Tales From The Borderlands Is Telltale’s Boldest Move YetFiled inside: Games
I’ve recently revisited my time on Pandora, and loved every moment of it. Borderlands 2 released on Vita, and we thought it was…okay, but picking up all the DLC for the second game brought back all those good-timey feelings of murder and looting. Now we get to see another aspect of the Borderlands universe from a decidedly…unreliable source in Tales From the Borderlands. Borderlands 2 spoilers to follow.
Handsome Jack is dead. But unlike how one may have previously thought, the Hyperion Corporation is not to easily toppled. Many rose up to take Jack’s place, all willing to do anything it takes to assume the role of the head of Hyperion, with all the fame, riches and power that follows. You play as Rhys, one of those who seeks to become the new Jack. There’s a problem, though—someone else already got the job.
Telltale games has recently risen to notoriety for their takes on The Walking Dead and The Wolf Among Us, deeply emotional stories delivered in an episodic frame. The characters in these stories are visceral and real—they make mistakes, they have motivations, many players have grown to care about these characters more than any others. As you control your protagonist, you make decisions that affect details of the story. Other characters will remember the things you’ve done, and make determinations about you on those merits. Tales From the Borderlands offers a decidedly different take on Telltale’s formula—and proves that they’re not afraid to make waves in a genre nobody realized they still loved to play.
Much like how Marcus is depicted as telling the story of the Vault Hunters in Borderlands 2, Rhys is telling his own story in the new game. And as tends to happen with ego-maniacal sycophants, many of the details of Rhys’s endeavor have been…exaggerated. Thus, another playable protagonist, Fiona, steps in to “correct” Rhys as he spins his tale.
Rhys might say he ran into a bar, twenty guys pulled guns on him, but he valiantly put them all down, only for Fiona to interrupt him, saying instead that the guys in the bar got the drop on Rhys, but he was able to lie his way out of it. The two play off of each other’s stories, each insisting that theirs is the true chain of events. And the dev is committed to that fact: whatever really happened, we’ll never know. The entire story is unreliable, a la Call of Juarez: Gunslinger.
Telltale’s other games function essentially as point-and-click adventure games. The characters reach a particular location, you’ll associate with characters in the area, pick up items, investigate abnormalities, that sort of thing. When the action hits, the game transitions to a choreographed set of quicktime events, or split-second decision making, with tiny trappings of other sorts of gameplay sprinkled throughout.
This will generally be the case in Tales From the Borderlands, as well, but Telltale is adding some crucial elements from the Borderlands mythos at large to give the game a stronger connection to its predecessors. A loot system still exists in the game, and your character has a wallet that can be filled through various actions.
It’s not exactly clear how these systems will function within the game space. The loot is still procedurally generated, it’s not like you’ll be making preset decisions on two pieces of loot to act as a story piece. In fact, the loot obtained in Tales From the Borderlands will be usable in other games in the Borderlands series, sources have indicated. That would almost definitely include Borderlands: The Pre-Sequel, but might let you take guns back to the older games, as well. From what I’ve been able to gather, the game’s action elements, while certainly including some quicktime events, will also house some shooter elements, as well, which will be affected by the loot on hand. The qualities of various items might mean that if you happen to have an item that, say, grants immunity to burn damage, you might be able to escape a particular situation more effectively than you would otherwise. Money will likely be used in various story moments as bribes, to acquire different items, or as part of the overarching goal for Rhys: to acquire a vault key before his nemesis.
The game retains that Borderlands look with ease, especially because Telltale’s recent game engine happens to mirror the cel-shaded and heavily-lined look that Borderlands has stuck with since it’s major art shift before the release of the first game. It will be a little unusual, I think, to control characters on Pandora that you can see directly, the first-person view has become so ubiquitous, and the only other player-controlled characters you encounter in Borderlands don’t have the best animation quality, since it’s all relegated to multiplayer anyway. Regardless, the look is intact.
Borderlands and Telltale games alike are also generally well-lauded for their writing and dialogue, but for very different reasons. Telltale’s works have been highly emotional and complex, requiring you to pay attention to minute details and really read how the characters behave in order to gauge how they might react to what you say or do around them. Borderlands, on the other hand, is know for its rapid-fire jokes and lowbrow humor, as well as they distinctly inhuman way that pretty much everyone on Pandora seems to act. Certainly, this is an unusual juxtaposition to have, but I think it has the potential to be something quite unlike what we’ve seen before in games. A story with rich, believable characters that make a lot of fart jokes. Also, Nolan North and Chris Hardwick are voicing characters, which is always good. Everybody wins.
The thing about that kind of narrative is how divisive it can be. I asked around a bit when the opportunity arose to see how people were feeling about the game, and perceptions were mixed, if a bit skewed on the “good” end of things. Some people felt as though Borderlands is simply not the kind of game you go to to feed your desire for legitimate character development, and so the humor feels somewhat out of place. Others said the game had some great moments or humor, and that the interplay between the characters felt believable in its own way, and it didn’t bother them. While I expect that major fans of Telltale games might be put off by the style, Borderlands fans will surely appreciate the depth that is afforded by the medium. I’ll hold out hope that everyone can find a way to appreciate it.
In classic Telltale fashion, details are fairly slim as to when we’ll be able to really play the game. Originally, the game was set for a midyear release, but no sounds more like we can expect more news by the end of the year. We can generally expect the game to appear on the Xbox 360 and PlayStation 3 systems, and may come out for the Vita, as well. You can sign up for more updates at the game’s Official Website, in case you want to catch details as soon as possible.