Back in 2009, Gearbox Software brought us to the world of Pandora and introduced us to the Vault Hunter. Three successful games later, featuring over a dozen Vault Hunters, a plethora of expansion packs that gave us action, humor and some of the best characters in gaming, it seemed like the franchise could do no wrong. Then came along ‘Tales from the Borderlands’ and.. well.. Who am I kidding? This game is beyond amazing! For those who waited for a physical release, like myself, that time is now.
Made with help from Gearbox Software themselves, Telltale Games and 2K games have crafted the best Borderlands experience yet. While this game isn’t in the style of your traditional Borderlands, it offers the same action, humor, and wonderfully written characters that the series is known for.
When both a promotion and con job go wrong, two unlikely allies will team up to get back in the game and find a way to come out on top. Rhys, a Hyperion Employee, finds himself in the middle of a well-in-the-planning con job being watched over by Fiona and Felix when the job goes to hell. They then find themselves in way over their head when a huge threat is on the horizon while they attempt to unlock the mysteries of a secret vault.
If you have ever played the Telltale series of games like The Walking Dead, Game of Thrones or The Wolf among us, then you’ll know the style of game that awaits you. Dialogue choices and contextual button prompts is your method of interacting with this world, its characters, and the outcome of the story. One element to the dialogue choices that I felt suffered on the Xbox One, was the achievements popping up over some of those choices. Eventually I learned I could pause the game whenever one would pop up so that it wouldn’t cover the dialogue options. It’s a poorly implemented system that I guess couldn’t be helped. That issue aside, I’ve rarely had this much fun with a game.
There isn’t much more I can tell you about the story without ruining it, as once you edge past the finale of episode one, it gets incredibly spoilerly. I’ll say this: The main villain of the game is handled with a great deal of care, and the boss fight in the finale made me extremely giddy. The five episode structure of the game works well, with each episode having a strong start and an excellent resolution, albeit always a cliffhanger to lead into the next episode. You even get a well constructed musical piece near the start of each chapter, some, however; were oddly placed a fair ways into them. In the end, Tales from the Borderlands is about our heroes overcoming all odds to just make it out alive, with your choices as each of the leads, shaping that adventure.
The writing throughout your journey is just perfect, as it captures everything that is so great about Borderlands and its supporting cast. You’ll meet up with a great deal of familiar faces like Scooter, Janey Springs, Athena, Zer0 and more. There are choices to make, money to find (I recommend saving as much as you can…) and items to scan with the bio-enhancements available to Rhys. While these scans don’t fundamentally change the outcome, it gives a lot of context to the story and world you are playing through. Once Rhys had his ‘partner’ join him, the scans were even more enjoyable. I don’t know how many times I laughed my ass off playing throughout this game, and given the choose-your-own adventure nature of it, I’ll be playing through it again, this time in a far different fashion than my debut attempt.
Visually, Tales from the Borderlands has a few weak points, as I believe in Episode two, where you are in a vast barren desert, the environments are plain, poorly textured and almost embarrassing compared to the remainder of the game. Characters, especially anyone with a speaking role, are fantastic and look like they were plucked right out of the main Borderlands games. Fiona, Rhys, Sasha and your two robot sidekicks look incredible and benefit the most out of the look and style of the Borderlands series.
Fantastic visual aside, there are plenty of moments where the game acts up a bit. There are lots of jumping shadows, which sort of ruined a sad moment late in the game. Sometimes characters will pop in and out between conversations, or in one case where the character just went missing entirely, only leaving their voice behind. While the technical glitches don’t ruin the game, the more severe ones can stand out and pull you out of the experience.
Voice acting and musical choices complement the series well, as Troy Baker, Laura Bailey, Nolan North, Chris Hardwick, Erin Yvette and more, give life to some of the best written characters the series has ever seen. I knew going into this game that I was going to enjoy it, but having it best the entire Borderlands series? That, I didn’t see coming. Some of the best moments are any of the interactions with your two robot companions, as both actors Ashley Johnson and Raison Varner are so good here, I hope to seem them return in the future of either this series, or the main Borderlands franchise.
If you’re only into the Borderlands games for the guns and its shooting elements, then its hard to say if you will enjoy yourself here as this isn’t technically that style of game. There is shooting, sure, but its contextual in nature. However, if you enjoy the world created within that series and love its rich characters and the wonderfully written humor, then Tales from the Borderlands is right up your alley. There are moments in the game where I had a huge smile upon my face, the final battle being one that had me just incredibly giddy, it is so well executed it is ridiculous. It’s rare that a final chapter in a game is handled so well as it is here. I felt that all my choices lead me to where I wanted them to. Each and every character ended their arc in a way that I was satisfied and content with.
I can’t recommend this game enough, it’s really something you need to experience. While the world it represents is composed from the Borderlands series, you don’t really need to have played them to fully enjoy this game. Sure, some characters, moments and terminology is benefited from awareness of the source material, but I don’t feel it’s truly required to enjoy this adventure, and hey, It may even get you playing the Borderlands trilogy afterwards.
Tales from the Borderlands isn’t just Telltales best game, it’s one of the best games I have ever played.