Telltale has made itself quite the reputation for a certain type of game thanks to The Walking Dead and The Wolf Among Us. With the release of Tales from the Borderlands the company has improved upon its own reputation in a big way. With the announcement of this particular title, there have been some who wondered what could be done when talking about taking a different approach to an already rich video game world. It turns out that Pandora and its inhabitants were never filled out quite as well or quite as completely as they were with Tales from the Borderlands.
The first episode of Tales from the Borderlands, titled Zero Sum was released on Wednesday and it has basically been packaged as a kind of 2.5 hour long trailer for the rest of the series. Telltale has long been specializing in releasing its games as a five part episodic series that invokes the appearance of a kind of interactive television show. This has never been done better than it was with Tales from the Borderlands, probably because of the approach this particular game takes.
While The Walking Dead and The Wolf Among Us have players guiding the characters through the adventure, there isn’t a specific person, other than the gamer who is watching or listening to the story. In Tales from the Borderlands, the story unfolds as a tale that is being told by two different people. The first character gamers see the story through is a man named Rhys who works for Hyperion, a company well known to those who have played through the Borderlands universe before.
As the game opens, Rhys is being dragged through a Pandoran dessert by a masked person who’s role in the story is unknown. The story telling works especially well because of the fact that the events have already unfolded. This is one of the hangups when talking about The Walking Dead or The Wolf Among Us. When a players doesn’t hit the right button or move the controller in the right direction, the character dies and the scene has to be played over again. In Telltale’s other games, the player has to suspend disbelief in order to pretend as if the wrong move was never made. In Tales from the Borderland, a character’s death is met with an exclamation of disbelief from the masked person by saying something like “you didn’t really die, you’re sitting right in front of me.” The wrong move is then dismissed as an embellishment in the story.
Tales from the Borderlands also stands out from the previous games done in this kind of style because players see the action unfold from two separate points of view. Rhys is the opening act, but eventually gamers will also see different parts of the adventure through the eyes of a top of the line con-woman named Fiona. Fiona is also taken prisoner by the person wearing the mask and her tales are a slightly different take on what is going on in Zero Sum. One of the first laugh out loud moments in the game is when Fiona absolutely takes Rhys to task for the way he tells the story.
Telltale games seems to be getting stronger when it comes to putting together a game in this format. First put out there in The Walking Dead, there is less action than in games like Borderlands and Borderlands 2. Instead, the game is more about allowing users to shape the action by shaping the personalities of the main characters. In The Walking Dead and The Wolf Among Us, the personalities tend to be quite a bit more grim and there doesn’t seem to be as much leeway. Sometimes players get to choose who they are going to save, or if they are going to save anyone at all. Other times, it is about choosing what to say, but it’s usually choosing one bad choice over another. Tales from the Borderlands still has plenty of these moments but because both of the characters are narrating a story and both can be considered unreliable narrators, there is more ability to shape the characters to the users’ personality. Taking the reigns of someone who is already a con artist helps as well, because users are being encouraged to lie to certain people about certain times. This is where Tales from the Borderlands really improves on the game engine already demonstrated in Telltale’s other titles. In those games lying is usually frowned upon, unless the users feel as though they need to lie in order to help someone out. Here, the lying is not only not frowned upon, its needed in order to get through a mission.
If there is one drawback of the game, and Tales from the Borderlands is done in such a way it’s hard to tell whether this really is a drawback, its that there really is even less control of the action. While Telltale’s previous titles did have users exploring certain regions more, almost all the choices in this game have to do with what the main characters tell other people. The universe of Borderlands has always been one that simply wasn’t explored enough in Gearbox’s games. There are plenty of colorful characters out there, both evil and “trying to be” good. Tales from the Borderlands allows for more time to truly get a feel for this alien planet and the people who live on and around it. The best news of all is that gamers get to see this universe in a fun way that leaves users wanting more. This episode feels like the first part of an epic movie series, with an exceptionally long running time. The best thing that can be said for the game because of that is that Tales from the Borderlands doesn’t really feel all that long. Once the episode is over, users are only going to want to see more.
A review copy of Tales from the Borderlands was provided to zoomdune.com for the purpose of this review.