Nicholas DeBlasio ’16 / Emertainment Monthly Staff Writer
It’s not every day that a first-person shooter comes with setting as flavorful and engaging as the Borderlands universe, but as great as the games are, FPS isn’t always the best way to fully explore and enrich that universe. This is why Gearbox Software licensed Telltale Games to make their own game based on the Borderlands setting, allowing them to give it the story-heavy, decision-based treatment they gave to their past games. Thus, Tales from the Borderlands was born in an effort to give the story elements of Borderlands their due as the focus of a game, an effort which very much succeeded.
The story takes place after the events of Borderlands 2 and follows two player characters. The first is Rhys, a Hyperion lackey trying to secure a high position in the company, a goal that leads him to shady business dealings on Pandora. Complicating his plans is native Pandoran and con artist Fiona. Their sometimes conflicting, sometimes coinciding intentions lead them on a typical Pandoran journey—one filled with hyperviolent bandits, ravenous local fauna, and the occasional vault hunter. Both storylines give interesting perspectives on the events of the Borderlands series, one being from the point of view of the enemy corporation, and the other from the life of a native Pandoran whose home planet and family has been caught up in the story’s events.
Neither of these characters are particularly proficient with guns, unlike the player characters of the other games, so gameplay is centered more on problem-solving, using the environment to the player’s advantage, and dodging attacks. That said, there is a fair amount of combat situations, but they are dealt with by using tricks and tools, not guns and grenades (though that doesn’t stop NPCs from using them liberally). Altogether, playing Tales is like watching an action movie, but even more intense because the player knows their decisions, quick thinking, and quick hands could come into play any second and change the whole story. These points of decision are not sparse, and the choice-based continuity leaves no room for boredom.
The game stands in a somewhat odd situation with the audience. On one hand, long time Borderlands fans might miss the signature gunplay of the series, but they are best armed to understand the plot and the returning characters. On the other hand, those who were turned off by the first-person shooter format might appreciate a more story-based approach, but won’t be able to experience the Borderlands flavor without having played at least one of the other games. However, if the former group was only playing for the shooting and not the flavor, then there’s no reason they couldn’t have been playing some other class-based FPS this whole time. The latter group may not be able to get the full Borderlands experience from this game, but at least the storyteller Markus gives some of his signature exposition to clear things up at the beginning.
There were some points of confusion about the exact effects of dialogue options (given the limited time to input a dialogue/action response) that resulted in undesirable and unintended outcomes. This, however, depends on any individual player’s ability to process information quickly. Furthermore, any confusion mostly occurs in minor decision situations, while big plot-pivoting choices have more clear-cut dialogue options. The decision timer is also an addition necessary to preserve the streamlined storytelling the game utilizes. It’s not a point worth worrying about, as even making a bad decision will probably turn out to be more hilarious than frustrating, courtesy of Borderlands’ signature lighthearted-yet-dark comedy, which Telltale Games successfully carries over from previous games.
As only the first episode has been released (out of the eventual five episodes), the game is currently very short, weighing in at only about one and a half to two hours of content. Assuming the other episodes will be about the same length, that totals to seven and a half to ten hours for one playthrough, not including the potential for making different decisions for uncovering alternate storylines.
Altogether, Telltale Games has succeeded in applying the signature Borderlands flavor to a well-written and engaging story. Future episodes are worth looking forward to, especially with the promise of further appearances by the vault hunter Zer0, a Hyperion big-shot voiced by Patrick Warburton, and the creatively-introduced return of everyone’s favorite megalomaniac.
Overall Rating: 9/10