Telltale have hit upon a winning formula with The Walking Dead and The Wolf Among Us, as their episodic cel-shaded tales filled with decisions that matter have brought the company the critical acclaim and sales they’ve been angling for since the early days of Sam & Max Season One. Now that they’ve hit upon gold, they’ve got a few more projects lined up to adapt to the template, and the next one coming up is Tales from the Borderlands, based on Gearbox’s hit series. Make no mistake, this is no first-person-shooting, gun collecting, action game, it’s a Telltale-nouveau style game through and through, which might make it a welcome entry point into the series’ universe for newcomers.
Tales from the Borderlands has a unique approach to its story, as it follows two main protagonists – Rhys and Fiona. Both are telling their stories to another character after the events of the main game, but their stories are often exaggerated and conflict with each other – ‘big fish’ stories as the developers describe them. Your control flips back and forth between the characters depending on who’s telling the story. For the E3 demo, Rhys was the centre of attention. He’s an employee of the Hyperion Corporation, which is in the midst of an internal power-struggle in the vacuum left by Handsome Jack’s demise. After being one-upped for a promotion by a corporate rival, Rhys learns of a deal the douche has set up for a Vault Key on Pandora. He plans to step in and make the trade himself, getting his hands on a Vault Key and more power than he could dream of. As you might expect, things don’t go to plan.
The actual gameplay of Tales from the Borderlands is really just the same as The Walking Dead and The Wolf Among Us. Events play out almost like an in-engine movie, until you reach a point in a conversation where you can interact – choosing from dialogue options before the timer runs out. At certain points you’re allowed to walk around small, confined areas to collect inventory objects or examine the environment, before the next event is triggered. Whether this formula works or not is highly dependent on how strong the writing is, which has been the highlight of Telltale’s previous games. Personally, I can’t say I’ve been a fan of the Borderlands universe in the past, so I wasn’t immediately on board with the world or the humour (although it is toned down from, say, Borderlands The Pre-Sequel!), but over the course of the hour-long playthrough I was starting to get into it. The way Fiona and Rhys interact will really be the key to how inventive the story can be with its narrative, and we did get a taste of that near the very end as Rhys fibbed about how he ended his encounter with the Vault Key trader.
Tales from the Borderlands should be an easy choice for Borderlands fans, as from what I saw at E3, it’s got Telltale’s signature design and charm all over it. If you’re not already invested in the series, it might be worth giving the first episode a try if it’s made available separately upon release. Tales from the Borderlands should be out in the next few months of 2014.