Hello everyone, and welcome to Late to the Party, a series in which I discuss video games that I’ve finally gotten around to playing. Today I’m going to tell you about Tales from the Borderlands, an episodic adventure game. I played Tales from the Borderlands on my PS4 Pro and I’ll be keeping today’s post spoiler-free.
Tales from the Borderlands is a game that I actually wasn’t all that interested in playing. Coming from the absurdly prolific developers at Telltale Games, Tales from the Borderlands’ first episode debuted in November 2014 and the season eventually wrapped-up in October 2015. Even though I had played and mostly enjoyed Borderlands 2, (see Part 1 and Part 2 of my old posts on it) I wasn’t paying attention to Tales from the Borderlands when it was being released because the style of games that Telltale produces has never held my attention, but in May 2017 the entire season of Tales from the Borderlands became free for PlayStation Plus subscribers. Though I still didn’t care about the game, I downloaded it anyway just to have it in my PlayStation 4’s library. A full year passed and when choosing what game to play after Bastion I decided it was finally time for me to give Tales from the Borderlands a shot. Tales from the Borderlands is widely considered one of the best games Telltale has ever produced, so if this game didn’t win me over then I could confidently pass over all the other Telltale games.
Set after the events of Borderlands 2, Tales from the Borderlands takes us back to the world of Pandora to tell a story from the differing perspectives of its two lead protagonists—Rhys, a salaryman from the Hyperion Corporation, and Fiona, a local con artist. Taking place on a world that might be best described as a sci-fi, cartoonish, and very comedic version of Mad Max, the adventures of Rhys and Fiona are full of eccentric characters, suspenseful action sequences, and a never-ending train of jokes. As outrageous as the story gets, the actors behind all of the characters do a great job of selling everything that happens. The dueling perspectives of Rhys and Fiona also work really well, filling in the gaps of the narrative and providing some particularly humorous moments when Rhys and Fiona get caught up in embellishing their versions of events.
To move the story forward you’ll be spending much of your time navigating dialogue trees and making decisions on what actions Rhys and Fiona take. Other characters will remember certain dialogue options you select and the decisions you make both shape Rhys and Fiona’s character development and can have serious impacts on the story that are not always immediately obvious. This system of making choices and seeing their effects play out is one I’ve experienced and enjoyed in other games like Mass Effect, but since Tales from the Borderlands only takes about 10 hours to beat you don’t have to wait as long as in bigger games like Mass Effect to see the final results of your decisions. At the end of each episode you’re also given statistics that show how your decisions compared to other players. I do have to say, however, that I did not like the short time limits that are placed on most of the decisions you make in the game. This is purely a personal issue that not everyone will agree with, and I realize the time limits help keep the plot moving along at a more natural pace, but I would have much more preferred there to be no time limits at all. At the very least I would have liked an extra 5 seconds to think before choosing.
Outside of making those decisions you’ll be completing easy quick time events to get through the game’s more action-heavy moments, as well as exploring small areas that sometimes contain very rudimentary puzzles. These exploration moments play out a lot like old point-and-click adventure games, with you guiding Rhys or Fiona around an area to interact with objects in the environment. Rhys can use his cybernetic eye to scan objects and learn more about them while Fiona can acquire money that can be used to purchase cosmetic upgrades. There’s nothing even remotely complex about Tales from the Borderland’s gameplay, so all of your mental energy will be saved for deciding the game’s dialogue and action choices.
For such a simple game, you might be surprised by how buggy Tales from the Borderlands is. The game engine that powers games made by Telltale has a reputation for producing inconsistent gaming experiences and Tales from the Borderlands is not exempt from that unfortunate streak. Framerates sometimes briefly stutter, lip synching and audio synching are off enough times to be memorable, characters occasionally clip through objects in the environment, and the game crashed on me one time while during my playthrough. I can see why there’s been a certain level of frustration in the gaming community in that Telltale has cranked out quite a few games in the past six years but has failed to get their game engine to run consistently well.
Where Telltale has absolute succeeded, on the other hand, is in creating a game that feels like it belongs in the Borderlands universe. Tales from the Borderlands looks exactly like how I remember Borderlands 2. The writing and the humor line up perfectly with the Borderlands style and all the characters brought in from the other games are expertly integrated into the story. This is a Borderlands game through and through, and if I didn’t know any better I would swear that Tales from the Borderlands was a side project from Gearbox Software, the studio behind the mainline Borderlands games.
Ultimately, I think your enjoyment of Tales from the Borderlands is going to hinge heavily on whether or not you liked the other Borderlands games. If you’re a fan of Borderlands there’s a good chance you’ll like this game too, and if you’ve never played the mainline Borderlands games this might get you curious to try them, but if you didn’t like Borderlands then Tales from the Borderlands probably won’t win you over. Overall I had a good time with Tales from the Borderlands, however the game’s myriad small bugs and my personal distaste for the time limits on decisions keep me from scoring it higher than 8.0 out of 10. A lot of people will disagree with me about those time limits and for them Tales from the Borderlands would be scored higher. Trophy hunters will also rejoice in that Tales from the Borderlands has a Platinum Trophy that’s incredibly easy to unlock—all you have to do is just finish the game—but trophies aren’t a big deal for me so that detail didn’t factor into my review. Will I play any other games from Telltale? Honestly, probably not. Maybe if Telltale makes a game based on a movie series or video game that I’m a big fan of then I might look into it, but otherwise it will be a tough sell.