and two together.
A massive street brawl with a loader bot and a stun baton against a horde of bandits, a shoot-out and a motorcycle-chariot race of death fills up the excitement quota. The narrative also gets really funky because it’s all being told as you (Rhys) and you (Fiona) are held captive by this large mysterious gun wielding bandit and each character tells a slightly different version of what occurred, which means you will make a lot of trips to imaginationland, before getting kicked back into reality by the other you telling what really happened. It’s confusing, I know, but it kinda works and is pretty entertaining to boot.
To up the fan-service and excitement factor, Zer0 from Borderlands 2 makes an appearance and basically has a bunch of incredible melees with some psychos and their boss, a dubstep music producing, murderous maniac. As Zer0, quite literally, wrecks shop, you just can’t help but wonder “am I just a side character in somebody else’s Borderlands game?” as you watch your two playable characters ducking behind the cover of crates and tables. Surprisingly, this helps immerse you into the game even more, because you realize, you aren’t some crazy overpowered assassin or siren. You’re just an ordinary guy/gal just trying to survive on Pandora, a new and interesting perspective on the Borderlands franchise.
Add in cameos by characters like Bewm and Commandant Steele’s dead body from previous Borderlands games and you get a really well rounded and enjoyable experience. Also Handsome Jack is back. He’s still dead, but he’s back. And he’s still evil. If you want to find out how, you’re going to have to play the game.
It’s funny, it’s exciting and it’s totally off the wall bonkers. The characters are likable and Handsome Jack is back. If you like Borderlands stories, you’re going to want to play this. If you like to laugh, you’re going to get a lot of laughs from Tales from the Borderlands: Episode 1. Telltale Games may live and die by their pen, but they sure do seem to have a lot of ink left yet.
Tales from the Borderlands Review
- Available On: PS3, PS4, PS Vita, Xbox 360, Xbox One, PC
- Published By: Telltale Games
- Developed By: Telltale Games
- Genre: Graphic Adventure
- US Release Date: November 25th, 2014
- Reviewed On: PC
- Quote: "Tales from the Borderlands: Episode One is just one (relatively) big nudge in the ribs to all Borderlands fans as if to say "did you get that reference? Did'ya?" Luckily, in true Telltale style, there's something good for the rest of us as well. It's a solid first episode that brings in anticipation for episodes to come."