Tales From The Borderlands: Telltale’s Formula Fits Perfectly

The E3 demo for Tales From The Borderlands proved one thing beyond a doubt: Telltale can totally pull off Borderlands.

Of the myriad hilarious games released in the last few years, Borderlands 2 might be the most consistently funny and genuinely witty. (Sorry, Saints Row, you know I love you!) That’s a big pair of shoes to fill, especially for Telltale Games, a studio known more for creating powerful, often touching dramatic stories. But whew, the first 40 minutes or so of Tales From The Borderlands, shown to journalists at E3 in a hands-off demo, demonstrated handily that the game is going to feel like Borderlands just as much as it plays like Telltale.

Those of you who’ve played The Walking Dead or Fables: The Wolf Among Us, hardly need to have the basic idea behind Tales From The Borderlands explained to you. It’s a licensed property, in this case Gearbox Software’s Borderlands series, storified and narrative choice-ized. Your choices will impact the direction and outcome of the story, a story that will unfold over 5 episodes released every couple of months. If you’re a fan of Telltale Games, then your enjoyment or, at least, your willingness to give it a go sight unseen is guaranteed.

On the other hand, if you’re a diehard Borderlands 2 fan who sees “Telltale Games” next to the word “Borderlands” and starts to worry you’re in for a very bad marriage, rest assured you couldn’t be further from the truth. While Telltale could never hope to capture the essence of Borderlands gameplay – how could you possibly pull off a first person shooter in a point and click story game? – what it has done is perfectly captured the essence of Borderlands writing. Hilarious, bleak, cynical and a tad bit heartwarming, it’s everything you’d expect a story from the Borderlands universe to be. And best of all, for the first time it offers a perspective different from the series’ protagonist Vault Hunters.

Tales From The Borderlands manages the trick of being Borderlands without playing like a Borderlands game by telling a Rashomon story, and giving the player control over both competing versions of the tale. Starting approximately a year or so after the end of Borderlands 2, the game begins as two failed vault hunters – a former(?) Hyperion Corporation middle management douche named Rhyss, and his former partner, a grifter named Fiona – are summoned under amusing false pretenses by one of Pandora’s seemingly limitless supply of crazy masked badasses. The masked badass is looking for a vault key and seems to think the two of them know where he can find it. So it is that he demands they tell him what happened when they went looking for it.

As seen during the demo, the story first puts the player in control of Rhyss. We skip back in time to one year earlier to find Rhyss, still at Hyperion as the company is the the midst of a massive grab for power in the wake of Handsome Jack’s assassination at the end of Borderlands 2. Rhyss had, we learn, been angling for a promotion to “Vice President of Securities and Propaganda”, but was pushed aside by his new boss, an oily corporate tool named Vasquez (voiced, by the by, by Patrick Warburton).

The scene begins as Vasquez delivers a lecture to Rhyss about why he (Rhyss) failed where Vasquez succeeded that includes some absolutely priceless dialogue. One example: “Same reason why north is north, women can’t be CEOs, and every spaceship looks like a cock. It’s destiny.” Lecture concluded, Vasquez takes a phone call and begins to haggle with someone over the price of something. We learn here that Rhyss has a cybernetic arm and eye, which he uses to determine that Vasquez is trying to buy a vault key.

Rhyss enlists two coworkers – an accountant and a coder – who also feel a little screwed over by the state of things at Hyperion, to help him embezzle a million dollars from the company, with which he’ll buy the vault key before Vasquez can. With the accountant in tow, he heads down to Pandora to make the deal. Standard-issue Pandoran psychopathy ensues, albeit wrapped in a “city mouse goes to the country” shell. I’ll leave the details for you to find out when you play for yourself, but suffice to say things don’t go as planned, and Fiona has a very different take on the events than Rhyss does.

What really stood out during the demo is the way the Borderlands universe turns out to be really suited for a Telltale game. The jokes were rapid fire, characters were series-accurate sociopaths and monsters, and it was, surprisingly, as action packed as it’s possible to get in a point and click game. Even combat, never Telltale’s strong suit, at least looked like a lot of fun. Granted, controlling a Hyperion Loaderbot flinging missiles at bandits is easier than trying to fight off zombies, or so I assume.

It’s difficult to go into too much more detail without spoiling key plot details that you’ll probably want to experience for yourself, so I’ll just repeat that it looks and feels like Borderlands, even if it plays like Telltale. For those of you clamoring for more Borderlands, this is going to do the trick.

Additional thoughts:

  • Fans of what you spend 50% of any Borderlands game doing will be happy to know that loot will be a significant part of gameplay, though how wasn’t revealed during the demo. Telltale plans an announcement sometime this summer.
  • Nolan North appears in the game as August, the man selling the vault key.
  • Having the main character be an affluent corporate climber instead of a soldiering badass allows meta-commentary on the idea of a death world like Pandora, and the people who would choose to live there. Sample dialogue: “Does every animal on this planet have to look like a giant monster?!”
  • “I will name my firstborn… loaderbot. Well, probably not.”
  • The Vault Hunters from Borderlands 2 are confirmed to appear in the game, though how and when they do so will be determined by the choices you make during your playthrough.
  • There is a short sequence set in a museum dedicated to people from previous games who were killed. During the demo, we saw Captain Flynt (the first real boss of Borderlands 2), Professor Nakayama (the big boss of Sir Hammerlock’s Big Game Hunt DLC), and Shade, the sole resident of the town of Oasis from Captain Scarlett and Her Pirate’s Booty DLC. Weirdly, Telltale would not confirm if Shade is actually dead, so expect this to matter.

You can keep up to date with all the E3 news over on our E3 channel.

Ross Lincoln is senior editor of Comics and Cosplay at The Escapist. Find more of his GameFront work here, his Escapist work here, and follow him and Game Front on Twitter: @rossalincoln and @gamefrontcom.

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3 Comments on Tales From The Borderlands: Telltale’s Formula Fits Perfectly

Bob

On June 17, 2014 at 7:37 am

Ross You seemed surprised they can pull off comedy you do realise that they have done mostly comedy based games in their career

Ross Lincoln

On June 17, 2014 at 11:50 am

I’m PLEASANTLY surprised they can pull off the kind of biting, cynical wackadoodle humor of Borderlands. FWIW I’m not a fan of their earlier comedic games.

Franklin

On June 17, 2014 at 7:28 pm

Borderlands has humour but certainly not “biting, cynical wackadoodle”, more of a generic cynical satire that comes from an expected pop influenced writing style that the sequel produced the humour held little to no surprise, especially is you were familiar with the writer and various other internet celebrities of the like.