(By the way, you don’t need to know much about Borderlands or Telltale to enjoy Tales from the Borderlands and understand this review, but it would probably help.)
Tales from the Borderlands is an adventure game/interactive story where you play the part of two (YES TWO!) characters, thrown together by greed and happenstance to find one of the most valuable treasures in the universe; a vault. Think sci-fi Indiana Jones except a lot more quipping, and you’ll get the idea.
When we first heard of Tales from the Borderlands, both me and Direcow thought it’d be a weird fit. Borderlands was (is) a crazy FPS shmup, a bloody cross between Frank Miller’s Mad Max Fury Road, Star Wars on crsytal meth, and Quentin Tarantino’s fever dreams. When someone’s introduction gets emblazoned across the screen with block letters, paint splatter and primary colors, you know you’re not playing a game that is taking itself too seriously. In comparison, all of Telltale’s recent games have been particularly heavy (especially since it made it big in the Walking Dead). And while Borderlands is a gory gunfest where your characters shoot, die and respawn with wild, heroic abandon, all of Telltale’s games are built on the premise that the main character is everything but a hero, and that decisions (and lives) matter. You can understand that despite our love for the company, we were worried that Telltale and Borderlands would be a failed experiment.
Well, experiment it may be, but it is far from a failure. In fact, in hindsight the strange mix of Borderland’s ultraviolent bombast and Telltale’s not-a-hero narrative may be the (Vault) key to Tales from the Borderland’s success. When every trigger-happy maniac out there has a knife, a gun, a bazooka, or is strapped to a few blocks of C4, your wimpy little protagonist (whose only weapon is his/her fast talking and ability to wet themselves on command) tends to be VERY VERY invested in what people say (and what they remember).
We also forget that while Telltale entered more mainstream consciousness due to games like Walking Dead and Game of Thrones, they took their first steps into the Adventure Game/Interactive Story genre using comedy; Back to the Future and Sam and Max were all precursors to the current game.
I think their experience both genres (drama and comedy) shows. Recent games by Telltale were heavy. Don’t get me wrong, their dramatic games are good, and moments of levity are peppered here and there, but like the books they take direction from, Telltale’s games tend to get real depressing real quick. Tales from the Borderlands is a welcome (albeit slightly psychotic) respite, and the wild swings from insane comedy, to slapstick gore and violence, to serious drama means that you experience the full gamut of human emotion. And like colours in a painting, while similar emotions tend to blend together, contrasting emotions tend to highlight each others’ differences. The highs are higher, the lows are lower. One of the strongest examples can be seen in a clip from episode 3; (spoilers tho).
Telltale also takes one of Borderlands’ calling cards and makes it their own. Borderlands games always have an opening credit sequence set to music, and they are great way to garner interest. What better way to advertise for a game then to show off characters AND a hook for why you want to play the game? To be honest, they were always the reason why I wanted to play Borderlands.
Tales from the Borderlands does the same thing, except because it is episodic, it pulls double duty. In addition to being pretty gosh darn cool, the ‘TV’ opening credits also serve as a tool to recap what happened before and set the scene, and the music (always catchy in Borderlands games) is always a great match to what is happening in the game. You can probably watch Episode 1’s opening sequence, it’s not too bad.
In particular, Episode 4’s was amazing, but you’d probably need the context to get the most bang out of your buck.
This ‘TV’ aspect of Tales from the Borderlands also highlights another of Telltale’s strengths: The small story. Compared to the ‘blockbuster’ main story of their original sources (be it Game of Thrones books/TV series, Borderlands’ games, or Walking Dead comics/TV), Telltale’s games always tell a side story. They may be incidental, but since they are canon they are no less important, especially for the characters in the games. Telltale thus allows the player an opportunity, either for a chance to explore a nook in the world they are a fan of but never got to see, or as a gateway to dip their toes into the world and see if they would like to explore the greater mythos. While Game of Thrones (and to a lesser extent the Walking Dead) tend to be pitched at the fan, I barely knew anything about Borderlands and still found myself beside myself with laughter. I can only imagine how awesome it must be for die-hard fans.
So… TL;DR time. Tales from the Borderlands is HILARIOUS. It is also (miraculously enough) dramatic when it needs to be and greatly scripted. If you’re a Borderlands fan you have to get it.
Hell, if you’re not a Borderlands fan, get it anyway. Out on steam now.