It’s fair to say at this point that Telltale Games have had some success in taking existing worlds and creating exciting and interesting interactive narratives to explore. Although Borderlands 2 didn’t quite live up to the unexpected magic of the first game there was a rich and developed world of characters and untold stories in the world of Pandora. Sure it’s full of bandits, violent monsters and evil corporations but hey, at least you’re not on Promethea.
Told over 5 episodes the first season of Tales From the Borderlands shows the amazing potential for stories to be told in the world of Borderlands. Fair enough Borderlands itself was never been one to focus on a particularly strong narrative but it certainly had it’s moments and the characters are some of the best ever designed for a game. The scene in Borderlands 2 with Mordecai and Bloodwing genuinely brought tears to my eyes the first time I played it so it can happen.
And if anybody can pick up well designed characters and create a meaningful and faithful narrative it’s Telltale Games. There’s a lot to get right for Borderlands that can easily become crude and annoying. The most difficult thing to get right for Borderlands is the humour. It’s a very strange mix of totally ridiculous over the top moments that just have to be funny and subtle pop-culture references with fourth wall breaking punch lines.
There are a few moments were the subtlety is lost in exchange for an on the nose line or two that draw too much attention to themselves to be funny in the way passing comments were in the original games. For the massive majority though this isn’t the case and I was laughing right from 20 minutes into the first episode. Plus as you get to learn more about your character and his friends the humour only gets better as references take a non-patronising stance with call-backs and references that treat you like an intelligent person.
More impressive still are the emotional moments in Tales from the Borderlands which are not easy to achieve. Even the main titles only had a handful of these moments and it’s not easy to get right in a bombastic world like that of Borderlands. There are moments though that hit hard especially in the later episodes once you’ve had the chance to get attached to your characters. The final part, Episode 5, is a fantastic example of this and creates some surprisingly hard hitting moments. The balance between emotion and humour is, in a word, perfect.
Something that has always been very important to Borderlands is music with only the very coolest songs being good enough. The opening video is always some what of a pleasure with the first game using the fantastic ‘Ain’t No Rest For The Wicked’ by Cage The Elephant and the second using ‘Short Change Hero’ by super cool The Heavy. There’s no way you can listen to either track and not feel just a little bit cooler. Telltale have taken note and right from square one the use of punchy, slick and modern tracks is superb.
In fact being cool is the main criteria for 90% of everything in Borderlands. Which is were QTEs come in. I know everybody hates them with a passion these days but I maintain that they do have a place in games. Some stuff just looks too cinematic to realistically be able to use in game mechanics. In Tales from the Borderlands QTEs are intuitive and naturally complement the action with more than a little taste of that excessive Borderlands flair.
The final crucial piece of this storytelling puzzle is the choices you make. More importantly are they significant and do they actually effect the outcome of later events? Well simply put – yes they do. In the usual Telltale way you will be given limited time to make your choice in a conversation which gives your answers authenticity rather than strategy. You’ll also be told when your action has had a consequence, even though it’s too late to change your mind by then. As you approach the conclusion of the 5 episodes the decisions you’ve made start to show up in some pretty serious ways. What you do and say definitely matter.
Tales from the Borderlands is yet another fantastic entry from Telltale games. It’s designed with a real knowledge of the franchise that shines through all over the place. Good music in keeping with the originals helps you feel at home. Well designed characters that range from mad to completely insane would have been welcome additions even to the main titles. A solid plot and wonderfully performed voice parts by some of the best in the industry tell a wonderful interactive tale. Despite the high expectations we all have of Telltale they’ve done it again with their tried and tested formula. That magic combination from Borderlands has definitely been recaptured for Tales from the Borderlands. I just can’t wait for season 2.