With the news yesterday that Telltales Episodic vision of Pandora will be getting a full disc release on April 22nd, Iwan felt now was the perfect time to visit the series. Tales from the Borderlands isn’t a game that teaches us anything new about the developer behind it, as it treads the same ground (point, click, make big repercussive decisions in a matter of seconds) that its predecessors have done since Telltale struck gold with the first season of The Walking Dead a few years ago.
That’s not necessarily a bad thing, by the look of it; HBO, Mojang and now Warner Brothers have all been happy to allow the studio to create stories based on their own gigantic intellectual properties, and at this stage, with more Walking Dead episodes and a second season of Game of Thrones in development, it’s tough to argue that Telltale have exploited this purple patch wisely, continuing to churn out well-realised and accurate representations of almost every existing series it’s been offered.
Again, this series isn’t new territory; Tales controls just like The Wolf Among us did, it offers you time to explore your surroundings just like The Walking Dead did and it’ll shove quick-time events in your face if you’re not paying attention just like….well, all of their games, but for the first time in a while, Telltale’s formula feels more fun and decidedly more vibrant than it’s been in some time.
That might purely be down to the source material, with Gearbox’s Pandora and the whole Borderlands universe offering a perfect marriage of silliness, violence and danger that offers some respite from Zombie Apocalypses and oppressive fantasy histrionics. Tales is a romp, a con gone wrong and an enjoyable road trip with a fun group of characters. You dart between Rhys, Hyperion jobber and ladder-climberer and Fiona, a Pandoran con artist as they tell the tale of how they met and the botched job that cost them both a tonne of money.
Being decidedly less serious and dark than Telltale’s recent work certainly helps Tales, and it feels that much more exciting and less oppressive, despite the violence on offer. Each episode starts with a proper title sequence with some well-chosen licenced music (The Rapture start episode 3 as the gang travel across the desert, for instance, and it’s bloody cool), the characters are well rounded and feel suitably developed enough by the time you hit the credits on episode 5 and the story and threads that tie it together feel significant despite there being not a whole-helluva-lot at stake.
It’d be crass to delve into specifics, as the story is the one thing in a Telltale game that offers some form of surprise, given how locked-in the gameplay feels at this stage. Each episode has the obligatory quick time events section, moments of exploration and the odd split-second decision to navigate, which is starting to feel limiting at this stage. The use of money is an interesting touch, with players rewarded for their exploring skills with the option of purchasing specific clothes for the core cast of characters, but beyond that, the template’s what you’d expect. Thankfully, Telltale fatigue is mostly avoided purely because of the strength of everything else on offer.
Tales nails Borderlands’ art style (partly because the two developers share quite a similar gritty cartoony look) and, as is the standard, manages to create a compelling narrative in a pre-existing universe by exploiting and not relying too heavily on the stories that came before it. Series hallmarks are present; loveable robots, psychotic enemies, violence, big guns etc, with the former inparticular offering some of the game’s best characters and individual moments. It’s also repeatedly daft, playing with movie and game tropes liberally but balancing those instances with enough danger to keep the narrative from tipping over into constant silliness. But it’s still so nicely juxtaposed to the majority of Telltale’s recent output; for instance, your character will be asked if they want to reciprocate a fist bump from a giant yellow robot, which is a nice change to using your foot to stomp on a zombie’s face.
Don’t get me wrong, Tales has its issues; an update to Telltale’s in-game engine is going to be needed at some stage if only to prevent your characters from controlling like a salmon balancing on sticks, and it’s worth noting again that this formula doesn’t have an infinite shelf life, but this is yet another great example of Telltale working wonders in someone else’s world despite those self-imposed restrictions. All in all, it’s easily the most entertaining and engrossing release in the developer’s history, and it’ll do nicely.
Midlife Gamer Rating: 8/10 Format: PlayStation 4 / Xbox One / PC Release Date: Out Now
Disclosure: Iwen Lehnert purchased a copy of Tales of The Borderlands for review purposes. The title was reviewed over the course of two weeks. For more information on what our scores mean, plus details of our reviews policy, click here.