Welcome back to Pandora! Not much has changed since you were last here. Skags and bandits still roam the streets, both equally likely to kill you or eat you. Hyperion is still hated by everyone in the area, thanks to Handsome Jack and his crazy plans. And here you are, wearing a hyperion suit with no gun in the middle of a town full of bandits. What were you thinking?
Let’s go back a bit. This is you. Rhys. Middle manager at Hyperion, rising through the ranks and just about to get a promotion. Things are looking great. Except this is the universe of Borderlands, where going to the bathroom can either kill you or give you an amazing new gun. After your promotion turns into a job as janitor, you plan to screw your new boss over, which starts an almost non-stop disaster ride for you, your friends and almost everyone you come into contact with. Rhys is voiced masterfully by Troy Baker, who brings colour to a man completely out of his element, facing problems he never thought about.
This is also you. Fiona is a street smart Pandoran con-artist. She has been pulling off heists, thefts and conning marks since a young age with her sister, Sasha and her fast mouth and ability to improvise has saved them on many occasions. Until she bumps into Rhys and her con blows up seconds from completion, with crazy bandits busting in. Some days nothing can go right, you now? Laura Bailey gives the sarcastic, savvy Fiona life, with always enough time for a witty quip regardless of the situation.
If you haven’t played a Telltale games episodic adventure before, let me explain it quickly. This is a point and click adventure with a bit of walking around, QTEs for the action and lots of character dialogue with many options to help colour the situation and affect the people around you. For a large portion of the game you will be following along, watching events unfold while giving input for conversations or nudging your character out of harm’s way. Its part point and click, part Heavy Rain, forcing you to think on your feet. Almost every dialogue choice is timed. If you take to long, your silence is your answer, which might upset the people you are interacting with. These interactions and choices carry over through the episodes, affecting the way that parts of the story play out. Snub a character for a good laugh? They might not help you later when you need their skills. Praise someone about their strengths? They will be more confident and assured later, or less likely to backstab you for a tidy profit.
A lot of the game revolves around human interaction, and the story creates an amazing backdrop to this. Moments of crushing despair give way to improbably rescues or, thanks to the fact that a captured Rhys and Fiona are telling the story to an unknown gunman, a bit of embellishment by the storytellers makes for some hilarious moments, until someone butts in with how things really happened. Its this balance between seriousness, drama and the jovial almost slapstick levity that keeps you playing, that makes you want to see more and makes you care about the characters and their plight.
Telltale Games shoves so much into 9 hours that you might want to take a small break between episodes. By removing all the drudgery that normally accompanies games (collecting 10 livers from Bullymongs, killing 50 bandits) and focusing on plot development, character interaction and dialogue, you will feel like you achieved much more than most 40 hour games provide. How anyone can survive playing an episode of this and waiting until the next one is released is beyond me, but then I can’t wait a week for a new episode of my favourite TV shows either.
When I first heard of Tales from the Borderlands, I scoffed at the idea. A rough world about heroes and big guns and even bigger monsters had no place for a character-driven story game. I am so glad to be wrong, as the backdrop of Borderlands brings so much fun with it. The game pokes fun at Borderlands, ridiculing people throwing money in the trash to the ratio of weapon lockers to Pandora’s population. At the same time it celebrates Borderlands, the Vault Hunters of old being epic heroes with amazing skills, to seeing some of your favourite guns again. This time pointed at your face. While it can certainly be played without having played other Borderlands games, the number of references and recurring characters will keep series veterans chuckling.
Tales from the Borderlands brings the deadly world of Pandora to life in a thrilling, enchanting way. The star-studded voice actor cast has lines aplenty and are given time to shine. The story of Rhys and Fiona and their friends is compelling, action-packed, dramatic and has equal parts of sadness and happiness. A lot of games could learn from what Telltale has done with solid story, well-written dialogue set to a comfortable pace. It is not often that a game has me laughing out loud and dancing to its soundtrack or makes me feel sad due to loss, but Tales from the Borderlands just gets it all right. Now get, before I spoil something by mistake because I am dying to talk about more of this game.