Review

Tales from the Borderlands: Episode One - Zer0 Sum Review

  • First Released Oct 20, 2015
    released
  • PS4
Alexa Ray Corriea on Google+

No rest for the wicked.

Tales from the Borderlands is brilliant proof that professional fan fiction can be a beautiful thing. The first episode "Zer0 Sum" sets a high entry bar into the series but one that's fun to surmount. If you come looking for the simmering anxiety of The Walking Dead and The Wolf Among Us, you will find none of that here. Instead, you get an adrenaline-fueled circus of frantic smooth-talk and constant motion that is definitively Borderlands from top to bottom. Telltale has masterfully set up a plot that feels like a Borderlands campaign. It moves between plot points with little downtime in between, and with each scene feeling like a rapid uphill sprint. Rarely do conversations exceed five minutes, and the two longest dialogue-focused scenes are tense, high-strung affairs. The sense of urgency hanging over every conversation makes response time for dialogue choices feel shorter, stringing you through negotiations with criminals and attempts to smooth over verbal blunders.

Borderlands games are about shooting and looting. You do both of these in Tales, because nestled within its narrative-based nature you confront several lengthy action sequences. The first episode alone features brutal skirmishes resulting in more than a few exploded heads. While there is no shooting in the traditional Borderlands sense--you won't run around gunning down Psychos or skags--there are opportunities to operate heavy machinery and fire off a round. These scenarios require fingers always on thumbsticks, chaining together the familiar moving and ducking commands from Telltale's previous episodic games. So when you're not moving analogue sticks to dodge-roll away from cleaver-wielding bandits, you're mashing buttons to break a guard's neck or bash Psychos in the face. You're running away, jumping onto moving vehicles, grasping for weapons, and slamming them into an attacker's face, and dodging bullets. You aren't given the luxury of mulling decisions for long. Motion is constant, because nothing on Pandora waits for anyone. It's incredibly satisfying to wrap up a 20-minute vehicle chase with a few explosions and an axe kill or two to a face before moving on. And unlike in Telltale's other games, when dealing with others, silence is rarely a good option.

Good ol' Loader Bot.
Good ol' Loader Bot.

As in other Telltale games, players have a limited amount of time to select one of four dialogue or action options when dealing with other characters. The way the studio has tweaked its choice system for Tales from the Borderlands adds another layer of depth to an already complex feature. Both Rhys and Fiona are telling their side of a tale and, as a result, provide different (and sometimes conflicting) details about what happened. You get the opportunity to control both of them, offering your own take on the character.

Rhys is a Hyperion employee, and everyone on Pandora hates the company. He's viewed as another cog in a machine that destroys lives. Other characters have a real beef with Hyperion as well, and these prejudices dictate how they interact with Rhys. As Rhys, you have to choose whether to flaunt that powerful connection or appeal to others by being vulnerable, telling them how the company has screwed you over too. Fiona appears to have little vulnerability other than love for family, but it's up to you how successful she is as a con artist. You can dissemble to save your skin, but Tales does an amazing job of forcing you to think hard about who to throw under the bus and how badly your actions will bite you in the ass later. The game begins with the pair being interrogated, each asking for their side of a story involving an elaborate con and a lot of money. That's about all I can say, as the story takes off so quickly that anything else would be a spoiler. The openness with which the two characters are written adds to the player's responsibility. Because of the openness of choice here--two noted liars spinning their own stories within a narrative path determined by the player--more than ever, this is your story to tell.

The leading man...
The leading man...
...and leading lady.
...and leading lady.

Unfortunately, the supporting cast in this first episode feels less real than Fiona and Rhys. Vaughn, Rhys's sidekick, often overshoots “funny” into “annoying.” Villain August doesn't feel threatening just yet, and Fiona's sister Sasha tends to ping-pong emotionally. The one exception is the bandit lord Bossanova, who appears only briefly but adds a bright splash of Borderlands-baddie flavor to the whole affair.

You also get to tinker with some technology from the mega-corporation Hyperion. Rhys has an Echo Eye, an implant that allows him to scan objects in exploration sequences for more information. The Eye is used to gather more information about the environment and reveal more objects to click on and interact with. Rhys also gets to build and choose equipment for a Loader Bot, a self-aware piece of machinery that fights for you. You pick his equipment--grenades and a riot shield, for example--and let him loose, occasionally taking control from his perspective to shoot bandits. Other cyborg implants on Rhys allow him to hack systems, uncovering sensitive information pertinent to the plot by snooping his boss's computer screen or sifting through a stronghold's security system. It's a nice, smart touch.

Telltale's Pandora is beautifully realized. The cel-shaded art works perfectly, and several times during my playthrough I forgot I was looking at a game that wasn't from Gearbox's canon. I rode in a lightning-fast car across Pandora's surface, kicking up sand into a glowing sky and whizzing past brightly-colored billboards and slavering skags. I stood in the pit of a dingy, dusty battle arena, alone in a maze of dazzling debris as fluorescent spotlights beat down on me.

But it's not just the look, it's the sound too. Dialogue moves at a fast clip and retains the same dark humor that colors Borderlands. Sometimes jokes are a little cringe-worthy, but the wit is there, along with several well-placed gems. Fiona muttering jibberish and trying to imitate a Psycho, Rhys sweet talking another character and "blowing his mind" by moving him to tears, and a character using a voice-distortion machine to mask his high-pitched squeaky voice all made me audibly giggle-snort. Snark and smarm are ever-present in the tone, but characters don't sound like they're trying too hard to be funny. The writing just works, as Telltale nails another pillar of the Borderlands aesthetic.

New
New "friends."

I would be remiss not to mention the superb Tales soundtrack, which feels like something pulled right out of a Borderlands score. Jared Emerson-Johnson, who scored both The Walking Dead and The Wolf Among Us for Telltale, has created tracks that make one think of bloody chases across Pandora's sandy surface and the violent clang of bullets and machetes on steel. During a scene in which Rhys summons a Loader Bot to help take out a group of bandits, the music swells to a pounding half-rock, half-techno frenzy that brought me back to my first firefights in the first Borderlands. Everything about the soundtrack is Borderlands--the tonal ambience inexorably drags you into battles and inspires them to press on.

Telltale and Borderlands are the peanut butter and chocolate of the current gaming landscape, creating a piece that is too rock-solid in its own convictions to be labeled simply as a mashup. It's hard to even call it professional fan fiction. Tales from the Borderlands is a Borderlands game, but Telltale has opened up Gearbox's Pandora in a way the original Borderlands games haven't and can't as shooters. Through exploration of the little people struggling in the shadows of Vault Hunters, you gain deeper opportunities to explore the world.

Alexa Ray Corriea on Google+
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The Good

  • Nails the Borderlands tone and aesthetic in story, gameplay and design
  • Engaging, lengthy action sequences
  • The soundtrack is superb and perfectly sets the mood
  • Players have more narrative control in guiding choices for Rhys and Fiona

The Bad

  • Supporting cast is a little dry

More Platform Reviews

About the Author

Alexa Ray Corriea is excited to return to Pandora under Telltale’s guidance. She loves shooting and looting with her Mechromancer, but may love manipulating narratives to suit her whims even more.
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Yoshikawa12

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I hate telltale for their worst customer service for me on the other game, but will check this one because I'm a fan of borderlands

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JoeVN09

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I'm a fan of both Borderlands and Telltale, but I didn't expect to enjoy Zer0 Sum nearly as much as I did. Good job, guys! Can't wait for the next one.

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nimd4

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@JoeVN09: It's difficult to enjoy the game while waiting for the dialog /whatever to complete. Alt & TAB to YouTube, or something (while they do their thing - which I'm not in the least interested, about), won't work - as the game actually pauses && there's no way to skip. Tired of this, played some other -similar- games which had featured the same wait and I'm too sick of; it's unplayable, meh.

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mrouzi

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Love the Borderlands series!!!! :-)

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Albaficas

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telltale is on a roll


keep bringing these awesome titles i support you 100%

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Pierce_Sparrow

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Excited to get this and GoT. I don't really care for Borderlands, but I do love me some Telltale, so I am sure I will enjoy this. One thing I can say I like are the characters and humor of Borderlands, so this is the perfect way for me to get into that world.

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heguain

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Hm. Good, good. I'll try to get it :)

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Saikat1313

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This game is awesome.... Just finished the first EP... really guys you should try this one... one of the best Telltale games money can buy....

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Vienreich

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Edited By Vienreich

stupid games for stupid people

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Albaficas

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@Vienreich go play some cod stupid little kid

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Vienreich

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@Albaficas @Vienreich you're defending a game based on endless meaningless grinding. Not much happening in your brains

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thecman25

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ill just wait for a sale

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godslayer61

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wow , this game was utter trash . So boring and the main charecter is such a spinless loser that i dont ever want to play again . how you guys can give this a 9 when it is a 5 at best is baffling . what a let down compared to walking dead and wolf among us . Probaly one of the worst reviews i have read

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deactivated-57aa19ab947c7

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@godslayer61

If the main character is a spineless loser, that's more a reflection of yourself. I've been choosing his "f* you!" dialogue options and he doesn't come off as spineless at all.


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hitomo

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all the dev Money from the Alien game is used to push Reviews for this game ...


the only remarkable thing about BL is the random stat Generator for teh loot ... is this still in?


anyway, CoS, BL, AC ... all these series are so mediocre crap ... stop taking their money and make honest reviews,


u should animate Gamers to play the best, uniqu and most sophisticated games, not the ones everyone is making the most money with ... TV is full and ruined with These Kind of generic crap ... stand up and start to care about ur favorite media type, for petes sake ...

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bdiddytampa

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@hitomo maybe they liked it...

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dark_rage864

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Edited By dark_rage864

can't wait for Tales from The Sims!

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dark_rage864

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they should weekly episode rather than monthly episodes..

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Darri

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Edited By Darri

@dark_rage864 Right, because making a game is a piece of cake obviously. They must just be tinkering around with these episodes during lunchbreaks or something, since they can ONLY churn out one per month...

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deactivated-5d9e7b16c132a

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@Darri @dark_rage864 Of course it's a piece of cake. Just reuse old background, color palettes, reskins, use relatives to voice act and one week later you have yourself a maaasterpiece! Ladies and gentleman I present to you, "Ride to Hell: Retribution: Episode: 2"

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godslayer61

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@Darri @dark_rage864 how about they release it all at once because episodes suck , lets get a book we love and have to wait every 2 months to read a chapter and its worse in a games like people like to be pulled out of the games universe for months at a time .

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Virtual_Erkan

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Good I should play this and Game of Thrones is next

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Albaficas

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@Virtual_Erkan dont bother with game of thrones unless u watched the show and most important season 3

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sladakrobot

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I liked the first Borderlands coz it was something new back then but already then i didnt liked the characters(visual,humor) very much.The loot kept me playing until i completed it 100%.
TWD was awesome but i will pass this.

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ZQuill

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Just finished playing it ! Love it ! Its not perfect but it's pure nutjob fun lol my full blog review on http://zquill.com/tales-from-the-borderlands-review/

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bluefox755

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Fantastic game. Even if you don't care about Borderlands, you'll love this. The writing is brilliant. The characters are funny, relatable, and unique. Definitely worth a buy.

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godslayer61

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@bluefox755 the writing is trash , talking about taking a dump on the floor and having you clean it lol ya great writing . If you liked walking dead or wolf among us stay away from this game it is stupid joke after stupid joke and the main charecter is such a spinless loser that it will make you want to stop playing because every choice they give you is so far from how any human would really act even in those situations . What a bad game and to use the word borderlands in it is a cash grab .

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fend_oblivion

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Edited By fend_oblivion

@bluefox755 This. I got bored with Bordlerlands 2 pretty quickly but that didn't stop me from having a lot of fun with Zer0 Sum.

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focuspuller

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Good review Alexa! Just started playing, so far love it!

BTW, welcome to Gamespot! I'm glad you got poached from Polygon. lol

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WingChopMasta

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Edited By WingChopMasta

All I care about right now is Game of Thrones by Telltale. Everything else is just white noise to me!

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bojan_sokol

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I didnt played Borderlands games but this game is very good. Soundtrack is awesome

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djpetitte

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Edited By djpetitte

@bojan_sokol You didn't played? go read a book!

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LonelyPixel

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@djpetitte @bojan_sokol Maybe english is not his first language.

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SythisTaru

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Edited By SythisTaru

@djpetitte @bojan_sokol I did readed the book lol.

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KingofgamersX

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it was amazing what a ride haven't laughed in game since Grim fandango Brilliant

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Alucard_Prime

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Edited By Alucard_Prime

zCool game so far, the opening is great...chap 1 I mean

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MR-PERSIANGAMER

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Edited By MR-PERSIANGAMER

i hope it's not boring as pre-squel.... and game informer gave it 6.5...i wonder....zZZzzzZzzzZZ

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thorn3000

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@MR-PERSIANGAMER dunno, to be honest probably liked the pre-sequel the most from all three, though only slightly

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wolfman8325

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I'm sure it's great . . . JUST DON'T GIVE IT GAME OF THE MONTH, or something equally stupid like you always do gamespot, they give game of the month to OlliOlli, or DLC like Left Behind there's clearly better full retail games out, not to mention stuff like Mario Kart getting snubbed by super time force and other ridiculous nonsense like this. . . smash bros is game of the month, dont try to be hip and different and give it to the wrong game to seem cool and 'indie' - give it to the actual best game this time.

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Mantan911

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@wolfman8325 IDK this is one of the best new games I've played in months.

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Horndawgie

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Edited By Horndawgie

@wolfman8325 Yeah what's really stupid is people getting upset about a game they like not getting GOTM. Please stay on school.

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xantufrog

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Edited By xantufrog  Moderator  Online

@Horndawgie @wolfman8325 or at least "in" it ;-)

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cablemodemx2

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@wolfman8325 Indeed, certainly wouldn't want them to give such an award to the 'wrong' game.

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Prats93

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@Gelugon_baat @mjorh Polygon? Oh god, that's not a good sign.

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Sefrix

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@prats93 @Gelugon_baat @mjorh I use Polygon often for second opinions (among other sites) and for their opinion articles. It's the one thing I'd like to see GS do more of, because when GS does them great as well.

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deactivated-584419ec3a052

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It's probably not my cup of tea, but I'm very glad to hear Telltale can hold its own even with a story driven by the Borderlands universe. Job well done!

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Lutrian

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Edited By Lutrian

Know what I'd LOVE to see? CyberMage: Darklight Awakening (remember that game from the 1990s) remade using the Unreal Engine, with the Borderlands art style (which would fit that game very well). Cybermage was a game by Origin, though it's kinda obscure since it's not been released on GOG as of yet. But I do think that game would fit the Borderlands art style, since the game had a comic book/graphic novel presentation).

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Tales from the Borderlands: A Telltale Game Series

First Released Oct 20, 2015
released
  • Android
  • iOS (iPhone/iPad)
  • Macintosh
  • PC
  • PlayStation 3
  • PlayStation 4
  • PlayStation Vita
  • Xbox 360
  • Xbox One

Tales from the Borderlands will explore and expand on the stories of existing and all-new characters from the world of Pandora.

9
Superb

Average Rating

267 Rating(s)

8.3
Content is generally suitable for ages 17 and up. May contain intense violence, blood and gore, sexual content and/or strong language.
Mature
Blood and Gore, Strong Language, Suggestive Themes, Violence