Tales from the Borderlands

Game of Thrones: A Telltale Games series – Episode 1 review

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The emotions that you will experience whilst playing this game are awfully akin to the series itself… Also these screenshots are taken from the internet and are not my own…sorry.

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It’s about time we had a good A Song of Ice and Fire/Game of Thrones game. There is one, aptly named Game of Thrones, that I was going to do a review for, but it was so bad that I couldn’t play it. I’ve heard it gets better but….my goodness. So, thank you, Telltale, for a much-needed filling of an empty void!

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I won’t go over what Telltale Games’ games entail; I’ve written about four of them now so go and read some of my old reviews, you lazy rascal. What’s instantly unique about Game of Thrones – A Telltale Game Series when comparing it to other titles such as The Walking Dead, The Wolf Among Us and Tales from the Borderlands is the departure from the somewhat signature Telltale ‘cartoony’ graphics. Instead, Game of Thrones meets us half way, forming an amalgamation of animation and real-life style graphics. The result….well, it grows on you. When I first started playing I was immediately disheartened by the seemingly bad graphics. The combination just didn’t seem to work – it seemed a shame, therefore, that Telltale had ditched their old ways for this title. Personally, I think seeing a Game of Thrones title utilising these graphics would have been pretty interesting! Instead, we have a watercolour painting gone wrong. The backgrounds are beautiful, a bit like an Edward Hopper painting (I Googled ‘watercolour artists’ and his name came up….), but the character models are a let-down. As you well know from my past reviews, Telltale characters tend to have quite a woody appearance at times as it is. Due to the ‘realism’ displayed in Game of Thrones, this vastly exaggerated. Characters just look dead-faced more often than not, resulting in a break in immersion that is only really saved by the pretty good voice acting. You do get used to it, after a while, but the resent lingers like the odour of yesterday’s ham.

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But the main thing with any Telltale game is surely the story, right? Well, fortunately, Game of Thrones thrives in this category. It’s important to note here – which has disappointed some fans – is that this is a Game of Thrones game, not A Song of Ice and Fire. The reasons for this are probably numerous, but largely I think that it is down to the sheer popularity of the show. I love the books, but I feel Telltale made the right decision in basing it on the series: it enables them to utilise resources readily available to them, without the inevitable backlash from fans claiming that the Iron Thrones still hasn’t been accurately portrayed. The story kicks off at the end of season 3, and will lead up to season 5, running parallel with events from the TV series. The opening scene is set in a camp site. Bawdy men are joking about killing and fighting and other manly things. Your character, a squire named Gared, is sent off to fetch some supplies. Now, Gared is the squire to Lord Forrester, head of a Northern house loyal to the Starks. As Gared wanders past festivities left, right and centre, you’re greeted by a weaselly looking man wearing a stupid hat. “Oh!” I cry. “A Frey!” Suddenly, it all clicks, as the camera pans up and the Twins are revealed. “I know where we are…” I say to myself, as the Rains of Castamere begin to play. Then, all hell breaks loose, as the Red Wedding is in full swing. Gared must stumble back to Lord Forrester, amidst the battle waging around him. The emotion is there, but the whole area just seems pretty deserted and empty; sadly, despite being in a camp full of soldiers, this whole execution seemed pretty lacklustre. With current-gen consoles you would think that someone could have programmed in a few more fighting soldiers to, you know, make the whole thing seem a bit real. But hey. Moving on. So, yes, Gared is one of three characters that you play as in Episode One: Iron From Ice. The other two are Ethan Forrester, one of Lord Forrester’s sons, and Mira Forrester, a daughter who is in service to Margery Tyrell at King’s Landing. Like Tales from the Borderlands, jumping from character to character could be disorderly and incoherent, but the game pans out just like an episode of Game of Thrones, and with that in mind, it works. There are plenty of “oh shit!” moments, accompanied by some emotional heartbreaks and violent action. So your standard Game of Thrones recipe (albeit no boobs…yet). Without giving too much away, the events brilliantly kick-off this new chapter in the GRRM universe and leave you wanting more.

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As mentioned, voice acting is close to top notch in Telltale’s Game of Thrones. Natalie Dormer, Peter Dinklage, Lena Headey and Iwan Rheon all lend their voices to the game, enabling this little adventure to sit canon with the series. Speaking of, Ramsay Snow gets some more limelight here, ever emphasising what a cruel, brilliant character he is. Ethan Forrester’s voice initially makes you want to punch him in the face, but you get over it pretty quickly. I, for one, am looking forward to seeing what other beloved characters show up to aid (or hinder) the Forrester’s tale.

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Like all Telltale games, episodes will be released at regular intervals, so you have plenty of time to catch up before Episode 2: The Lost Lords is released in February. Of course, if you want the full experience, then wait until all episodes are released and play in one fell swoop. Although, unlike previous Telltale games, Game of Thrones will feature six episodes instead of five, so see you in a year! There are a few bumps in the road, but all in all Telltale have created another wonderful addition to their portfolio, and have finally given fans the Game of Thrones game that George R. R. Martin would be proud of!

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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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Borderlands: The Pre-Sequel!: First Impressions

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Thanks 2K, but where’s all my new shit?

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Borderlands: The Pre-Sequel! (exclamation mark included) is the latest addition in the family-friendly Borderlands series. AKA Borderlands 1.5, this game is set in between Borderlands 1 and 2. However, I will do my bestest not to include any spoilers for any of the three games in this here review. Holla. At time of writing, I have only played a couple o’ hours with a couple o’ characters with a couple o’ friends (and m’self), but I think that’s sufficient enough to warrant a ‘first impressions’ review, don’t you think?

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First off, The Pre-Sequel!, whilst good, does just kind of feel like a Borderlands 2 DLC pack. Which isn’t a bad thing, considering Borderlands 2 is a brilliant game, but there just isn’t enough new/updated stuff to really advance the series. The bottom line is, The Pre-Sequel does everything right that Borderlands 2 did, but also suffers from the same wrongs. There. You can make your own judgement now. Go, fly on!

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Still here? Thank you. That means a lot. Seriously. Ok, detail. So, what’s new? The Pre-Sequel starts off as the two previous Borderlands games did: choosing your character. This game has you choose one from four classes: Gladiator, Enforcer, Lawbringer and Fragtrap. What’s pretty cool is that all of these characters have appeared in some form in previous instalments: Athena, the Gladiator, made her debut in a DLC pack for Borderlands 1 as an NPC. Wilhelm the Enforcer and Nisha the Lawbringer both appear as enemies in Borderlands 2 (in one way or another), and the Fragtrap class is none other than that lovable robot Claptrap. There is quite a variety in classes – each character has their own unique skill command – though Wilhelm and Athena do seem somewhat similar, moreso than the other two, at least.. Athena uses her shield to absorb/dish our damage, Wilhelm summons two drones to aid him, Nisha can enter a Red Dead Redemption-style quick draw mode, and Claptrap….well, his takes  a little explaining, and is definitely the most fun. Claptrap’s skill analyses the battlefield, taking into account how much ammo, how much health etc. you have, and grants some sort of boon to the party dependent on that – whether it’s having everyone enter a ‘funzerker’ mode (guns, guns, guns), or mimicking Krieg from Borderlands 2’s rampage skill, or giving the whole party rubber rings to…bounce with. Inevitably, more characters will be released as DLC, so I am curious to see where that goes. Additionally, each characters’ melee attack feels more unique than it did in 2 too. For example, Claptrap does a little punch, whereas Nisha uses her whip, which has a longer range but deals a bit less damage. Naturally, your real power comes from one of the bazillion zillion guns that you can pick up throughout your play through. Two new additions to your already well-endowed arsenal are laser and cryogenic weapons. The former, as you may have guessed, fire a barrage of lasers that slowly drain enemies’ health. The latter, as you may have guessed once again (you rascal) freeze your enemies, enabling you to shatter them with a mighty blow!

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The story: As mentioned, The Pre-Sequel is set in between Borderlands 1 and 2, and depicts the rise of Borderlands 2 antagonist, Handsome Jack. As with previous Borderlands games, due to the sheer number of side quests, the main story can often be a bit ambiguous and confusing. Still, all in all it’s very funny, and I’m definitely interested to see where it goes. Borderlands 2 had some brilliant moments, particularly in its fantastic DLC, so I have…hopes for The Pre-Sequel. The game is set on Elpis, Pandora’s moon. As such, zero gravity plays a key role in The Pre-Sequel’s gameplay. You’re equipped with an oxygen pack (oz pack) that allows you to jump great distances, float a bit and even butt-slam down onto enemies below – which is pretty cool, because you can send them floating off into the infinity of space Malcolm Reynolds style. Watch out, ‘doe! If you use too much oxygen you WILL DIE. Unless you’re Claptrap. Because he don’t need no oxygen. This is a fun little addition that makes exploration and combat feel that teency bit fresher than it did in Borderlands 2.

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As for newness, that’s about it really. Everything else – graphics and general gameplay etc.– are pretty much the same as they were in Borderlands 2. I mean, it all works brilliantly, and obviously the game features a fresh soundtrack and voice acting – but overall the game doesn’t really feel like an upgrade…just more of the same. The game still wonderfully blends RPG elements into the FPS genre, and for the most part, the script is pretty hilarious. I would say ‘don’t fix what isn’t broken’, which, you know, they haven’t…but they also haven’t fixed what is broken. There are a handful of glitches that I have already encountered, rendering a quest un-completeable. These are generally solved by exiting the map and re-entering, but in my fast paced adult life, I don’t have time for that! Also, the menu is still just as clunky as it was in 2. In fact, it’s exactly the same. Again, not game-breaking, just a small nuisance that I would have hoped they may have fixed. Lastly, the enemies feel quite repetitive. You seem to be fighting the same ones over and over again, with no real variety. Elpis is ok to explore, but has nothing on the design of Pandora in previous installments.

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Overall, the game just feels like a big ol’, slightly unpolished DLC for Borderlands 2. It’s still fun, especially with friends, but Borderlands: The Pre-Sequel! unfortunately lacks the innovation and originality to really make it stand out. I’ve clocked 100 hours on Borderlands 2…something that I just don’t see happening with The Pre-Sequel, sadly. If you’re new to the series, go and pick up Borderlands 2. If you really like it, give this a go, but spend your time over there first. I’ll be looking forward to the inevitable Borderlands 3 and TellTale Game’s Tales from the Borderlands…

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