“Everyone thinks they’re the hero of their own story.” It may sound like a somewhat obvious thing to say, but at the point in Tales From The Borderlands‘ final episode when the statement was levelled at my bewildered character, I found it invoking an enormously poignant sense of responsibility in me for what I had been doing for the past four episodes. It surprised me that a game which so regularly presented remarkable violence and crass humour could have such an instant effect on its player, and then cemented the belief I have been holding that this series has been about more than just a joyride.
The Vault Of The Traveller is full of moments that will make its player gasp, wince and even cry as it culminates all of the events of the previous four instalments. I want to try to keep this review as spoiler-free as possible, on the off chance that anyone reading might not have played through the episode or the series just yet. If the latter is the case, however, I strongly urge you to stop reading this instant and get started with the series. Each episode before the finale had been a joy in itself, whilst always maintaining the feeling that it was all building to something great. Now that that greatness has arrived, it’s hard not to be a little sad that it’s all over.
The events pick up right after the somewhat disastrous final moments of Escape Plan Bravo, and sets its players immediately into all manner of precarious situations. What follows is a daring attempt to escape the now-compromised Helios, to return to Pandora with Gortys’ beacon in tow. From there the plan is simple: activate the beacon and access the coveted Vault. The first problem with this, however, is that its the same plan that any number of conflicting individuals hope to execute before it’s too late.
One of the great strengths that Tales From The Borderlands has had from its very first episode was the marvellous and ever-growing cast of characters that serve as the vehicles through which the adventure plays out. Rhys and Fiona have never been dull or boring protagonists, and they are complemented perfectly by a supporting troupe of well-written, expertly-delivered adventurers.
Along the way it’s occasionally been a shame that some were pushed into corners by particular events and not quite able to shine as well as they should have been, but in episode five all of this changes. Telltale clearly recognize the importance and power that their characters have to make or break their game, and all are given their dues before the curtain comes down on the finale. It’s so rewarding to see so many of the characters from the earlier episodes return in the final adventure, and it speaks to their strengths that some of the event’s most touching or memorable moments feature the – for lack of a better term – smaller players.
Of course, in a game like this, it’s important to get the balance of logical story progression and character cramming right, but this is yet another triumph of Telltale’s masterful finale. The choices that players will have made in all previous episodes of Tales From The Borderlands come back to fruition in detail that I scarcely imagined would be possible. There are so many potential paths through this last adventure, and even after four full playthroughs I’m still finding there’s an enormous scope for variety at so many points in The Vault Of The Traveller, and to still hold such a sense of excited anticipation every time I dive back in is testament to what a thorough job the developers have done in crafting this game. Compare this to – for example – Telltale’s far more limiting Game Of Thrones series and you’ll really start to see just how fluid this series has been.
In truth, I could wax lyrical for days on end about just how much I enjoyed this episode and the series as a whole, but every moment you spend reading my meagre insights is more time that should really be spent playing the game itself. With that in mind, I’ll keep this short with a few final praiseworthy points. The episode is visually appealing – as it has been all series – and the the dusky landscapes of Pandora are complimented excellently by the metal coldness of Helios or the interiors of some excited and unexpected areas. I experience far less visual slips or fall-downs as I have done with previous Telltale adventures.
The tone of the episode is pitched perfectly, as well. The whole series has provided an abundance of laughs with a smattering of touching emotional beats, but this final outing adjusts that ratio just enough to add some poignance and gravity to the conclusions. It’s still purely hilarious at times, but the depth of the story and the bonds shared by the characters stops the events from ever feeling silly or throwaway. It’s a distinctive balancing act, and Telltale pulls it of with aplomb. I also have so much time for just how many times the final episode managed to truly surprise me; some of its reveals and resolutions were nothing short of inspired.
By now, I’m fairly certain I’ve given more than enough praise to this final episode, and I again implore you to now go away and play the game for yourself. As someone who had never played a Borderlands game before the Telltale’s first episode, I find I am now fully converted at the altar of Pandora and will spend my time there praying for a second season in the not-too-distant future. Tales From The Borderlands is Telltale’s best series to date, and it’s so fitting that this finale is the best of its own series as well.
Catch a ride to Pandora at your earliest opportunity…
This review is based on the PC version of the game, which was provided to us.
From belly laughs to heart-wrenching despair, Tales From The Borderlands has had it all. It's absolutely Telltale's best series to date, and it's entirely fitting that this finale is also its greatest episode.