Tales from the Borderlands takes the quirky toilet humor filled world of Gearbox Software‘s Borderlands and uses it to tell a compelling tale.
The Walking Dead, The Wolf Among Us and Game of Thrones have rich lore that Telltale took advantage of when making their adaptions. Pandora is a world made for a mechanics focused multiplayer loot and shoot game. Depth, intricate storytelling and character development were nowhere to be found. Due to this my initial reaction to a Borderlands developed Telltale Games production was lukewarm at best. Telltale Games have proven me wrong with Zer0 Sum by using the strengths of Pandora and enhancing its weaknesses. Tales from the Borderlands combines the craziness of Pandora from Borderlands and adds more believable characters into the mix. You play as two characters that have varied personalities based on your choices. For the most part Rhys can be described as a self centered Hyperion employee, and Fiona as a surprisingly likable con artist. Zer0 Sum is about how these two meet and the game has you play both perspectives for this meeting. It isn’t a particularly complex story, with it focusing solely on a vault key, however this is just the start of an overall mystery that hovers over everything that happens.
Telltale‘s signature art style is back, but with a Borderlands twist. It’s recognizably both a Telltale and a Borderlands game both stylistically and in how it was designed. Even the menu has elements of the menus from both Borderlands and Telltale games. Clearly Telltale worked hard to ensure fans of their games and Borderlands fans felt at home immediately. The downside is that animations can be particularly wonky at times, with facial animations in particular looking especially unconvincing. This has been a problem in all recent Telltale games and I won’t stop mentioning it until they improve on it.
Almost immediately the game caught me off guard with its sweeping soundtrack and not-quite beautiful vista of the barren wasteland Pandora. Get ready for a very different Telltale adventure. Like everything else in the game, the voice actors range from the crazy larger-than-life cast of a Borderlands game, with Zer0 from Borderlands 2 being the standout addition to the episode, and the more normal and relatable Telltale‘s protagonists, Fiona and Rhys. The combination of more grounded, realistic characters in a world filled with insanity can be quite jarring at times. Telltale haven’t been completely successful at merging their style with Gearbox’s shooter, so at times the dialogue between the main characters seems at odds with the Borderlands style action. I never had this problem with their most recent adaption, perhaps due to their more drama focused nature. I hope future episodes can help make the two sides to the gameplay and story fit together a bit better in future episodes.
Zer0 Sum lacks the mystery and suspense of other Telltale games and suffers for it. The comedy sometimes falls flat and the drama fails to capture you by conflicting with the humorous tone. I like the characters and the mystery of the story intrigues me, but this is the weakest addition to Telltale‘s library when it comes to storytelling and while the humor is a welcome part of the experience, for me it fell flat on multiple occasions and took me out of the experience.
You walk around, interact with the environment and make choices. Anyone that’s played a Telltale game since The Walking Dead knows what to expect here. Tales from the Borderlands is a bit more action focused than other games from the developer, probably due to its source material being a shooter. Expect action movie style setpieces and quick-time events, combined with more personal dialogue that changes the story. As a narrative focused game there isn’t much challenge in playing Tales from the Borderlands, with the difficulty mostly coming from the hard choices you’re expected to make in real-time.
Borderlands is more technologically advanced than the world’s Telltale has been adapting of late, so having Rhys equipped with an “Echo Eye” that analyses the environment is a worthy addition to the formula. It doesn’t make that much difference to the way you play, but it’s a noteable addition that shows Telltale are really taking advantage of the world they are drawing from.
“The Borderlands of Pandora were told to contain mysterious alien treasure troves filled with advanced technology and incredible power. Vaults, the people called them… and to seek one out was to earn you the title of Vault Hunter.” – Markus Kincaid, Arms Dealer and Narrator
Soul-crushing emotional drama has become the staple of Telltale Games since The Walking Dead, so Tales from the Borderlands is incredibly refreshing. It’s the most fun I’ve ever had in a Telltale game. Quirky, funny, mostly upbeat and full of life, the world of Borderlands is the perfect antithesis of the developer’s other project, Game of Thrones. Alternating between both of these as episodes release is going to be great, as they offer similar gameplay styles, with almost the opposite tone and direction. It’s a good time to be a Telltale fan.
A recurring theme with Telltale is the total lack of innovation in the way their games are made. Every game released by them since The Walking Dead has followed the same formula. Take a popular franchise and adapt it into a story and drama focused game, where the player makes choices that alter the world around them. Usually it would make sense to criticize a developer for relying on the same formula to release a seemingly neverending stream of titles. Telltale are the only developer making games like this though, so I have to give them a pass. Tales from the Borderlands isn’t original, but it’s different enough from the other Telltale projects to earn its place in their growing library. If the series continues in its current direction, Tales from the Borderlands will be remembered as a more humorous and more fun addition to the Telltale library and the Borderlands game that added some much needed depth to the world.
I spent around five hours with Tales from the Borderlands and in that time I finished it twice and got to see how the game varied when making vastly different choices. The game is absolutely worth playing twice, as the little tweaks to the story are well worth seeing. Choices in Telltale games don’t have that much effect on the overall narrative and that’s especially true in Zer0 Sum, but expect your choices to eventually lead to quite different scenarios in future episodes. You don’t have to play through the game twice to get the most out of it, as some would prefer to just make their choices and stick with them, but there’s a lot of replay value here if you want it.
Zer0 Sum is the first of five episodes and has already managed to expand and enhance Borderlands‘ world with memorable characters with believable motivations, more intelligent humor, a mystery filled narrative and a stunning art style. The episode is let down by its occasionally flat attempts to make you laugh, total lack of the tension and drama Telltale games are now famous for and a slow middle section.