Tales from the Borderlands: Episode One Review (Xbox One)

As with other Telltale games we’ll be reviewing these episodes without a score then completing a full review with score for the whole series once the last episode is out. It’s really good though!

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Telltale have hit onto a winning formula with their series-based adventure games. From The Walking Dead to Fables with The Wolf Among Us and now Borderlands, they’ve shown they have what it takes to craft something real special out of someone else’s licence with a product that doesn’t fit in to any easy categories. These are games, but they’re also interactive movies, they’re works of fiction in the most complimentary way possible. I can imagine someone just having a library of this kind of game on a tablet device and being satisfied with that, this is how groundbreaking they are. Of course like the Lego games there’s always the risk of the different titles feeling ‘samey’ after a while, and that’s something Telltale need to watch, but for now they’ve managed to differentiate each one with the care and attention they deserve.

Tales from the Borderlands is far more like a Borderlands game than any of us expected. We’re a little burnt out on the main series to be honest, with much less interest in Borderlands 2 and the DLC and giving up on the Pre Sequel after a couple of hours. The jokes feel old, the gameplay is stale and the few interesting characters there are have been so overplayed we’ve lost all interest in them. So it’s good to see that despite the menu looking exactly like a Borderlands game, and even the character introduction panes looking spot on, this is very much a Telltale production. Anthony Burch has been kept away from the writing and the world has been given a chance to shine with a fresh set of brains working on the dialogue. New characters are introduced and while a few familiar faces crop up (we won’t spoil them here) they’re welcome and unexpected and never outstay their welcome or threaten to steal the limelight.

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The two characters you play as couldn’t be more different from the outset. Rhys is a Hyperion lackey with a grudge, promised a promotion and bearing a surprisingly unresolved moral compass. Fiona is a crook with a heart of gold, a Pandora resident who is trying to make her living through cons and crimes. The framing for the whole story is that they’ve both been captured and are arguing about what really happened to get them there. For the most part you get to define their relationship, even if in true Telltale fashion you don’t really have a say in the events. There’s lots of choice and some failure-free QTEs (and some you can fail with depressingly unexciting cut-scenes for the failures) but you’ll be shepherded down roughly the same route no matter what you do. This is fine as it allows the writers to craft an entertaining story and you still feel ownership over your decisions and the way the characters justify their actions.

The music is outstanding and definitely worthy of mention. The Western twangs of slide guitars and the odd violin bring Firefly to mind more than anything and the occasional swell is enough to send shivers down your spine. This might not be as high in drama as The Walking Dead or as classy as The Wolf Among Us, but there’s a real sense of adventure and the soundscape helps enormously.

The story hurtles along at a great pace and with the action kept to a minimum we see Pandora in more intimate detail than we’re used to. You can really grow to care about the characters and enjoy the places because you’re not rushing through to get the next piece of loot. If anything this series is looking to make playing the mainstream games a lot more fun because Telltale have such a knack for showing you the fun side of a universe. The humour doesn’t always hit but when it’s subtle it’s great, with some brilliant physical comedy and voice acting that’s sure to raise a chuckle or two along the way.

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The only real negative about the first episode is the poor lip-synching. This might seem like a small deal but when the game is almost entirely dialogue-based it can be offputting to have the sound not match up to the visuals. Hopefully this’ll be improved as they get used to the art style and we can’t wait to play Episode 2. For now this is an easy entry to recommend and with it being available on so many platforms you really don’t have any excuses.

 

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