After news broke that Telltale was going to make a Borderlands game, I was surprised and skeptical. I wasn’t sure if Borderlands’ heavy action and gun porn mentality could be translated into the “high story, low action” genre of adventure games. I also didn’t think that Borderlands, its sequels and expansions weren’t particularly noteworthy from a narrative point of view. The potential was there; Pandora and the people who live on it are great material, though I felt it get pushed aside for boilerplate open world missions. All that being said, if anyone could pull off a a Borderlands adventure game, it would be Telltale. They’ve got a great track record with licensed properties, creating experiences that were just as good (if not better) than the source material. To me, Borderlands just seemed a bit too left field. Although I felt trepidation going into the preview for Tales from the Borderlands, I’m happy to report that I was completely and wonderfully surprised by what I saw. Not only is Tales from the Borderlands in good hands, I found it to be more promising and entertaining than anything in the proper Borderlands franchise.*
Now to be fair, Telltale has the benefit of concentrating solely on story for Tales from the Borderlands and not concern themselves with coding a bajillion guns, designing quests, or worrying about online multiplayer. The structure is exactly what you’d come to expect from a Telltale adventure, which means you’ll be doing a great deal of talking and making decisions that will not only influence the current situation, they will affect the outcome of the entire episodic series. There are also action sequences that require some quick thinking and moderately nimble reflexes to respond to quick time events.
Episode one begins with a flashforward. Rhys (voiced by The Force Unleashed’s Sam Witwer), a Hyperion employee who dreams of bigger and better things, makes his way to a small domicile situated within a rocky piece of Pandoran land in order to secure a certain something from a masked individual. He is met by a woman and veteran grifter named Fiona, and the two immediately start bickering, suggesting that they have a past. Before making a sale to either character, the masked Pandoran demands that they share their stories - of who they are, where they come from and why they hate each other so much.
Rhys’ story suggests that the events of Tales from the Borderlands begins some time after Borderlands 2. Handsome Jack’s death has created a leadership vacuum within Hyperion and Rhys is hoping to take the job. Instead, he is passed over by the smarmy and sleazy Hugo Vasquez (Patrick Warburton). Dialog options in Tales from the Borderlands play out like any other Telltale game and the ability to play the game either as a caring, good natured human being or a complete asshole is emphasized significantly. For the purposes of the demo, our guide decided to make Rhys act like a jerk to everyone (which would cause problems later on). When he overhears Vasquez brokering a deal to purchase a Vault Key, Rhys drags his friend Vaughn (a mousy Hyperion accountant voiced by Chris Hardwick) to Pandora, where Rhys’ smart mouth instantly gets him into trouble with the locals, turning a simple exchange into a wild and violent battle against bandits.
Telltale has captured and recreated the Borderlands experience so well it’s almost frightening. Beyond nailing down the series' unique visuals, it maintains the wacky and nihilistic sense of humor. The dialog between the characters feels snappier, funnier, and the roster of talent do a fantastic job with their characters. The game benefits from a scripted approach, allowing Telltale to come up with some really hilarious scenarios and camera direction. This was noticeable during the demo’s action scene in which Rhys pissing off the locals escalates into a cartoony melee. When Rhys introduces a Hyperion Loader into the fray, the scene gets crazier as the two men dodge bullets while the machine wreaks all sorts of havoc. Telltale isn’t shying away from violence. Doing so would take a large part of Borderlands’ spirit. Blood flies as bodies are shot, beaten and crushed.
The thirty minute demo had me completely sold on the idea of Tales from the Borderlands. Telltale has pulled it off so well that I as of this moment, I can’t think of any other studio that could do it so well. It even got me thinking: what if Telltale and Gearbox teamed up for a Borderlands 3? How amazing would that be? Tales from the Borderlands will presented in an episodic format with the first episode debuting later this summer for the Xbox 360, PlayStation 3, iPad, PlayStation Vita and the PC.
*The only exception being the incredible opus that is Borderlands 2’s “Shoot This Guy In The Face” mission.
Librarian by day, Darkstation review editor by night. I've been playing video games since the days of the Commodore 64 and I have no interest in stopping now that I've made it this far.