Tales from the Borderlands is a weird game. It exists outside of what we currently know about Pandora after the events of Borderlands 2 and it has two main characters – Rhys and Fiona. Rhys is a dude with an ECHO eye and a Hyperion arm as well as Hyperion company man. Fiona is a con-woman with a troubled past. Tales from the Borderlands is about an unlikely crew of heroes and the situations they get into on their way to The Vault of The Traveler. As you might imagine, things get screwed up along the way, getting involved in Psycho warfare, long-dormant corporations, betrayal and revenge. As mentioned earlier, Rhys and Fiona are our storytellers on this journey, taking turns each chapter to tell us their side of the story, with some embellishments and a bit of exaggeration to add some spice to their story.
This storytelling mechanic leads to a hilarious series of “that’s not how it happened” when Rhys or Fiona call out one another on their alternate history version of what actually happened, like when Rhys claims to have murdered an entire villiage of Psychos, when all he did is make it out alive. That happens quite often in the opening episode, but shifts in later episodes, but is quickly replaced with blind spots in each of the protagonists memories. This approach is much appreciated over the straight “protagonist is the best ever and all this awesome stuff happened.” due to just how much the writers at Telltale Games made me bust a gut laughing. The same for all the characters in Tales from the Borderlands. They’re charming, likeable, and they felt like my friends. Even the characters that come and go, such as, Loader Bot, Vaughn, Vasquez and even Sasha, made me really miss them when they weren’t there and gave me moments to truly appreciate what Telltale has created with Tales from the Borderlands.
This team of merry men and women highlight two things Telltale excels at: action and comedy. Being able to freely roam around and do whatever I feel like lets Telltale get really creative with the mayhem (going all Death Race, launching a caravan into interstellar orbit, and building a giant mech that feels right at home in Power Rangers), all of which are executed with grace and left me giddy with joy after it was over. While the Quick-Time Events leave much to be desired, when they happened, I felt panicked, as I should, since they always came at a time of great despair.
While it would’ve been easy to just turn this into the patented mass mayhem Borderlands so often brings to the table, Tales from the Borderlands uses comedy instead of just pure mayhem and to much appreciation from me. Sometimes, the comedy is situational, (commonly referred to as sitcom, but that’s a topic for another time.) like when you say goodbye to a character you love, only to realize your feet are feet from the ground. Most times, it’s panic comedy, when our heroes are in peril from a rain of bullets. Rarely, but more often than not, like when someone is “inside you”.
Don’t get me wrong, there are still moments where Telltale gets downright serious and it makes these moments hit you like a roundhouse kick to the chest. It’s hard to pull off, but Telltale really knows how to strike the balance between comedy and drama. Sure, there are pretty rough patches where Telltale doesn’t quite nail it and brings the episode to a grinding halt, but more often than not, Telltale nails it.
The comedy in Tales from the Borderlands earns that Borderlands title, full stop. Telltale has made it abundantly clear that they love Borderlands and don’t wanna screw it up. Comedy isn’t the only thing that makes it earn that title, though. Tales also adds quite a bit of worthwhile canon to the whole Borderlands universe, integrating characters from the past as well as the present. Tales’ story centers around the long-dormant Atlas Corporation and the buried treasure inside a secret Atlas base. Along the way, you’ll hunt Psychos, run from Skags, while getting surprise visits from Athena, Zer0, Scooter and Handsome Jack. Not only is Tales a worthy addition to the Borderlands franchise, but it gives you all the fan service you’d ever need, while creating the itch for those who aren’t into Borderlands to finally pick up one of the games, because Tales is so goddamn good.
Yes, it will be hard for you to grasp why Handsome Jack is so evil, who some of the Vault Hunters are and the like, but you’ll never be truly lost. The worst you’ll get is probably confusion as to who Zer0 is. However, you’ll get a good sense for why they matter as of this current moment and not leaving you up late at night researching them on Wikia. Fans might get more out of these exchanges, but there’s still plenty for those who have never played before to grasp onto.
Back when I first heard about Tales from the Borderlands way back at the 2012 Spike Video Game Awards, I remember seeing dozens of forum posts on how this fit into the Borderlands universe and how the game would even work as a narrative-driven game as apposed to a shooter-driven game. As the first Season of Tales from the Borderlands draws to a close, Telltale has proven that it can be done and done brilliantly. Tales from the Borderlands is my favorite Telltale franchise to date, and I can’t wait to see what’s next.