Tales from the Borderlands Review | Rejection Mode Deactivated

Tales from the Borderlands Review

Let me preface this review by stating two facts about myself. One, I've never been a huge fan of Telltale games in the past. I played and reviewed The Walking Dead: Michonne last year and while it was fine, none of the characters really meant anything to me. I struggle to even name anyone other than the titular character. Secondly, I've never been a huge fan of Borderlands. My introduction to the series was in middle school when I was walking down the road with my friend and a random man in a UPS outfit came up to us, asked us if we had PlayStation 3s (to which we said yes), and then handed us a copy of Borderlands and Resident Evil 5: Gold Edition before promptly leaving. After taking both games home (my friend already owned both) I finished Resident Evil 5 by the end of that week and had played roughly an hour of Borderlands. So with those two facts out of the way, it should be a surprise to you that I loved Tales from the Borderlands.

Tales from the Borderlands follows the intertwined stories of Rhys, a corporate cog in the Hyperion machine, and Fiona, a fedora-wearing con-artist that makes a living by swindling the peaceful inhabitants of Pandora. These two characters, alongside the cast of other memorable faces and voices, are a key reason for why Tales works so well. The comedic timing and twisted dark humor of the Borderlands series translates perfectly to the Telltale Games format and thanks to a fantastic voice cast, consisting of Troy Baker, Laura Bailey, Ashley Johnson, Nolan North, and more, the characters are wonderfully realized. Furthermore, the characters have growth, and charting my feelings of any one of the characters during the five-episode series shows just how much my opinion about them changed. Even characters like Loader Bot, who at the start I shrugged off as a generic robot companion in Episode 1, grew to be one of my favorite characters by the end.

Tales from the Borderlands Rhys

Unfortunately, most of my compliments stop there. That's not to say I will spend the rest of this review bashing on the game. But most of my criticisms of the game have to do with gameplay. Or lack thereof. I understand that Telltale games are a mixture of quick-time events and visual novels but that doesn't always work with every story. Playing through Tales I often felt that the bottom prompts were little more than "we have to put something here so let's put something here" and less of real meaning full interaction with the story and its characters. The few times the game gives full control of the characters are wasted on simple puzzles that felt more monotonous than engaging. This doubles as praise for the writing once more because often I was so invested in the story that I kept wanting to know what came next without worrying about pressing the button I was told to press before the timer ran out. On the plus side of this however is the fact that the game is pretty lenient and even if you press the wrong button, as long as a button is pressed it will complete the action. Though I'm not 100% sure if that's a feature or a bug.

Speaking of bugs, as I played through Tales I was surprised at the amount bugs that still remained in the game. None were game-breaking but the occasional frozen character model made me wonder how the game was released in that state. This is where I go on a tangent to provide a mini-review for another game. Riding off the high of Tales, I decided to download and play Batman: The Telltale Series. Since I was a kid I have been a huge fan of Batman, toys, comics, movies, and more. But I found the experience of playing through Telltale's Batman very disappointing. While there were interesting aspects to the game, mainly in regards to its antagonist, there were far too many bugs to make it enjoyable. From an NPC's hair and scalp textures disappearing resulting in a scary look inside their empty head to t-posing bad guys, Batman comparatively makes Tales from the Borderlands look like a polished release. I bring this up not to bash on Batman, though it is good to vent, but more so because playing through another Telltale game after Tales made me realize that while it may not be a bugless experience, Tales from the Borderlands is a unique example of the team at Telltale Games doing their best with an out of date engine.

Another aspect of the Borderlands series that feels at home with Telltale is the aesthetic. The cell-shaded look meshes perfectly with the hand-drawn comic book art style that Telltale is known for. However, I know I'm not the first to say this, but the Telltale Games engine at the time was in much need of repair and while closeups do have a surprising amount of clarity, a lot of movements and actions in Tales feel unpolished. Cars driving across the scenery look like toy cars sliding across a floor and objects that characters should be holding in their hand often float around as if they're being controlled telepathically. This didn't remove me from the game entirely as I got used to the, for lack of a better term, jank that was in the game. But it certainly didn't immerse me in the setting.

Tales from the Borderlands Fiona

Luckily, in the sound department, the game is significantly better. I've already said the voice acting is great so I don't need to reiterate that, but so is the sound design and score. In fact, the sound design is so underrated that it wasn't until a moment in Episode 3, when I had to play the game for about fifteen minutes without sound and had to go off subtitles alone, that I realized just how bad the animations were. Without the sound of footsteps, characters looked to just be gliding across the desert, and without the addition of diegetic sound, the game just felt empty. Then there's the score which is, I know I said it a lot in this review, fantastic. From Busy Earnin' by Jungle to My Silver Lining by First Aid Kid, I have had the music from Tales from the Borderlands in constant rotation on Spotify. And like any good musical accompaniment, listening to it kept reminding me of the game, its characters, and the journey they went on. So much so that I initially didn't have any plans to review this game but after hearing Retrograde by James Blake and thinking of "that scene" I decided that I had too much to say about it to not write about it.

To wrap it up, Tales from the Borderlands is not a perfect game but it sure is a memorable one. As someone who isn't a fan of Telltale games of the past and isn't well versed in the Borderlands series more than surface-level details, this game hit a homerun in a way I wasn't expecting. And I know I'm not alone in this as my multiple conversations about Tales with friends have made me realize that I didn't discover a hidden gem, I was just late to the party. Austin, the resident Borderlands expert here at GW&CO, even went as far as to say that Tales is his favorite story set in the Borderlands universe. Now, this is normally the part where I list all the platforms that a game is out on but for Tales from the Borderlands that gets a little tricky. Due to the closure of Telltale Games, although the product pages remain online, you can no longer purchase Tales from the Borderlands on the PlayStation Store, Microsoft Store, or Steam. The only way I was able to play the game was because I owned the game on PlayStation previously and could reinstall it. That means that the only way to play the game is to buy it physically, which is a whole different story. 

On the plus side, however, recent leaks suggest that Tales from the Borderlands is headed to the PlayStation 5 and Xbox Series X|S. When I started writing this review I was a little sad because of new players just finding out about the game wouldn't be able to enjoy it unless they went on a hunt for a physical copy. But a remastered version of the game on the new generation of consoles gets me excited for a more definitive version of the game that perhaps won't have the hiccups that I experienced in my playthrough. That being said, there is no solid information on that as of now so instead of ending on that note, I want to talk about the trophies. And just like any Telltale game, getting the Platinum for Tales is as easy as playing through all five episodes. But the reason why I mention the Platinum here at the end is for its name. The Platinum trophy in Tales from the Borderlands is called "We Had Fun, Didn't We?" and to that, I can confidently answer: yeah, we sure did!

Tales from the Borderlands | 9 | Excellent

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