Tales from the Borderlands: Episode One
[Please note that Tales from the Borderlands is an episodic series. Purchasing the game grants you access to all episodes as they become available. Currently only the first episode has been released.]
When I first heard TellTale Games were making an episodic adventure game based on Gearbox Software's beloved hyperviolent and totally cracked-in-the-head shooter series Borderlands, I was mildly concerned. Mainly because Borderlands is described by things like ramping a car that fires buzzsaws off a cliff into a group of bandits and guns that shoot bullets that are also on fire, while TellTale's adventure games are, um. Not. But surprise surprise, Tales from the Borderlands is here with its first installment, Zer0 Sum, and while you won't be running around shooting up the scenery, it's every bit as foul-mouthed, black-humoured, and perversely charismatic as the original games. Plus, Patrick Warburton is in it. What else do you want? If you haven't played Borderlands, Tales will get you up to speed on the basics at the beginning, which are fairly simple.Tales from the Borderlands takes place after the end of Borderlands 2 and follows Rhys and Fiona, not exactly your typical gun-toting heroes, who have very different motives. Rhys has been fighting tooth and nail for a promotion at super company Hyperion that his "nemesis" Vasquez has cheated him out of, while Fiona's out to pull one huge con that could set her, her little sister, and their surrogate father Felix up for life. To say not everything goes according to plan is an understatement, and Fiona and Rhys are going to have to work together to stay alive... even if each one blames the other for the whole mess. This first installment tells the story of how they wound up thrown together, though of course how they get there is mostly up to you. With excellent comedic timing, exciting action sequences, and all the perverse style and flair you expect from a Borderlands title, Tales from the Borderlands' first episode sets things off with a bang. Oh, and be prepared for a, um, special jump scare or two.
Tales plays like most other recent TellTale titles, a more action-based format of the classic adventure formula. Use [WASD] to walk about, click to interact, using the contextual icons that pop up when you mouse over something or someone to decide what to do. While you'll explore, talk to people, and solve puzzles, the most important thing to keep in mind is what you say to people and what you do. The choices you make impact the game and all episodes going forward, while characters will remember things you tell them and react differently to you as a result. You don't have all the time in the world to decide what to do or say, however, and since the game saves automatically, you're stuck with whatever happens. When playing as Rhys, you have an ability called Echo Eye, activated with the [Q] key, that can let you remotely access some electronic devices like computers, while the hardware in his hand has its own unique uses. During action sequences, you'll be required to hit whatever keys pop up on the screen for quick-time events, as well as make decisions on the fly.
Surprisingly, Tales from the Borderlands' scripted action sequences are a lot of fun, and intense to boot. They all come down to quick-time events, of course, but they capture the madcap, over-the-top combat very well, and are fantastically choreographed. They do a great job of showing what it's like for the non-Vault Hunters to deal with the same crazy odds, and as Felix points out, "Guns are a crutch". It also doesn't hurt that Tales is funny, managing to strike a balance between gross-out violent humour and more subtle, witty banter and visual jokes. Borderlands as a whole has always been a lot smarter than some people give it credit for, and Tales pulls that off with ease. Rhys and his friends are immediately likable, with Chris Hardwick giving a great performance as best buddy Vaughn, and the banter between Fiona and Rhys is perfect snarky frenemy fencing. The way they snipe at one another over their conflicting stories over the episode and embellish details adds a wonderful flair. If you aren't familiar with the Borderlands series, then some of the humour and references will definitely go over your head, but Tales avoids feeling like one big in-joke and simply making references for fans. It is very much its own story, one that works with and expands the lore rather than relying solely on preexisting material.
Still, Tales from the Borderlands might have a hard road ahead of it when it comes to satisfying its audience, from the fans who were expecting or wanting more classic Borderlands gameplay to the newcomer adventure fans who wish the game offered more puzzles than quick-time events. You aren't given much opportunity to explore, so the vast majority of the game plays out like a series of interactive cutscenes. As a fan of the original games myself, however, I can tell you that Tales from the Borderlands is neither what I thought it would be, nor what I was afraid it would be. It pulls no punches and revels in the weird and freaky, while at the same time crafting characters and a story you can see yourself growing to love. With this first installment, it's hard to tell whether your choices will have the moral and far-reaching consequences throughout the rest of the series of, say, The Walking Dead. Despite this, however, Tales from the Borderlands is one of the most effortlessly funny and engaging adventure games you'll play this year, and is an impressive start to an unexpectedly promising series.
Hi, Dora! Thanks for the great review! I hadn't even heard about this, but as avid Borderlands 1 and 2 players, my brother, sister, and I all think that "Tales from the Borderlands" has the potential to be pretty awesome. I do have a couple of questions, though.
First, the game's site says key features include playing as Rhys and Fiona, so do players get to choose at the start, or do they get switched back-and-forth automatically throughout the game?
Second, does this episode (and therefore probably future episodes) focus solely on Rhys and Fiona's story, or
does it have anything about the back stories of the Vault Hunters from Borderlands 1 and/or 2?
And third (and last), I'm confused about the action sequences. You wrote: "During action sequences, you'll be required to hit whatever keys pop up on the screen for quick-time events, as well as make decisions on the fly." My question is, does this mean that there isn't any combat like Borderlands 1 and 2 -- actually fighting enemies yourself as your character -- but rather we just sort of tell the character we're controlling what to do and they do it? It sounds to me (and I'll admit I have a weird mind that struggles to understand certain things) like the action sequences are more like some type of interactive cut scenes rather than actual combat.
Hopefully my questions make sense. Thanks in advance!! :D
You get switched back and forth automatically between Fiona and Rhys throughout the game. The story is about both of them, and at least in this first episode, is framed as them simultaneously recounting the events to someone else. You begin as Rhys, then switch to Fiona, and so on back and forth, telling how they came to meet and playing out the scenes of the story with them. As the story perspective shifts, you learn why certain things happened when you played as Rhys, for example, though in the latter half of the game you're essentially playing as both of them going through the same events at the same time.
As for whether it focuses solely on Fiona and Rhys the answer is mostly but
also sort of not. As the title of this first episode implies, Zer0 makes an appearance predominantly throughout the latter half and even helps you out quite a bit, though what he's doing and why isn't yet answered, and it's implied we'll see more.
But this is an entirely new story focused primarily on Rhys and Fiona and their friends, so while you'll see a lot of familiar faces as it takes place after the Borderlands 2 finale, and the end of this first episode has one heck of a cliffhanger involving one such person, but don't go into it expecting it to be solely or even mostly focused on any Vault Hunters or other established characters. Though when it comes to Rhys and Zer0,
at one point, after Zer0 steps in to save them all, you can choose to have Rhys tell him he's awesome. If you do, Rhys acts all flustered and worshippy because of how amazing Zer0 was in the fight, and Zer0 emotes back a heart at him, so, you know, totally shipping that now.
Regarding the combat, as mentioned in the review, this is an adventure game played point-and-click style, so combat comes entirely down to quick time events and some choice during scripted and choreographed fight sequences. For example, the first fight
revolves around Rhys and Vaughn dealing with a bunch of bandits, and while under pressure Rhys has to choose the loadout of one of Hyperion's Loader Bots, which is then sent down to help. While Loader Bot tangles with the bulk of the bandits, you have to hit directional buttons as Rhys scrambles around to avoid dying, and then also click specific targets in narrow time windows to have him attack on his own. At the end of the fight, you can choose whether you have Loader Bot self-destruct in the middle of the bandits, or send it away, which impacts events later on depending on what you decide.
It's still a VERY violent game, with lots of people getting shot or otherwise maimed in front of you.
So no, as mentioned no Borderlands combat whatsoever, which is why I said this game might be a hard sell to fans who expect or want that. It is focused entirely on its story and characters, with an emphasis on having many choices you make influence the outcome of the plot, as well as what characters think of you. Lie to one character, for example, and they'll not only remember it later, but potentially call you out on it if you trip up in front of them, while treating someone poorly can mean they don't trust you as much or even decide not to help you at all. It is very different from a Borderlands game in terms of gameplay, but very typical TellTale, which means it is amazingly well-written and acted and funny, and I sincerely hope fans who love a good story give it a chance because this one is shaping up to be epic, and I haven't looked forward to the second installment of a game like this in a long time. I was initially unsure about having an entirely new cast, but Rhys and Fiona grew on me very, very fast. They're both awesome, and they're also sort of how you play them. Rhys is only a jerky Hyperion businessman who would sell out his friend in a heartbeat if you choose to play him like that, or he can be a guy who would never think of turning his back on his friends and genuinely feels bad about the things Hyperion has done to Pandora, or anything in between.
In short, if what you love about Borderlands is the style, the humor, the story, the setting, and the over-the-top characters, I would say you should definitely check Tales from the Borderlands out. If however it's the combat you love and all the plot and character stuff is only secondary, I'd probably advise waiting for a sale instead if you're still curious. Like I said, I'm a big Borderlands fan myself, but I also love love LOVE adventure games, so a Borderlands game that expands on the series lore and setting was right up my alley even with different gameplay. I hope this helps!
... also sorry for massive wall of text, I've been super happy with this game and have been on a hair trigger any chance I get to talk about it. I would have spent an entire review just gushing over certain scenes and characters if I could have.
Haha, no need to apologize for the "massive wall of text", as you call it! I'm glad to be given so much information! I like a lot of things about Borderlands 1and 2, and I also love adventure games, so this sounds right up my alley. Like many others, though, I'm on an extremely tight budget, so having a goodly amount of information about this game -- as well as such a glowing review from an experienced reviewer like you -- helps me a lot when trying to decide what game to buy on the rare occasions when I have the money to do so. Thanks again!! :D