We're all familiar with the Telltale formula. Seasons composed of 5 episodes a couple of hours long with relatively straight forward puzzle solving, a tiny amount of action scenes, great dialogue, but most importantly a great narrative and player choices that matter. Tales from the Borderlands is no exception - it follows the formula to a tee, but it's also a chance for Telltale to approach a somewhat more light-hearted subject matter than what Fables, The Walking Dead and Game of Thrones offers. Borderlands is full of dark humour and from what we've witnessed of the game it will be filled to the brim with silly remarks, physical comedy and a bit of that dark humour we recognise from the main series. It's a chance for Telltale to dust off their funny bones that they were once best known for.
It would be easy enough to simply go - if you enjoy Borderlands and the Telltale formula - Tales from the Borderlands is a safe bet. And it is. It's just the brilliance of the narrative device chosen for this game is worthy of a more glowing write up than that. The duality of main characters Rhys and Fiona and how they recall a particular adventure, each with their own unique perspectives and appropriately selective memories.
At E3 Telltale Games demoed the first 40 minutes or so of the first episode of the season. It's set to arrive on a plethora of platforms later this summer and for the most part it focused on Rhys' background and who he got himself tangled up in the hunt for a vault key.
Rhys is an employee at Hyperion, who after the events of Borderlands 2 saw his chance to be the next Handsome Jack - only some corporate douchebag named Vasquez grabbed the position in front of him. In one of the first scenes of the game Rhys is forced to chow down a large serving of humble pie against his will, but he also manages to pick up wind of a vault key Vasquez wants to buy. Enrolling his accountant sidekick Vaughn in a scheme to embezzle credits and pick up the vault key for himself Rhys ventures down to Pandora. Naturally the off-planet company men run into troubles with the locals, but even if there is no straight forward action to be had, things are being dealt with in an appropriately gruesome way.
The dialogue and tongue-in-cheek presentation really hides the familiar pacing of a Telltale title and the fact that looting carries consequences much like dialogue choices means that there is yet another way to carve out your own path through the narrative. Characters will remember who you loot, and the upside of some extra cash or an item may carry a downside - what you then use your cash for is also going to influence how the story plays out. After a couple of close encounters for Rhys and his sidekick they meet up with the people trying to off-load the vault key. As Rhys and Vaughn clearly aren't Vasquez things get a little stand-offish and in Rhys' version of events he simply grows impatient and reaches out with his hand and pulls out the heart of the seller.
Rhys is an interesting character, not just cause he's not your typical hero type - a bit on the slimey side and not very heroic or sympathetic (at least not so far) - but also because of his cybernetic enhancements that gives him special abilities (his eye let's him see things others would not be able to see, and his robot arm certainly has uses). Fiona isn't at all like Rhys and only really inserts herself in the narrative towards the end of the 40 minute playthrough, she's a hunter and she looks to inject herself in the hunt for the vault key as Rhys embellished his tale of the going ons a bit too much.
Before the end let's return to the start. Why are Rhys and Fiona retelling the story of how they chased down that vault key? That's the real beauty of the narrative device Telltale uses for this game. Turns out a masked mysterious third character (whose identity "will blow the minds of Borderlands fans", according to Telltale Games themselves) who has Rhys and Fiona (who want nothing to with eachother after their adventure apparently turned sour) at gunpoint, forcing them to tell him about how they came as close as anyone had ever come to unlocking the treasures of the vault. We wonder if Telltale will stick to this set up of recollection throughout the entire season or if they will mix it up later on.