Tales from the Borderlands: Episode 1 – review

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The Walking Dead has emotion. The Wolf Among Us has intriguing lore. Tales from the Borderlands has sheer hilarity.

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If you’re a frequent reader of this blog (of course you are!) you may have picked up that I’m a big fan of Telltale’s games. Now, admittedly, it’s only been in the last year that I have actually discovered these little gems, so I shan’t claim to be a diehard devoted long-time fan, but I really cannot recommend their games enough. Tales from the Borderlands is no exception.

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So where to begin? First and foremost, this feels like a Borderlands game. Now this review will feature a couple of tiny spoilers from Borderlands 2 – just what happens at the end – but that’s all. Here are some line breaks whilst you evaluate whether you want to carry on reading or not.

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Good. So Tales is set following the events of Borderlands 2. After Handsome Jack’s death, employees from the infamous Hyperion Corporation have been vying for power. The first playable character, Rhys, is one such employee. But after he is duped by Patrick Warburton, he finds himself on the planet of Pandora, caught up in a scheme involving a rare, invaluable vault key.  Despite the obviously different gameplay style from past Borderlands games, Tales fits into the lore and overall saga perfectly. Whether this will bridge the gap between Borderlands 2 and 3, or whether it will just be a standalone story set in the same world, is currently unknown – whatever the outcome, so far it’s very promising. It certainly links to the greater Borderlands world – without going into spoilers (though you can probably guess one Borderlands character’s involvement from the episode name, Zer0 Sum…and yeah, it’s awesome).

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The graphics are a clever amalgamation of your typical Walking Dead/Wolf Among Us style ‘cartoony’ graphics combined with Borderlands’ classic….um… ‘cartoony’ graphics. Telltale have managed to create a seamless blend between the two that doesn’t look out of place at all. The game still suffers from the standard Telltale defects, such as the odd clunky movement or sudden facial expression reminiscent of Sims 2. Or the occasional clipping issue, but apart from that, s’all gravy. I mean, these are the things that you kind of look over in Telltale’s games as they seem almost inevitable…for whatever reason.

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The script is just what you would expect from Borderlands: violent, in your face, and hilarious. Episode One: Zer0 Sum, which is, at time of writing, the only episode out, made me laugh out loud on several occasions. One of my favourite moments was near the beginning when they take the somewhat iconic running-over-a-skag skit to another level. This is definitely a Borderlands game.

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As mentioned, you play as two different characters – Rhys and Fiona, telling two sides of a story via flashbacks. Both characters play very different, but with enough scope for you to mold them how you want to. For those unfamiliar with Telltale’s style, the game is essentially an interactive story. During dialogue, you’re presented with numerous options regarding how you respond – one might be cocky or arrogant, another might be submissive, or aggressive, or even just silence. The game adapts to choices that you make (to an extent) and develops as such (…to an extent). None of the choices you make are going to cause a revolutionary difference – judging from past games the overall outcome will remain the same – but it’s how you get there that might be executed differently. But what would a Borderlands game be without action? As well as the dialogue options, you’ll also be greeted with quick time events, a bit of exploration, and even some shootouts. Whilst not quite as fun or detailed as your standard Borderlands game, these moments add a nice change of pace, sticking true to the source material.

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There are a couple of other new inclusions within Tales too. Firstly, when playing as Rhys, you have the chance to activate your ECHO-eye implant to scan certain objects in the environment around you. Scanning things doesn’t affect the story as a whole, but does allow you to gather some background information on Pandora’s finest, which is usually pretty hilarious. When playing as Fiona, you can use cash to buy certain things. Again, thus far, this has purely been aesthetic (with one exception in which I bribed someone) but it’s a nice little distraction.

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It’s hard to judge an episodic game from the first episode alone, although thus far I am pretty impressed. However, unlike previous Telltale games, if you are unfamiliar with the Borderlands story or style and want to just try Telltale games, then I don’t think you would really get on-board with this. If this is the case, then go and play through the other Borderlands games first. For numerous reasons. Telling the same story from both Rhys and Fiona’s perspectives could initially seem jarring, tedious and confusing, but the change in dialogue options and perspective really enables you to get into the other character’s shoes. I, for one, think that this is a fine addition to both the Telltale and Borderlands library, and cannot wait for Episode 2. It’s a game for fans of Telltale and Borderlands games alike! Next time: Telltale’s take on Game of Thrones!

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