Published on May 11th, 2016 | by Sean Warhurst
Tales from the Borderlands Complete Season XBox One Review
Summary: If you’re looking for something to fill the gap between the inevitable current-gen iteration of the Borderlands franchise, albeit with a much stronger focus on characterisation and story, then Tales from the Borderlands will more than satisfy your desire.
Originally available as an episodic release on Xbox Live, 2K Games have now collected the entire season on a physical disc that allows fans to visit Pandora in one accessible bundle. So just like Telltale Games transformed both The Wallking Dead and Game of Thrones into their unique gaming archetypes, this time it’s Borderlands turn as we are introduced to Rhys and Fiona in their quest for ‘greatness’.
Transplanting the guns blazing ideology of the Borderlands games into the narrative driven, choice and consequence game design of Telltale Games’ output would initially seem like a bad fit; after all, let’s be honest, the story, as amusing as some of the interactions that occurred throughout the campaign could be, was pretty lacklustre and threadbare in Gearbox and 2K’s co-op shooter series, and this was perfectly okay – It was the satisfying gunplay that really drew the fans in.
- Play as Rhys – The first of our protagonists in Tales of the Borderlands. An employee of the Hyperion Corporation, Pandoras chief weapons manufacture, is on a mission for the ultimate promotion; to make Hyperion his.
- Play as Fiona – As the second protagonist in Tales of the Borderlands, Fiona is a professional con artist who unwillingly partners up with Rhys on a mission to claim back money she believes is rightfully hers.
- Explore Pandora – the mysterious planet featured in the award winning Borderlands series. Reexperience familiar locations as well as discovering new locations brought to life as more than mere cannon fodder.
- Enjoy unique experiences as your choices change the course of the story, making this tale yours.
To my surprise, however, Tales From the Borderlands stands as one of the funniest and well written “seasons” to come out of the offices of Telltale yet, with the admittedly rich mythology (Hey, I said the stories were weak, not the universe in which they take place) behind the Borderlands series being used to great effect to inform and craft an often hilarious adventure that revels in the chaotic violence that is synonymous with the Borderlands name.
Tales from the Borderlands initially follows a dual narrative, focusing on puckish rogue Rhys, an employee working at Hyperion who’s running a scam on his bosses with the assistance of his best friend Vaugh, and Fiona, who, working with her Sister Sasha and a team of criminals, is out to make a quick buck whatever the cost.
The thing I really enjoyed about these characters, aside from their quick-witted, sardonic attitudes, was that neither of them are paragons of virtue; much like the protagonists in the main Borderlands games, much of the humour comes from taking charge of morally ambiguous characters who care more about attaining wealth than the sanctity of human life.
The story is relayed to the player through flashbacks as they are interrogated by a bounty hunter and follows the basic premise that was the driving force behind the previous Borderlands games – Searching for vaults that contains a priceless artefact, sending our characters off on a quest to find keys to unlock them.
Of course, there’s much more to the plot than that, with a heavy focus on the dynamics between the characters and various action packed setpieces, such as participating in a frantic death race against rival bandits.
Being a Telltale game, much of the gameplay revolves around making decisions that cause the narrative to branch off in a myriad of directions, be it via dialogue choices or time QTE’s. Some of these decisions hold quite a bit of weight in determining who will survive during your adventures but, as always, the narrative will generally reach the same point by the end of the game, with the biggest difference in playthroughs being how exactly you reach this destination.
There is an element of customisation here in that you can use points accrued in order to purchase clothing items, which is a nice touch, as well as letting players choose elemental weapons that can be used at key points during the game. These gameplay elements don’t affect the narrative all that much but it’s a welcome step towards being able to tailor the game to your choices even more, even if it is simply by wearing a natty vest.
Beyond that, Tales from the Borderlands plays out much like the Telltale games that have come before it, but this isn’t by any means a bad thing; if you’re a fan of the point and click adventure style and have a soft spot for the Borderlands series, then you’re going to have a blast with this.
It must be noted that some jokes may go over the heads of those who aren’t familiar with the source material, but that’s too be expected and Tales from the Borderlands actually features one of the more accessible storylines set in the Borderlands universe, taking place after Handsome jack’s death and freeing itself from much of the mythology that underpinned the previous games.
- Episode One: Zer0 Sum – On the unforgiving world of Pandora, Rhys and Fiona embark on an adventure to recover cash they both think is theirs.
- Episode Two: Atlas Mugged – The discovery of the Gortys Project fuels a madcap race to find just what the Atlas Corporation was up to prior to Hyperion’s takeover of Pandora. But our intrepid heroes are not the only ones on the trail.
- Episode Three: Catch a Ride – After a dizzying escape from a very-near-almost-certain-death scenario, Rhys and Fiona find themselves looking for another piece of the puzzle that will lead them to the untold riches of Vault key ownership.
- Episode Four: Escape Plan Bravo – Rhys and Fiona are forced to continue the search for the Vault beacon – at gunpoint. It is on the Hyperion moon base while our heroes are on Pandora, so there’s the cold void of death known as ‘space’ to overcome.
- Episode Five: The Vault of the Traveler – In the final episode, all hell breaks loose. Jack is now in control of Helios’ systems, and he’s ready to reclaim his rightful place as king of Hyperion (with or without you). It’s a mad dash to get out of the chaotic space station alive.
Graphics and Audio
The first thing you’ll notice about Tales from the Borderlands is the graphics – They just look the part, taking the cel-shaded art direction from the game’s predecessors and using them in a way that manages to hide Telltale’s aging graphics engine behind stylistic choices that evoke the desired aesthetic, much like how The Walking Dead’s graphics resembled images torn from a graphic novel. Pandora’s environments and the character models look great but the game still suffers from occasionally robotic animation, most notably during the more action packed sequences.
The voice acting is as superb as you’d expect from a Telltale game and features the talents of Troy Baker, Nolan North, Chris Hardwick, Patrick Warburton and more. The voice case really imbue the characters with their own definitive personalities and evoke the appropriate responses, usually uproarious laughter, at exactly the right time. I did encounter some lines being cut off prematurely and an instance of incessant looping but aside from that the engine holds up pretty well throughout all five episodes.
With a terrific cast of characters, a compelling storyline and some genuinely laugh out loud moments, Tales from the Borderlands easily maintains Telltale Games’ upward trajectory. The few minor audio and graphical glitches are easily forgiven due to the strength of the gameplay experience and the pace rarely slows down, although the fourth episode did seem a tad meandering.
If you’re looking for something to fill the gap between the inevitable current gen iteration of the Borderlands franchise, albeit with a much stronger focus on characterisation and story, then Tales from the Borderlands will more than satisfy your desire and, for those who may be unfamiliar with the series, the razor sharp writing and hilarious performances will ensure that you don’t regret diving into the Borderlands universe at this late a point.
Recommended to those that missed it the first time around or those wanting a physical copy of this Pandora Pandemonium!
Primary Format – Games – Xbox One
Game Genre – Role Playing Game
Rating – MA15+
Game Developer – Telltale Games
Game Publisher – 2K Games