Tales From the Borderlands Episode 5 Review | Game. Over.

Tales From the Borderlands

Tales From the Borderlands concludes its first season with an entertaining sum of your choices despite glaring technical issues.

Telltale Games has found a way to make this tale of Pandora stick and transform into their most ambitious property yet. It doesn’t have the most episodes, but the action and lore of Borderlands has given the company the most to work with in regards to a property they approach. This turned out to be great for the presentation and humor throughout the series and continues to be in the finale; meanwhile, the graphical platform on which these pieces stand is crumbling, actively taking away from the experience Telltale seems to have built too high for its engine to handle.

“Even with an engine update, Tales From the Borderlands’ ultimate episode probably wouldn’t have been flawless.”

Environment

On a strictly presentation level, this episode of Tales From the Borderlands is a mess on Xbox One. Graphical ticks aren’t too intrusive early on but come with a vengeance towards the end of the episode, and the loading transitions go on long enough to clip through coming lines in a conversation. The game will actually pause for the engine to catch up with what’s happening, becoming nearly unbearable during a large action scene that is otherwise a riot to go through. On top of the graphical and loading miscues, the voice acting will inexplicably go quiet to the point of muteness during various points, making the subtitles feel mandatory.

Tales From the Borderlands
Gortys’ precious….

[section label=”Entertainment” anchor=”Entertainment”]

This is all a crying shame because the majority of the story present is a compelling, uncluttered wink-fest to the entire Borderlands franchise. Vault of the Traveler picks up directly after the end of Escape Plan Bravo with the team cornered and facing a certain enemy’s re-emergence. While the unreliable narrator has long-since been abandoned as a running joke, the flashbacks do catch up to the present and offer context for a few eventual reveals. As good as Life is Strange’s finale was this week, Telltale’s conclusion here does feel a little bit less cluttered with the side characters and past decision becoming integral to the plot instead of feeling like distractions.

Originality

Tales From the Borderlands does run into some story pot holes along the way, including more than one fake-out death involving the same character. There are also some hand wave explanations for questions that at least one of the characters probably should answer, but the story still stands tall on humor coming the way of left-field references to 90’s television and other games. It’s interesting how these references go, for the most part, unannounced by Rhys and the gang, and how that seems to fuel their hilarity forward. There are other emotions sewn in throughout but it’s pretty clear that Telltale didn’t want to pull too many heartstrings in the end, which probably works out better for the overall series tone. Music feels sparsely used to enhance the mood of certain exchanges, which works out fairly well minus one scene where stock music is a bit distracting. That success flows into the stylized opening that can hit you with mood overload before the bulk of the episode even begins.

tales From the Borderlands

Replayability

Your choices are summed and calculated in the end, giving or taking away options before a final battle based on your save file. It’s unique and gives the ending a lot of replayability thanks to the various character vignettes and interactions possible. You’ll also have to replay the entire series multiple times with different decisions to receive all the plots in their entirety. While the latter is a staple of every Telltale property to date, the former gives this episode and series a bit more replayability than most of the others thanks to the wide array of possibilities.

Gameplay

Coming in at par for the Telltale course is the gameplay combination of contextual events and button mashing. As those have been the same, the context is often what makes or breaks the gameplay and the loading issues that overlap into actions segments nearly ruins the context. Lighter scenes all control fine with cursor-based objectives and tapping a button as their ol’ reliable fallbacks, but the game cannot seem to keep up with its own action during the climactic fight. There’s hardly a smooth transition to be had during the dramatic scene, so the context feels chopped to pieces despite how well their simple controls work.

Tales From the Borderlands

Even with an engine update, Tales From the Borderlands’ ultimate episode probably wouldn’t have been flawless. At the very least though, it would’ve been the best possible expression of this unique mixture of humor and action unlike anything else Telltale has produced. As it is, Vault of the Traveler is still entertaining, funny, and full of the spirit of the Borderlands franchise, but its legs are locked by technical issues that Handsome Jack himself couldn’t fix on the fly.

Final Thoughts

Vault of the Traveler brings a proper close to the first Tales From the Borderlands season, and should signal the end of Telltale’s failing game engine.

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