Though point-and-click adventure games have been around since the medium’s infancy, many laud Telltale Games for making them cool. After all, they’re the folks who combined the slower-paced genre with the infectious world of Robert Kirkman’s The Walking Dead and received Game of the Year nominations in the process. Not only that, but their work on The Wolf Among Us introduced many to Bill Willingham’s fantastical world of Fables, through not only interesting and evocative writing, but also high quality gameplay.
Following the above-mentioned triumphs — which have catapulted its name into household status — Telltale is back with yet another licensed adventure game. This time around, the developer has joined forces with one of gaming’s most popular licenses: Gearbox Software’s zany and out-of-this-world Borderlands IP. The result is Tales from the Borderlands, an incredibly colourful take on old-school point-and-click gameplay, which is without a doubt the company’s most explosive title thus far.
Tales from the Borderlands eschews the dark subject matter and muted tones that made The Walking Dead and The Wolf Among Us so poignant, and gleefully goes in the opposite direction. Then again, this is Borderlands we’re talking about, and the setting does happen to be Pandora – a galactic locale that isn’t known for being boring, drab or unimaginative. As such, it’s no surprise that Tales‘ very first episode is full of guns, robots, explosions and, of course, bandits. That, and the unique brand of humour that has made Pandora so endearing.
Don’t go in expecting to play as another vault hunter, though. While they may have aspirations of becoming rich by looting one of the planet’s famously hidden chambers, the game’s two main characters (Rhys and Fiona) aren’t exactly cut from the same type of cloth as your atypical vault hunter.
A Hyperion stooge, who’s en route to his boss’ office and expecting a promotion when we take control of him, Rhys originally seems like a bit of a coward. However, it’s not long before he’s forced to open up and use his skills (a bionic eye, a robotically modified body and a knack for sweet talking) to his advantage. It’s all the result of a murder in his office, with the unlucky soul being his by-the-numbers boss.
After discovering that a usurper named Vasquez has taken control of his Hyperion home and workplace, Rhys and his nerdy friend Vaughn form a devious plan. Instead of bending over and taking it like the sissies they’re thought of being, they’re going to one-up Mr. Vasquez and steal from him. What will they steal, you ask? Well, it seems that the asshat is in negotiations to purchase an original vault key from some archaeologist on Pandora, for a measly ten million Washingtons.
Thus begins a quirky debut, which sees the two leave their comfort zone for the sandy and Cel-shaded hostility of Pandora, where more than one curveball is awaiting them.
It’s on Pandora that we’re introduced to Fiona, a street-savvy, small-time crook who’s in on the deal with her sister and their middle-aged accomplice. I’d be an ass if I went into more detail and gave away spoilers, though, so I’ll just stop here and let you experience the story for yourselves.
Rhys and Fiona are fully playable characters, who have their own roles to play in Tales from the Borderlands. Both are game to make a quick buck, but neither one is ready to accept the consequences that may (and do) arise. Therein lays a lot of the fun, as neither the protagonists nor the player are sure of exactly what (or who) will be around the next corner. Sure, that was true of Telltale’s other games, but not in the same way. After all, Pandora isn’t much like earth and doesn’t play by any sort of rules, meaning that just about anything truly can happen.
Switching gears, there’s little need to delve too far into the gameplay side of things, because those who’ve played either The Walking Dead or The Wolf Among Us will know what to expect. Tales from the Borderlands plays in very much the same way as those classics — complete with branching dialogue trees and joystick-based quick movements — although it throws its own twists into the mix. I’ve already mentioned Rhys’ bionic eye, which can be used to scan environmental items and certain bodies for clues, but there’s also the matter of Borderlands‘ computerized loader bots. Those yellow behemoths aid your cause during ZerO Sum, thanks to a friendly eye in the sky (well, an ally from Hyperion who just so happens to have access to such things). They’re not alone, though, because a familiar face also makes a lengthy cameo.
The good news here is that this isn’t as glitchy an affair as the two previous games were. Yes, it does suffer from a few pauses, but they seem to only occur during loading times and weren’t too frequent during my two-and-a-half hour-long playthrough. Those were the only really notable hiccups that I encountered, too, which is good news for those who’ve become sick of Telltale releasing titles that don’t play as well as they could (or, in truth, should).
Tales from the Borderlands also maintains the visual benchmarks that we’ve become accustomed to, with regards to both the mainline Borderlands series and its developer’s previous efforts. With its hand-drawn art style and complementary Cel-shading, it stands out and looks very crisp overall. It also sounds pretty great, thanks to impressive writing, hilarious dialogue and homages to its popular license. That, and a talented voice cast, which includes the likes of Troy Baker, Laura Bailey and Patrick Warburton.
Of course, all of this would crumble if it weren’t for great dialogue options and interesting settings – two things that this debut episode has in spades. Through its focus on character and plot development, it’s managed to set-up what will likely be another standout hit from one of gaming’s rising stars. Still, this isn’t a perfect release and there are areas where improvements can be made. Pacing is one, as things start off slowly and take a bit to get rolling, whereas another area of improvement could come from the introduction of more creative gameplay mechanics.
That being said, I would still definitely suggest that you pick up Tales from the Borderlands. Even if you’re not a fan of the first-person shooter/RPG hybrid series, there’s no denying that its setting makes for a great point-and-click adventure game that once again proves why Telltale is at the top of their class.
This review is based on the Xbox One version of the game.
Tales From The Borderlands: Episode 1 - ZerO Sum is a strong debut for what looks to be another Telltale Games classic.