Tales from the Borderlands – Episode 1: review

Tales from the Borderlands

Pandora is an insane place, full of madness, murder and a way of life that teaches resilience through harsh conditions. Of course, in previous Borderlands offerings the player has been in the boots of one of these psychopaths, shooting through every problem and looting the corpses to sustain such a lifestyle. But what about the ordinary, less shooty stabby citizens of Pandora? It’s a concept that is beautifully explored in Tales from the Borderlands.

Telltale definitely have a distinctive style of their own when it comes to game design, something that gave us early concerns of a franchise mishmash with what is arguably Gearbox’s greatest success story. However, we’re happy to say that such concerns have been well and truly squelched like a psycho’s skull under a bullymong’s fist. Whilst the game is undoubtedly Telltale, they’ve done an incredible job of intertwining themselves with Borderlands DNA. As such it feels like a cracking story driven game in a vibrant world that has always slightly lacked in the narrative department.

So where does this adventure begin? Everything kicks off in the shoes of Rhys, a Hyperion employee who works aboard the corporation’s distinctive H-shaped space station. The grey corridors are traded in for the dusty plains of Pandora very soon though, as Rhys sets off on a get rich quick adventure with his pal from accounting in tow. As you’d expect, the game’s filled with lots of walking, talking, pointing and clicking, but with a few things that differentiate it from other games in the Telltale stables.

Tales from the Borderlands

He can still be a friend if he’s unconscious, right?

One of these key differences is Rhys’ Echo Eye. A cross between x-ray vision, Google Glass and Wikipedia, this handy gadget allows you to scan characters and other highlighted bits of the environment, as well as hack things from a distance when the context sensitive action calls for it. The Echo Eye mostly boils down to extra fluff about the story and world, but the annotated trivia snippets are written so sharply that it usually raises a smile and is always worth a read. It also adds another layer to gameplay, even if it is just a new viewpoint from which to click and examine things.

About a quarter of the way through episode one, the game’s viewpoint shifts over to Fiona, a well-versed con artist and the game’s second playable character. Being a native of Pandora, she’s much more accustomed to the chaos and random stabbings that life on the planet brings with it. Whilst she lacks the bionic eye piece, she can (and regularly does) pick up cash. There’s only one opportunity to spend it in episode one, but if it’s anything like The Wolf Among Us then it might be handy to have a few bills tucked away for the next few episodes.

The world of Borderlands is quite a leap compared to Telltale’s previous story focussed games. Even though The Walking Dead and Wolf Among Us are filled with fantasy aspects, each is firmly rooted in a grim reality to which we can all relate. Tales from the Borderlands mixes this up with an unpredictable desert world that can lead you to strange places that usually turn out to be packed with danger. Well, danger with a liberal sprinkling of comic peril.

Tales from the Borderlands

This guys wants to show you the rusty bit on his axe blade

Before now, the series’ humour has largely come from the odd snippet of dialogue and random bits of scenery, as well as over the top bosses and support characters. Yes it was funny in places, but those occasions were sandwiched between intense shooting sections and really had to be hunted down and savoured. However, in Tales from the Borderlands it’s laid on fairly thick and is very much more of what we’ve come to know and love. If you think about it things get a little dark in places, what with the generally murderous intent of psychos looking for the shiniest meat bicycle, but the art style and comic jibes keep the tone light.

The biggest thing that struck us is that Tales from the Borderlands is probably the most game-like of Telltale’s stable of interactive stories. Much of it is still in the vein of dialogue selection and QTEs, but gameplay seems a little more fleshed out this time around. You’re given more choices and more control over certain actions, making it a lot more engaging. As such, it’s also the most fun we’ve had in a Telltale game. That’s certainly not a criticism of The Walking Dead or The Wolf Among Us, it’s just that whilst those titles focussed more on grit and tension, Borderlands isn’t afraid to show its silly side every other minute.

Tales from the Borderlands

Wait, we know that voice. It’s Nolan North again!

We don’t want to spoil the surprise by revealing our favourite bits here, so we won’t, but there was a section involving an orbital requisition and a group of bandits that left us smiling for minutes afterwards. Needless to say, the first episode is full of surprises and not quite like anything we’ve seen from the dev before.

Just like the end of the first chapter in any Telltale series, we’re left begging for more. Not just because the ending hit us with suspense, but because it feels like the interactive story formula has been refined and perfected into its best form yet. Cross that with a more story focussed Borderlands entry, and we think we might possibly have our favourite game from the Telltale crew yet. It’s well-written, packed with twists and turns, and incredibly playable despite being completely led by the hand through a narrative. At the end you’re given a snapshot of the choices you’ve made throughout the episode, giving you a bit of a recap about things that might affect future entries. Will they be huge changes? We can’t really say yet, but we definitely want to see what Tales from the Borderlands Episode Two has in store.

critical score 9 Critical Hit

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Written by Anthony H

Anthony has been playing games for far too much of his life, starting with the MS-DOS classic Mario is Missing. Since then his tastes have evolved to include just about anything, but his soft spot lies with shooters and the odd strategy game. Anthony will inspire you with his prose, uplift you with his wit and lie to you in his biography.

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