The first of episode of Tales from the Borderlands delivers excellent storytelling, and continues to prove that Telltale’s The Walking Dead wasn’t a fluke.
Developer Telltale Games has been known for adapting television, movie, and comic book properties into their own style of a sort of interactive episodic TV show. With Tales from the Borderlands, they take on fellow developer Gearbox’s colorful world from the Borderlands series of first person shooters. It’s a match made in heaven, as Telltale brings the world of Pandora to life in a way not seen before.
The game puts you in the shoes of two different characters: Rhys, a down-on-his-luck middle manager at the evil Hyperion Corporation, and Fiona, a con artist and Pandora native.
Several storytelling tricks are used here to great effect as you switch between the two characters’ perspectives and get new insights on events you experienced as one or the other. The entire episode (and possibly the whole series) is framed as a story being told by the two protagonists. This introduces the opportunity for some unreliable narrators, and some pretty funny scenes as a result.
Overall, the tone of the episode is far more comedic and quirky than Telltale’s other recent offerings. You can tell they had a lot of fun with the storytelling here, and it fits in perfectly with Gearbox’s Borderlands games.
Rhys and Fiona are joined by their own supporting casts, from Rhys’ neurotic but useful friend Vaughn, to Fiona’s sister and partner-in-crime Sasha. And don’t forget by favorite character: Loader Bot. Already in this first episode, the group has established an excellent dynamic with some budding relationships starting to grow. Of course, that could depend on how you play the game.
As with all of Telltale’s adventure games, you follow the basic story path that every player does, but you get to color in what happens in your own way. Your Rhys could be a lot more ruthless and selfish than mine, who is an ambitious but decent and loyal man at heart. I also detected the possible start of some romantic tension between Rhys and Sasha, but maybe you avoided that in your playthrough.
In any case, the main plot of “Zer0 Sum” has plenty of twists and turns, starting out with an intriguing scheme and eventually leading to an excellent action-packed climax. The whole episode took me a little over two hours to complete, which I did in a single sitting.
You encounter a few familiar faces along the way, including the titular Zer0, one of the player characters from Borderlands 2. There are plenty of other nods to the main Borderlands games, including little cues to the UI from those games and the loot crates found around the world.
As in other Telltale games, the actual gameplay consists of selecting different dialogue options in conversations (many of which will influence how characters perceive you and treat you later on), and quick time events in the game’s action sequences. If you groan at the mention of QTE’s, have no fear. I didn’t find these ones unfair or difficult to pull off in the least. In fact, I don’t think I missed a single one in the whole playthrough.
Tales from the Borderlands looks great, with the comic book art style matching both Telltale’s The Walking Dead and The Wolf Among Us and Gearbox’s other Borderlands games. The only issues I had with the PlayStation 4 version of game at all were that it was at times a little buggy and the animations could get a little janky. It wasn’t anything bad enough to hurt the experience, but it was noticeable.
Overall, Telltale has done a great job here marrying their own storytelling style with the fun and zany world of Borderlands. With just the first episode, I’m already hooked. My next trip back to the Pandora can’t come soon enough!