Reviewing the first episode of a Telltale Games season is always tricky. Afterall, we're simply putting a score on the first fifth of a game that is almost entirely banking on the narrative arc, and we're only privy to one fifth of said arc. In a way it's an incomplete review, but with that caveat out of the way we shall dissect the first chapter of Tales from the Borderlands.
Tales from the Borderlands stars two main characters that the player controls - Rhys, a Hyperion lackey who finds himself in a predicament as the promotion he has been angling (and manipulating his way) towards has been pulled out from under him. He wants revenge on the douchebag responsible (Vasquez) and this sets in motion a plan to steal a Vault Key from under his nose. The second main character is Fiona, a con artist operating as part of a family trio on the surface of Pandora. Somehow the paths of these two very different characters cross (we won't spoil it) and that sets in motion a grand adventure. At the start of the game both Rhys and Fiona find themselves captured by a mysterious masked character who wants to know the truth about their adventure and thus begins the retelling of their adventure from their respective perspectives (including some rather amusing embellishments). The beauty of this narrative device is that the player has great freedom in choosing dialogue options, while you may get called on some half-truths (Rhys in particular) by your former buddy.
The character gallery is naturally an area where Telltale titles tend to shine, and Tales from the Borderlands is no exception. There is great voice acting and you really feel you've got the power in your hands to mould the nature of the two main characters. Do you want them to help each other and perhaps sometimes even see eye-to-eye, or do you want them to constantly bicker? As always you don't always dramatically change the outcomes with your choices, but the tone and attitude of certain characters will certainly change depending on how you choose to act. Clearly as you can tell from the scenes in the future that Rhys and Fiona don't exactly come out of their adventure as best friends, and some of the reasons for that will become clear during the course of the first episode, but there are of course different degrees of hostility.
But Rhys and Fiona are only two characters from a massive cast of interesting natives of Pandora and employees of Hyperion. There is Shade, who looks like a cartoony, demented version of Johnny Depp in Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas, there's Rhys' slighly yellow-bellied accountant sidekick Vaughn, Fiona's sister Sasha, and well, it's been hinted at already so we won't spoil anything by revealing a certain Handsome fellow has some role to play in the story.
Over the last few years, we've grown accustomed to the familiar mix of basic item puzzles, conversation options and quick time events that Telltale titles offer. Tales from the Borderlands strikes a great balance between those elements and that really helps with the pacing of the story, even if it does so at the expense of exploration. There are some slower areas where you get to use Rhys' cybernetic eye to gain further knowledge regarding the objects in the environments, and there are places where extra loot can be gained (and later used) to various effects. One example of this was early on as Fiona walked past a dying man in the slums, and she could opt to loot him (gaining money that could be used to bribe a door man), or you could leave the credits with the dead man and use a different option for the guard. Alternatively the money could be taken and not used on the guard, but later on when you get to pick between some different equipment. The fact that there is money and loot to collect opens up a lot of interesting options and variations down the line, perhaps saving all the money will unlock some crazy late game option in Episode 5?
While Telltale Games have grown with the heavier, more serious dramas, Tales from the Borderlands is a welcome return to their comedy roots. There are a ton of cheap puns, both visual, physical and through references, and it really speaks to how well Telltale's style of storytelling and dialogue merges with the world Gearbox Software have created with Borderlands.
This is likely the best first episode out of any of the episodic seasons Telltale Games have delivered thus far. The gameplay is enjoyable, even if there were few open areas to explore, and the flow of the narrative can only be applauded. We cannot wait to play the second episode and see how this adventure plays out, but before then we'll play through the first episode a second time with some different choices at key moments...
We reviewed the game on Xbox One, but it is out now on a multitude of different platforms with only small differences between the versions in terms of performance.