Tales from the Borderlands, Episode Two: Atlas Mugged

The first episode of Tales from the Borderlands was a refreshingly funny turn for Telltale adventure games. It was also a boon for the Borderlands franchise because of how it wove a story with a property that barely had one. Telltale’s storytelling took a new direction through the  subjective points of view of Rhys and Fiona, two souls looking to make a fortune on Pandora. With their predilection for embellishing the truth, Tales from the Borderland’s non-sequitor humor stole the show for me. It set a tone and expectation for the entire series that I was chomping at the bit to experience. After playing episode two, "Atlas Mugged," I'm left with feelings of confusion and disappointment because the zany, madcap experience shown so eloquently in “Zer0 Sum” has been considerably toned down.

After surviving the brutal encounter with Bossanova’s gang of Psycho racers, Rhys and Fiona, followed closely by Vaughn and Sasha, find themselves in a hidden Atlas storehouse. The first episode’s bombshell of a stinger, the resurgence of Hyperion president Handsome Jack, and the mystery over why Rhys is the only one who can see the blue-hued AI construct drives the opening moments of the episode. Based on the final words of an Atlas muckety muck, the gang travels to Old Haven where a secret facility holds the key to uncovering the Gortys Project. Their journey is complicated by the presence of giant Rakks, Hyperion moon shots, assassins, and the wrath of Hyperion’s new president. The episode is all about reaping what these characters have sown in "Zer0 Sum" which is responsible for  creating a lot more drama than laughs.

The scenes with Fiona and Sasha are somewhat sad as they struggle to cope with the crippling betrayal they were forced to endure. It certainly makes sense that the characters would feel this way but to be honest, their anguish makes for dull, boring scenes of angst near unbefitting a game that, only one episode prior, allowed me to slaughter dozens of Psychos with a Loader bot. The senseless arguing and hyperbolic self-worship that defined the first episode is replaced with softer, more subtle attacks against each other’s character. Though not as bombastic, the cuts between past and present Fiona and Rhys are fun and subtle enough to catch the player off guard.

There are two major action sequences to interact with, the most exciting being a street chase between Fiona and a mysterious assassin. The non-combat exploration and puzzle solving bits aren’t quite as fun because they often feel superficial and nonessential. The game is at its best when Rhys and Vaughn are put on center stage, letting their fish-out-of-water experience create the game’s funniest moments. Chris Hardwick’s performance as Vaughn is fantastic in this episode because of the character’s slow evolution away from a flinchy accountant to a Pandoran survivalist. There are fewer chances for Rhys to sound like a pompous ass now that the cast begins to develop a rapport together. Maybe that’s why Handsome Jack, who is still an unbearable asshole, has such a presence in this episode? As someone who really grew to despise the character in Borderlands 2, I wasn’t particularly too thrilled with this reunion.

There are plenty of laughs to be had in “Atlas Mugged,” just not as many as expected. Rhys and Vaughn are still a joy together and the in-game text descriptions for the smattering of interactive objects can be monstrously funny. I also really liked hearing Rhys badmouth the Atlas and Dahl Corporations because it gives some insight on how these organizations feel about each other. These corporations were just names in Borderlands, so its nice to see Telltale flesh out bits like this.

The jokes aren’t enough to soften the blow of a weak cliffhanger, its ineffectiveness mostly attributed to a final scene made confusing through some stodgy animation and lots of omitted dialog (that we'll likely hear in episode three). “Atlas Mugged” is a disappointing stumble to what started out as an amazing burst out of the gate and I'm left hoping the next episode can make the rebound.

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.