Developer: Telltale Games and Gearbox Software
Publishers: Telltale Games and 2K Games
Here we are at the end of the journey. I’ve not historically been the biggest fan of Borderlands. I was excited for a co-op loot fest when I bought the first game, but I what a received was a stylish, but shallow shooter. I was never one of the many people to pretend that Claptrap was funny and a short and easy campaign provided little value to me. Ever since the,n I’ve been a bit of a grump about the franchise. Eventually (read: a few weeks ago) I would learn to love Borderlands 2, if a little late.
I’ve also had my share of issues with Telltale games. While they are undoubtedly amazing storytellers, with some of their games, it is too easy to see that your choices aren’t actually affecting the story but simply changing the dialogue a bit. Unlike a game like Mass Effect or Life is Strange, your choices might not have as much impact as one would desire, considering their premise is that the story is tailored to the decision that you make. Their games range from great, like The Wolf Among Us, to utterly pointless, like Game of Thrones.
I tell you this so that you understand why it’s so weird for me to say that Tales from The Borderlands has cemented itself as one of my favorite games.
*The fact that you’re reading this assumes that you are aware of the events of episodes 1-3. If you’re not, then spoilers.*
Epsiode 4, “Escape Plan Bravo,” starts right after the climatic events of the end of “Catch-a-Ride.” After losing Athena to two unlikely assailants, Rhys, Fiona, and the crew are need to get to Helios, the floating headquarters of Hyperion, or Vallory will have them for dinner. So who do they call? Why the only man up to the task: Scooter! Scoots ain’t alone either. There’s a surprise guest for fans of The Pre-Sequel who’ll actually turn your caravan into a spaceworthy craft. Scooter will be serving as your onboard mechanic. But you know what game you’re playing by this point, so you know that not everything goes according to plan. Their are problems with your rocket that, without giving too much away, lead to one of the most emotional moments of the game, especially if you were a fan of Borderlands 2.
Despite your troubles, the crew makes it aboard Helios, with Rhys in disguise as the dastardly and lovable Vasquez. As the crew infiltrates Helios, there is plenty of opportunity for hilarity to ensue. The choices you make as Fiona pretending to be a tour guide all have very funny outcomes, including a standout callback to a throwaway joke from Borderlands 2. Telltale and Gearbox are really great with the references that are funny whether you know what they’re calling on or not. The most significant is a battle between Rhys and the Hyperion accounting department that will be honored in annals of action scenes.
With episodic games, there is a lot of pressure on the final episode in a season to wrap up all the plots nicely and give a satisfying conclusion while leaving things a little open for the next season. There’s always the chance that you fail to capitalize on everything that you’ve been building toward. Luckily, Telltale knocks it out of the park here. Episode 5, “The Vault of The Traveler,” was thrilling from start to finish, with numerous scenes that feel like a payoff after months of building (as well as sending up some popular genres). Everything from the reveal of your mysterious captor to the final battle has a great weight to it, and feels utterly satisfying. I don’t want to give anything from this episode away, as all of it is great and should be experienced firsthand. The conclusion to the season is fulfilling, and I feelthat I had seen this journey through to its end. It is a perfect ending for an amazing story.
Language: This may not be a shooter but this is still Borderlands, so there are still many instances of very adult language, some of it being quite creative. Being Borderlands, there was actually less vulgarity than I expected, but still a substantial amount. Expect liberal use of the f-, b-, and s- words, as well as some rare instances of more risque vernacular.
Violence: Again, this is Borderlands. Most of the more graphic moments are weighted towards the beginning of episode 4, but there is an especially intense scene during Episode 5 that is also pretty violent. There are some particularly gross moments of bodily humor (see: Face Pizza). Big fun.
The action gameplay gets a little more intense in tense in these episodes, especially in Episode 5, where you actually get some more complex button combinations. Still, action is mainly comprised of quick-time events and mashing your Q key. You do feel like you’re doing more, and the action on display—especially as Fiona comes into her ow—is very impressive. There’s plenty to see, and just enough player input to feel like you’re a part of the sizable amount of action.
Your dialogue choices remain as the main facet of gameplay. More than ever in Tales, I felt like my choices were having a real impact. In Episode 4, some of your decisions make a big impact, and there’s some great character moments for Rhys and Handsome Jack that you’re in control of.
Tales has such a great and deep story, but is still fundamentally easy to play, I would actually recommend to anyone looking for Baby’s First Videogame (don’t give this to a baby though. Seriously, adults only). If you someone who wants to get into gaming but finds it hard to get a handle on, this would serve as a great introductory game. The quick-time events are very forgiving; I don’t think i failed once, even when the game suddenly threw more complex movements at me towards the end. The puzzle solving is also very light.Tales an easy game to get into, yetit still feels like you’re doing something. Each episode takes about 2 hours to complete, give or take depending on how much you look around.
Tales from the Borderlands is hilarious. I don’t think a game has ever had me laughing so hard. The writing is so good that no matter what choices you make, you are going to laugh. The main point of the game is to be funny. From Loaderbot’s judgement at how many times he has to save you to the huge fight with the Hyperion accounting department, there is nary a moment when the game isn’t at least telling a small joke. There are also pop culture references, but these are subtle enough that the won’t date the game years from now.
Because the majority of the game is so light, it is all the more impactful when the game gets emotional on you. It’s a cheesy game, but it knows it’s cheesy and is very genuine about it. For this reason Tales can so effectively sneak up on you with feelings. Characters that you love die, and you make sacrifices. This is especially evident in Episodes 4 and 5, where the game is still hilarious, but there is a persistent emotional weight to everything that you are doing. It’s really a testament to the writers at Telltale that they are able to craft a story that maintains its goal of humor without sacrificing feeling.
The high level of humor in this game is due in no small part to the excellent voice acting. Game industry stars like Troy Baker, Nolan North, and Chris Hardwick continue to do amazing jobs. Even Patrick Warburton, famously the voice of Kronk from The Emperor’s New Groove, is still killing it as Rhys/Vasquez. Everyone’s delivery is so on point that even if a line wouldn’t normally be funny, it becomes funny because of how they said it. Another standout is the direction. Since a Telltale game is in essence an interactive movie, things like cinematography and editing are very important. Tales does an incredible job with this, exemplified in the intros that occur about a 1/4 of the way through every episode. These are some of my favorite moments in the game, and show off the high production value. Both Episodes 4 and 5 continue the tradition of awesome intros, and while Episode 2‘s intro remains my favorite, 4 and 5 give it a run for its money.
As for graphics, there’s not much to write home about. Telltale’s trademark cell shaded style actually pairs well with the art style of of the conventional Borderland’s games, so even though it’s a little low-def there is at least some unity in theme. Playing on the PC, I experienced no performance issues, save for the rare stutter. I was playing on with an i7 processor and 8 gigs of RAM, and I was able to run the game windowed while browsing the internet with no discernible slowdown.
Lastly, the music may be my favorite part of the game, and that’s saying quite a bit since there’s very little about this game that I dislike. The ambient sound, soundtrack, and licensed songs are all top notch. Since finishing the game I’ve found myself listening to the game’s soundtrack whenever I need some background music. The music especially comes through in the emotional moments, and really helps to cement the weight of these dire situations. The score during the final battle will most definitely rustle up some feeling from even the most stoic of hearts.
This game surpassed my expectations in every way. If you like Telltale games, are big into humor, or are looking for a great experience, then look no further. For less than half the price of a AAA release you’ll get a story that will simultaneously make you laugh and touch your heart. In a year with The Witcher 3 and Fallout 4, it’s easy for a game like this to be passed over. But Tales From the Borderlands has earned a permanent place in my heart.
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The Bottom Line
The folks at Telltale have outdone themselves this time. The last two episodes of Tales From the Borderlands deliver in every way and offer a rewarding conclusion to one of the pinnacles of episodic gaming.