If you have played a Borderlands game and are also familiar with past Telltale games, then you may not think a mix of the two as being a brilliant idea. Borderlands is a frantic, run and gun, loot collecting, RPG shooter that is rather light in the story department. Borderlands as a whole has always struggled with its own identity and is largely a combination of other game and movie references that work rather well with the clever comedy that is woven into their stories. But people would mostly be lying if they said they play Borderlands solely for the story. On the other side of the coin you have Telltale which is widely known for its powerful stories and characters, but weak in the gameplay. Its overuse of quick time events and button prompts can get old and pushing through the game makes way for what is usually a great tale. The folks over at Telltale Games and Gearbox Studios have joined forces and Tales from the Borderlands is an amalgamation of the two companies assets and talents, and is absolutely splendid.
The two and a half hour long first episode takes place from the perspective of two main characters that you switch between as the story progresses. You start off playing as Rhys, an Hyperion employee that has been expecting a long awaited promotion and quickly finds out that the leadership at the Hyperion Corporation is in a shaky position after the death of Handsome Jack from Borderlands 2. The current boss has been removed (thrown out an ejection tube into space) from his lead position and the new leader, Hugo Vasquez (voice by Patrick Warburton) reneges on the promotion offer and instead demotes him to janitor. Not liking his new boss, Rhys and his good pal Vaughn decide to head down to the planet of Pandora to foil a deal that his boss has arranged. On the planet you are introduced to Fiona, an adventurous woman who was raised into a life of crime to become a skilled con artist. Without digging into the story too deeply, it is really cool playing from the perspective of two characters. This is of course a Telltale game and the choices that you make in dialogue impact the story as it goes forward, and characters will remember certain things you say and do. This can come back to bite you or benefit you as time goes on. Playing as two characters tells the story from both of their perspectives and helps to fill in the tale in a way that is fresh and exciting.
The cast of episode 1, Zer0 Sum includes some more well known voice actors when compared to their past titles. With the likes of Troy Baker, Nolan North, Chris Hardwick and Patrick Warburton to name a few, their talent blends well with some of Telltale’s favorite actors that they have used in the past. The writing in this game is excellent and is perfectly voiced. The game would have me laughing out loud on multiple occasions and even subtle things in the game would bring a smile. Now, since this is a Telltale game the actual gameplay is limited to interacting with environments, mashing buttons and moving your joysticks at the correct time. While this may not compare to the frantic action in Borderlands games, this game is very fast paced and is action oriented. If you are tired with the slow and methodical The Walking Dead games, then you will be delighted to know that this plays out much differently. Another way that the gameplay has changed up a bit is with the inclusion of Rhys’ new Echo Eye, a device which allows you to scan the environment to be shown things that you may have missed, or just to give you some funny and descriptive text to read along the way. There also appears to be a currency system that is only tied to Fiona, and how it works fully is not too clear. You can collect money in the environment and you have the options to use that money in dialogue or to purchase items. I never found myself in a position where I needed money and did not have it, so how this will play out in future episodes is left to be seen.
After playing Tales from the Borderlands, I really wish that future Borderlands games were created alongside Telltale. If Borderlands 3 had all its gameplay intact, but included cutscenes and dialogue choices, it could be amazing. The lack of a meaningful story has been a gripe of mine with the Borderlands games and making some changes could prove profitable for them. Zer0 Sum is an excellent episode to what will hopefully be wonderful additions to this great new series. The gameplay is fast, the writing is witty and genuinely funny, the voice actors are superb and the universe of Borderlands is adapted wonderfully to this gameplay style that Telltale has mastered over the years.
A review copy of Tales of the Borderlands on PlayStation 4 was provided by the Telltale Games PR team.