I had the opportunity to check out Telltale Games’ Tales from the Borderlands franchise at this year’s E3. Telltale has a lot of expectations to fulfill for the popular FPS, as the company deals exclusively in episodic adventure games. Perhaps it’s fitting that Borderlands 2 shifted its focus onto the writing, as Telltale adapts to this style perfectly.
In The Wolf Among Us and The Walking Dead, Telltale Games eschewed most traditional point-and-click adventure game mechanics in favor of a system that provides players moral-choice decisions and QTEs. This game uses the same mechanics; however, Tales from the Borderlands is different because it’s not about morality but rather on telling both sides of the story.
This is because Tales from the Borderlands focuses on two main characters: Rhys, an ambitious Hyperion employee who is also a cyborg, and Fiona, a grifter who is looking to pull off one last con before she leaves the planet. The two are unfortunately reunited when they are held up at gunpoint by a villain who is looking for a vault key. Rhys knows what happened to the vault key, but he insists that he must explain why it is at its current location. Tales from the Borderlands begins with Rhys’ side of the story, but Fiona was there, and she is able to explain key details that he either exaggerates or omits.
For the E3 demo, Telltale Games focused on the first thirty minutes of episode 1, which is basically Rhys’ side of the story. After the fall of Handsome Jack, various employees, including Rhys, compete to take his place. Unfortunately for Rhys, that corporate jerk face Vasquez—Telltale’s words, not mine—got the job, and he wants to not only rub it in Rhys’ face but also warn him of the consequences (he sent another poor bastard into outer space). However, Rhys sees an opportunity when Vasquez has to make a call, and he decides to scan his office. He decides he needs to find and buy a vault key before Vasquez can.
Rhys teams up with his best friends. Vaughn is a snarky, geeky accountant, and Fiona is a fearless engineer. Rhys and Vaughn travel to the borderlands in search of information while Fiona stays behind to send in support in case they encounter hazards. Unlike the vault hunters from Borderlands 2, Rhys and Vaughn have little experience with life outside of the Hyperion Corporation, so they’re obviously more likely to react after they’ve run over a lone scag.
When they reach the run-down village, Telltale shows off the exploration mechanics, as well as their new approach to the choices. Rhys and Vaughn are looking for the World of Curiosities, so they can meet their contact with the key. Rhys also shows off his selfish personality, as he comes across a body, asks it for directions, determines it’s dead, and then steals its loot without showing sympathy. Then he happens upon a character he, without input from the player, calls Grease Face. Although Vaughn begs him to reconsider his approach, Rhys continues to insult the man while attempting to convince him to give him information. It’s interesting to note that each response was rude; yet, Telltale still uses this same timer approach as with The Walking Dead and The Wolf Among Us. Telltale could have picked any response during the demo, but they couldn’t change the fact that Rhys is kind of a dick.
Telltale then uses the conflict between Rhys and Grease Face in order to show off the action sequences. Telltale’s QTEs haven’t changed; however, they’re still an adrenaline rush. The same body we previously thought was dead suddenly rises, and more bandits appear on cue. Rhys then contacts Yvette, who promptly sends the sarcastic Loader Bot. Loader Bot responds to Rhys’ commands, so he uses them to launch missiles and toss cars at the bandits. By the end of the mission, the two reach their destination, but the Loader Bot is injured. Rhys decides to command the bot to self-destruct, killing his enemies in the process; he later admits to Vaughn that he found the entire conflict to be enjoyable.
Finally, the two venture forth in The World of Curiosities. The location is structured like a museum that’s based around Handsome Jack’s and Pandora’s past. They then come into contact with August, the key owner, as well as his girlfriend Sasha. While Rhys and August initially come to an agreement, Sasha convinces August to reconsider, which causes Rhys to punch a hole through his heart; or that’s what Telltale wants players to think at first. At this point, Fiona cuts in, revealing that not only is Rhys full of crap, but that a vault hunter also made an appearance.
Telltale leaves a few hints that have yet to be shown off. For instance, I mentioned that Rhys collects loot, of which the game keeps count, but they have yet to reveal what Rhys can use this loot for; I’m guessing he uses it for negotiating. Telltale also has yet to properly introduce us to Fiona; however, she is likable because she’s not afraid to insist to players that Rhys isn’t a reliable narrator. We’ll also need to see in a future update whether Fiona is not so reliable herself.
Overall I enjoyed Telltale Games’ E3 presentation for Tales from the Borderlands. While it uses the same mechanics seen in Telltale Games’ other popular games, Tales from the Borderlands makes slight tweaks to the system by focusing less on morality and more on covering both perspectives of a story. In addition, the presentation of Borderlands and any Telltale game seamlessly blends together, as if the two were meant to be together. This leaves me hope that there will be a successful first episode, if not season, for Tales from the Borderlands.