by Matthew Thompson
In my quest to fall for one of Telltale’s newfangled, choice-based adventure games, the third time is apparently the charm. When I tried The Walking Dead a few years back, I didn’t quite get what all the fuss was about. When I played Game of Thrones, I was disappointed with how boring I found it to be given how much I love the world of the TV and book series. I still remember questioning the very idea of a Telltale game set in the Borderlands universe, but it was from this unlikely source that I would finally find something from the developer I could love.
Games like these live and die by their stories and Tales from the Borderlands tells a great one. It has a wonderful sense of humor. Some genuinely unexpected twists and turns. It utilizes a clever dual-storytelling mechanic that sees both playable characters telling their side of things to their mysterious captor. It acts as a great framing device and helps to create some of the game’s funniest moments when one of the leads embellishes what really happened before being called out by the other (my favorite bit was where Fiona describes the civilized meeting where they discussed an alliance over tea).
The cast – both the characters and actors who voice them – deserves a lot of the credit for making it all work. One of the things that actually put this game on my radar was fellow blogger Christine from over at simpleek’s praise for the voice acting in a post we both contributed to on RoboHeartBeat. So I knew going in I was getting the all-star trio of Laura Bailey (my favorite voice actor), Troy Baker and Nolan North. But I was delighted to find out they were joined by Ashley Johnson (responsible for one of my favorite voiceover performances as Ellie in The Last of Us) and Patrick Warburton (David Puddy from Seinfeld). These actors and the rest of the cast bring to life a varied group of colorful characters that include a family of con-artists and two of the cutest, coolest robots you will ever see (seriously, they’re the best).
On the gameplay side of things, Tales from the Borderlands doesn’t stray too far from what I found in the other recent Telltale titles I played. Dialogue options and quick time events still rule the day, but I found myself more engaged here than before due to the way they are handled. Little touches like Fiona’s visions of the options in front of her during key junctures helped. As did how flat-out entertaining they managed to make a QTE – a mechanic I am not too fond of – like Episode 4’s epic finger gun shootout. And while I remain terrible at making decisions under time pressure, I was pretty happy with my choices here save for bringing along the mystery vault hunter for the final mission – they just ended up being annoying as hell.
Of course, no Tales from the Borderlands discussion is complete without talking about the magnificent intro credit sequences. I was still getting a feel for the game when the first one happened and I didn’t fully appreciate it (though I feel it is the weakest of the bunch as well). But the second episode’s blew me away with a slow-motion sequence set to “Kiss the Sky” that separates our squad of soon-to-be vault hunters and had me anticipating each of the intros to follow. While Episode 2’s remains my favorite, the rest didn’t disappoint and each brought their own flavor. The third is a classic road trip montage, the fourth takes a more humorous approach with the final one going for a somber tone fitting the events of the moment and they are all accompanied by great music choices. These intros ended up being one of the highlights of the series for me.
My love for Tales from the Borderlands made me go back and give The Walking Dead another try, but the experience still left me cold. Perhaps Telltale games just aren’t really for me. But I’m happy I found the wonderful exception that is Tales from the Borderlands and I’d play a second season in a heartbeat.