When I first heard that episodic kingpin Telltale Games was teaming up with Gearbox to bring us a new chapter in the Borderlands universe, I just about slagged my pants. New characters? A Hyperion story? Troy Baker?! I mean, there’s really not much more you can add to a video game if you’re looking for ultra success. Tales from the Borderlands’ first episode, ‘Zer0 Sum’, is a brilliant building block for an entire season unhinged with untamed mayhem and more sarcasm than you can shake a Boom Stick at.
We meet our brave new characters in a post Borderlands 2 world, meaning Handsome Jack has been slain at the hands of a pissed off Vault Hunter, Hyperion is a mess, and Moxxi is still making sexual innuendos; two of those things are going to have major repercussions on us — the other just makes us giggle.
This is where we meet Rhys and Fiona, two frenemies with conflicting points of view and a crazy story to match. We find our two ridiculously good looking ptotagonists in the midst of a kidnapping, where their captor, whom I doth name Metal Masked Man of Mystery, is questioning them about a briefcase, a vault key, and their newfound partnership on Pandora.
Episode one packs a serious punch of hilarity and nostalgia. Those familiar with the Borderlands universe will definitely appreciate all the backhanded references, character appearances, and snide humor most accustomed to the acclaimed franchise. Of course, those who are new to Pandora needn’t worry — you really don’t have to know anything about the series in order to dive right into Telltale’s newest creation. As long as you can accept that it’s probably going to get weird, you’ll fit right in.
Following in the footsteps of The Walking Dead and The Wolf Among Us, Tales from the Borderlands relies heavily on a choice-driven narrative. Telltale traditionally puts gamers to the ultimate test, driving gameplay that’s based off of morally grey decisions and very little time to make them. Although Tales gives us plenty of options for making decisions, there’s really no feeling of repercussion. Episode one doesn’t allow us to feel any weight from the choices made throughout gameplay, leaving me both confused and excited to dig in to the next episode. It does, however, give players a chance to highlight their snarky side. Players are given the choice of three to four different dialogue options, and they really should just be dubbed ‘nice’, ‘mean’, or ‘sarcastic asshole’ — guess which one I went with (rhymes with ‘smarshmastic smashole’).
The story, on the other hand, is shaping up to be something pretty fantastic. Rhys, a Hyperion employee gearing up for a big promotion, finds that his dreams are cut incredibly short when he’s slighted for the job by his work nemesis Vasquez — who happens to be voiced by none other than Patrick Warbuton (“Oh, right. The poison. The poison for Kuzco, the poison chosen especially to kill Kuzco. Kuzco’s poison”). Looking for anyway to strike back, Rhys — along with his best friends Vaughn and Yvette — slides his way into Vasquez’s deal to buy a vault key. Fiona, on the other hand, is one of the masterminds behind the deal. She, along with her sister and father figure, aims to sell them a fake vault key, make off with $10 million, and live a life free of psycho bandits and skag screams. When the deal goes down, their lives intersect — and all hell breaks loose.
From there, it’s an endless series of hilarious fight scenes, creepily sentient Loader Bot children, dubstep bandit bosses, a death race, muder, betrayal, sexual tension, and a slew of other ridiculous things you’re only able to find in a Borderlands game. And since the episode is titled ‘Zer0 Sum’, you can be sure that you’ll see Zer0, everyone’s favorite emoting, vault hunting assassin who weirdly only really speaks in haikus. But hey, we’re not complaining. Other character cameos include Shade (that weirdly friendly guy from Oasis), Marcus Kincaid, and Handsome Jack.
It’s also worth noting that the soundtrack to this psycho-filled romp is full of familiar favorites from Borderlands veteran Jesper Kyd. His work on Tales’ predecessors is impressive, to say the least, and he’s brought back some of the most bodacious tunes to accompany Rhys and Fiona’s ridiculous journey through Pandora. Kyd’s always had a knack for catching the crazy essense of the Borderlands universe, and his score really brings the entire game together. Tunes like ‘Glacial’ are just a small part of the entire season, so it’s safe to say I’m pretty enthused to be hearing more from him in later episodes.
The music is perfect to accompany some of the cool actions that are available to you in the game. Like Telltale’s previous games, you have the option of walking around and examining things, but Tales adds an extra element to that. When you’re playing as Rhys, you can active his Echo Eye to get a closer look at some of the items around you; what you’ll find is pure snark and probably some information you never thought you’d want to know. Fiona has the opportunity to collect money, which is actually able to be used for some items in the game. There’s also a part when you can customize a Loader Bot’s payload, and man — it’s awesome. It’s the little things that really add to the overall game experience, and Telltale’s the leading expert in supplying that to gamers.
Tales from the Borderlands has to be one of the most fun games I’ve played in a long time. As a fan of the series, it feels right at home among the heavy hours I’ve sunk into the franchise. But I can safely say that even if you’re not a fan of Borderlands, you’ll want to play Tales. It feels like a mix of Firefly, Cowboy Bebop, and every good show Chris Hardwick has ever done. It’s odd, riddled with likable characters, and has a dose of humor for everyone. It’s a Borderlands game adapted into a more accessible format, and it’s gearing up to be one of Telltale’s finest achievements.
The first episode runs around two and a half hours, and while it sometimes feels like you’re watching more of a movie than playing an actual game, the price tag of $4.99 has never felt so worth it. You can also pick up the season pass, granting you access to all 5 episodes, for around $20. So get ready to journey back to Pandora, and be sure to buckle up — it’s going to be a weird and bumpy ride.
Tales from the Borderlands is available now for PlayStation 3, PlayStation 4, Xbox One and PC, with a Xbox 360 release coming December 3rd.
This review is based on a digital copy of Tales from the Borderlands for the PlayStation 4 provided by Telltale Games.