E3 2014: Telltale Tells Tall Tales in Tales From the Borderlands
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After crafting nuanced, human drama in The Walking Dead, and exploring the complex, murky characters of The Wolf Among Us, Telltale Games is returning to its sillier side with Tales From the Borderlands. It's a strange crossover project with Gearbox: a game that conforms to the Telltale adventure formula, but one that's set in the Borderlands universe and incorporates elements of the first-person shooter series. You have money, you have a loot system, you'll equip and control a large robot in a complex scripted sequence--but you probably won't find the emotional resonance of Telltale's more recent games.
Telltale disagrees; it feels that if you look past Borderlands' fast-paced action, explosive weaponry, and looting cycle, you'll find a truly human story beneath it all. It's that human side that the developer is attempting to explore in Tales From the Borderlands--but after seeing the opening 40 minutes of the first episode, I was left feeling like the developer was grasping at straws. The dialogue was poorly written, coming across as Borderlands fan fiction rather than something immediately relatable, and the attempts at jokes fell flat. Vocal delivery was a strong point, with this probably being the first Telltale game to feature Nolan North.
The perspective was split between two protagonists, with control jumping from Rhys, an employee of the evil Hyperion Corporation, to Fiona, a grafter looking to get off the planet of Pandora after one last heist. The plot unfolds as a framed narrative as the two search for a vault key, with the choices you make in the present affecting how the next flashbacks play out. You're essentially rewriting your own immediate past to make yourself sound more impressive, which fits within the spirit of Borderlands.
Within this unique structure, the Telltale formula established by The Walking Dead and The Wolf Among Us plays out. You speak to other characters, investigate items, and participate in heavily scripted quick-time events. A couple of new systems have been added--a wallet and a loot collection--but Telltale wasn't yet willing to elaborate on how they functioned.
A couple of new systems have been added--a wallet and a loot collection.
The best praise I can think to give what I saw of Tales From the Borderlands is that it draws authentically from the Borderlands universe. But I've never found that universe to be particularly deep, or suited to long dialogue exchanges and exploration of character depth. Telltale has demonstrated that those two things are the developer's key strengths. Though Telltale isn't a stranger to comedy, the dark, wacky tone of Borderlands did not feel like a unique-enough hook. Being a five-episode piece, Tales From the Borderlands could be a slow burn, but what I saw looked like an unfortunate step back for Telltale.