Tales from the Borderlands PC Review
Boy, oh boy, was I wrong about Tales from the Borderlands.
Telltale have produced some brilliant games. The emotional impact of The Walking Dead and the noir brilliance of The Wolf Among Us have made it clear that they are one of the leaders in interactive fiction. However, I was incredibly skeptical about adapting a major run-and-gun series like Borderlands to essentially a point-and-click adventure game. Plus, would the modern Telltale style translate well to comedy?
I was wrong. It does lend itself well. Really well.
Tales from the Borderlands is a brilliantly funny game in which the world of Pandora is experienced through the eyes of both Rhys, a Hyperion middle management type desperate to claw his way to the top and Fiona, a con artist looking to score enough to take her sister Sasha to another planet and another life. Along with Vaughn, Rhys’ best friend and co-worker, the ragtag group try to find a vault key with the help of robots Gortys and Loader Bot, all the while being pursued by Hugo Vasquez, Rhys’ boss and bandit leader, Bassanova.
The characters are the key to Tales from the Borderlands’ unique comedic style. Each one is fully realised and loveable. Rhys has this charming naiveté, false bravado and ready witticisms. Fiona counterbalances this perfectly as the grounding force: the character who really understands Pandora, has skills in grifting and can bring Rhys back to earth with a sharp sarcastic comment. The two play off each other so well and the writing is just superb.
Minor characters are not neglected in their development either. Vasquez is impossibly smooth and his putdowns are fantastic. Handsome Jack was true to hilarious and villainous form and a clear indication of just how good the writing for this game was. In Telltale’s Game of Thrones, some of the dialogue performed by well known characters is not entirely convincing but Jack could easily have just walked out of Borderlands 2, his writing was that consistent. No review would be complete without recognising the robots. The unbelievably adorable and child-like Gortys and her friend, Loader Bot, a robot in the throws of an existential crisis (“Why must the universe punish the good?”, “ The metal is willing but the spirit is weak”) are surely some of the best robot video game characters in years.
The voice acting cast is dazzlingly star studded featuring the likes of Troy Baker, Laura Bailey, Chris Hardwick, Patrick Warburton, Ashley Johnson and even Nolan North. So it goes without saying that all the performances are really, really good.
Though at heart Tales from the Borderlands is a comedic game, it would be wrong to say that that is all the game is. In fact, what propels it from merely being good to being excellent are the overarching themes that bring warmth and charm to the game. The four central characters slowly build almost familial bonds as the game progresses. There is this great sense of reckless adventure as they are batted from one ridiculous situation to the next. There are incredibly sad and poignant death scenes, examinations of betrayal and trust in an anarchic world as well as a brilliant spoof of corporate culture. And of course there is the ever present Handsome Jack question of who just really is the ‘hero’ in any story.
All this brings a depth to the game that I really had not expected, but that worked rather well. It is true that at times this balance of comedy and interesting commentary can be mishandled: rather than subtle overtures, some of the themes are stated plainly. For example, Handsome Jack outrightly says both that “Everyone thinks they’re the hero of their own story” and “What makes you think you’re the good guy in this?” in the same dialogue exchange. It would have been far more impactful for the player to realise their morally dubious actions independently. However, this does not detract from how much sheer fun the game is and this might be too much to expect of what is essentially a light hearted adventure.
Of course, graphically, Tales from the Borderlands merges the cell shading expected of a Borderlands game with the style of Telltale that we have come to expect. There are even elements of the Borderlands games I did not think would be seen in an adventure game like elemental weapons, cash boxes and changing of skins, some of which felt a little shoe horned in but were a welcome reminder that this was actually a Borderlands game. I say this because it was so easy to forget as the essential gameplay is the very antithesis to the main games; running and gunning versus dialogue options, limited free exploration of a scene, puzzles and quick time events. This is not to say that the gameplay is any less effective, in fact there is one brilliant scene at the end in which a boss fight turns into the old arcade style mashing of a series of buttons to perform fighting moves, which was a joy to play. It is as true to its roots as it can be in a style so totally different from the source material. In addition, it is fantastic that it is accepted cannon in the Borderlands universe, meaning that all characters were in danger, even established ones. This is in contrast to The Walking Dead or Game of Thrones in which it is clear certain characters were safe for TV.
In the words of Vasquez, ‘cool moves’ Telltale. Now, to completely knock everyone side ways, repeat this feat with Minecraft.