Breaking Down Borders in Tales from the Borderlands

Tales from Borderlands is one of the most charming games I’ve ever played and one of the most fun experiences I’ve had playing a game in quite some time. I’d go as far to say that it’s the strongest standing game Telltale Games has to offer, and perhaps even the best decision Gearbox has made with the Borderlands IP.

No spoilers. I don’t think I’d have enjoyed it as much if I knew ahead of time what was going to happen, so I won’t be divulging any specific moments I thoroughly enjoyed or ones I was less enthusiastic about (though those are seldom here, if at all). Although, I was aware of some moments having watched someone else play a couple parts of the game before I got my hands on it. Even adding pictures here, I feel is dipping into spoiler territory, but I’d like to at least give some examples as to what I mean when I describe what I really liked about this game.

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Telltale is known for their intriguing form of storytelling when it comes to weaving a narrative out of games. Generally this is done with the intention of making the player feel remorseful or some other form of regret making them think they made the wrong decision, when really it’s mostly an illusion of choice with very limited outcomes.

But here, I felt that even if I made a faux paus and potentially made the worst possible decision in a given moment, there is something immensely amusing about Rhys and Fíona’s verbal blunders that I can’t help but appreciate even when I feel like I messed up and said the wrong thing. The jokes are some of the cheesiest smoked cheese that won’t stop giving and leave you in a better mood with the biggest dumbest smile on your face following each episode.

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Even if this is still the case with Tales from the Borderlands, the downright brilliant comedy is just so on my wavelength and evoked so much laughter out of me that I don’t care if the outcomes are minimal. My first playthrough was such a blast engaging with the witty dialogue that it actually helped make the emotional moments that much more powerful. I want to sing its praises for the subtle progression of character development and making such memorable characters so fun and awesome to hang with and play as, all thanks to its excellent writing and remarkable voice acting.

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Brilliant character title cards

Special applause to the talented Troy Baker and Laura Bailey for their performances as the equally hilarious protagonists, Rhys and Fíona. Their back and forths riffing off one another, fighting for control over telling how the events of the story actually unfolded is a welcome and inventive addition to storytelling in video games. It’s such a refreshing take on narrative structure for video games, that if you read it on paper you’d be right to feel concerned, but by god do they deliver. They did a phenomenal job balancing the pacing of both their stories and cleverly exploited the narrative to forcibly, yet naturally bring a stop to one and continue the other, never feeling like one overextended their welcome. This dynamic between the two playable characters adds an extra dimension to both the story and the gameplay.

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So relatable it hurts… from laughing so hard

The game and its characters evoke this feeling of tremendous playfulness, which is tantamount to showing how awesome the characters are when it comes to snark, lying, mocking one another, and improvising ridiculous stunts; even before they do awesome things. It doesn’t take itself seriously at all, but done with such commendable awareness and tact to play extremely well with that awareness, that it ends up being such a wildly entertaining ride. By the way I played through the entire game in a day, which might have something to do with the awesome euphoria I had playing it.

The humour functions in a very interesting way beyond being a springboard for laughter. It serves as a terrific line for the game to walk as it leaves you on the edge of your seat with all its awesomely ridiculous twists and turns and other moments. The art direction is nice and the aesthetics of Borderlands and the Telltale’s games blend together really well. The style of these segments is great, and combined with the way the music is implemented, does a great job of capturing the atmosphere and helps make static environments feel more engaging. The music itself is easily the best soundtrack of the Telltale’s games.

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It’s very much about the journey, not the destination. But even then it ends with a wonderful finale (at least for me) that reflected upon character moments and how they got to where they are. It’s a really nice touch that I wasn’t expecting, and very much appreciate they added it in. Its zany humour, dramatic change of characters, and surprisingly powerful and emotional moments all blend together so incredibly well it’s hard to believe it exists in the first place. Characters toe the line between comic relief and genuinely introspective, making seemingly one-note characters actually a lot more nuanced than they might seem upon first impression. I find its tone to be a very welcome variation and it perfectly captures the group’s dissonance they regularly feel.

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A vast improvement in terms of production values compared to previous titles such as Telltale Games’ The Walking Dead. It should be worth noting that I am a great appreciator of hyperbole, as well as the style of humour this game opts for and rides in pride and glory all throughout its stunning expedition. This is gold. I’d watch a show for this alone. On top of that, it’s a rollercoaster of emotions that had some powerful moments that I didn’t expect would get to me, but they did. Not to give any spoilers, but I never thought I’d be on the verge of tears for [X character] sacrificing their life to save me, or [X character] dying at the end. These sort of reactions are rare for me, so when they happen I try to treasure them and assign a lot more value to whatever evoked them because of it.

Yes, the engine could do with some polish. It still continues with the legacy of huge drops in frame-rate Telltale’s games are well-known for at this stage. However, it isn’t the worst in this regard, and arguably doesn’t suffer too much from these slow transitions. And even then it doesn’t let up with its sublime ride and hysterical characters that make it one of the most joyous gaming adventures I’ve ever had the absolute pleasure of experiencing.

~ Ace

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