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Tales from the Borderlands: Episode One – Zer0 Sum PC Review

I have to admit that I was a little disappointed that the next game to follow the Telltale’s adventure formula was going to be based on the Borderlands licence. I’m not exactly a fan of those games. Well, it’s deeper than simply not liking them. I appreciate the series’ dumb characters and post-apocalyptic Pandora setting with its disturbing settlers, but the gameplay always grew tired on me to the point I never managed to get to end of the original Borderlands or its sequel. My feelings on this was made clearer when playing through the first episode of Tales from the Borderlands, as I enjoyed every minute of this two hour adventure, glued from beginning to end, thanks to its brilliant characters, plot and gameplay done in the typical Telltale fashion. I might not like the gameplay in Borderlands, but I am sure in love with the lore after playing through what is the strongest début for a Telltale game.

This goes to show that you don’t have to be a Borderlands fan to enjoy this first episode of Tales from the Borderlands, as it builds up its characters and location in a way that you understand  the tone of the game, how its universe is portrayed, and thanks to the two new lead characters created for this story, Rhys (voiced by Troy Baker) and Fiona (Laura Bailey), who introduce themselves in a manner that feels like a reintroduction to the wild roughness that is the setting of Pandora. To be honest, Borderlands never took it upon itself to flesh out its universe, rather going for the spur of the moment comedy to carry itself to the end. The two hours here offers more insight into Gearbox’s Mad Max inspired world, and if you are a fan there are little cameos and Easter eggs that you can resonate with.

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Set sometime after the ending of Borderlands 2, the game begins with Rhys being dragged through a desert and forced to tell a story of his accounts. This begins a flashback onto the space station where Hyperion is based, where Rhys and his buddy accountant are on their way to meet the boss for a promotion, only to find out that what awaits him isn’t his boss, but another member of the team who has taken over command and demoted Rhys to janitor status.  This doesn’t settle well with Rhys, so he crafts up a plan to steel $10 million from Hyperion and purchase a rare vault key that’s on sale down on Pandora that he overheard mentioned during his relegated meeting.

It’s not long until you switch perspectives and take control of Fiona, who happens to be involved in the same deal in some other mischievous way. This is a point of view switch, building up the story from Fiona’s side until she meets up with Rhys and eventually combining the story together.  The game continues to switch between the two characters once they are together, as the story throws in scenarios where switching makes sense. It helps that both lead characters have well developed and captivating personalities, meaning that you never feel annoyed or tired with one character over another. In fact, the game is paced well, giving both characters equal screen time.

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Coming from a game like The Walking Dead or the crime noir inspired The Wolf Among Us, Tales from the Borderlands moves at a more frequent pace than either of those mentioned games. It’s an adventure game that tries to incorporate the action that Borderlands is known for, but within the confines of an adventure game. This comes across well through the use of quick time events, although, the quick time events featured in the first episode are rather easy, mostly done to stop irritation or failure when doing something like aiming a robot’s machine gun at highlighted grunts and pressing a button to let them eat lead. It’s not quite replicating a first-person shooter, but it flips the switches in your brain to get you in the mood for some action-oriented story telling.

There isn’t anything new for the formula that Telltale has been using for the past few years. The designers have tried to add additional elements, such as the use of Rhys’ cyborg eye to add puzzles, but the game displays when you need to use the eye, highlighting what needs to be done, then a few clicks you’re back to dialogue. It feels like it’s included to change the flow of the game, but really all you are doing is an incredibly basic puzzle. It’s the same for the money that Fiona can pick up, offering a scene that involves buying an item, which comes in three varieties at different costs, allowing the player to pick the design they like, so if you do a little item hunting, which was virtually one scene with some cash lying next to a drunk, then you can buy this more expensive item and be happy you get to see it in action for your short time spent hunting a collectable. Exploring isn’t part of Tales from the Borderlands, as each area is closed off that forward is the only option. It would be nice to have the world more open, while fleshing out the puzzles more, but going on past seasons that Telltale has created, this probably won’t happen.

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Even though the gameplay is familiar, the story is genuinely funny, with great delivery from the entire voice cast, which is helped by the game having a quality script. The general tone is one of cheeky adult humour, with people dying in silly ways or various characters having the wildest personalities – subwoofer bad guy blasting out a dubstep song had me giggling – that make every encounter a highlight. While the dialogue options in Episode 1 didn’t seem to be all that drastic, the overall experience is one that’s memorable thanks to the amusing dialogue and the overall comical vibe.  Tales from the Borderlands is also a looker, with the cel-shaded art calling back to the style of the franchise, while also being incredibly sharp when the game is running max settings, which isn’t demanding at all. The animation might not be the smoothest, but bizarrely, it adds to the raw and dirty setting of Pandora, and I was so into what was happening on screen that it never entered my mind.

Tales from the Borderlands: Episode One – Zer0 Sum is a brilliant start to the season, showcasing a strong cast of characters, speedy pacing, while managing to sustain the Borderlands tropes without hurting what people like about the cinematic adventure genre. Littered with genuinely funny moments and a great art style, Tales from the Borderlands’ only issue is that it doesn’t add to the mechanics that Telltale has become a master at. Apart from that, Tales from the Borderlands offers a promising start that could potentially become the best season Telltale has produced, and that’s worth the price of admission and a milkshake.

8 out of 10