March 26, 2015 | by John
Tales from the Borderlands Episodes 1 and 2 Impressions (PS3)
A tale worth telling

Since The Walking Dead, Telltale’s been in a bit of a rut. Their games were successful, but most of their releases were serious in tone. As someone who prefers comedy to drama, I was itching for Telltale to reach back into their humor well and produce something on the level of Strong Bad’s Cool Game for Attractive People or Sam and Max for a few years now. Thankfully, Tales from the Borderlands is just that! I never expected to gel with this world after playing the original Borderlands for only a few hours and never touching the sequels, but somehow, it worked. I loved the first two episodes of Tales from the Borderlands, and I’m anxiously awaiting the rest of the season.

Tales’ story is split between two “heroes”. Rhys, an employee at Hyperion who seems to somehow be both high up and low rank at the same time, and Fiona, a con artist who works with her guardian and her sister to nab loot by tricking August (a black market dealer that Fiona’s sister is dating) into selling a fake vault key. Rhys tries to screw his boss over by buying the key himself and fails spectacularly, trapping himself and his friend Vaughn on the infamous planet of Pandora. Fiona’s scheme crosses wires with Rhys’ and eventually the two are forced to combine their teams just to survive. Both Rhys and Fiona are telling this story to a person holding them hostage, so even though things are pretty bad throughout the story, they must REALLY mess up to be held at gunpoint by a gas-masked stranger for the duration of their flashback.

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The story blends and folds together neatly. I love how Rhys and Fiona can’t help but screw each other over at any given moment, not because they explicitly hate each other, but on instinct. Rhys being a salaryman means he feels superior to any Pandorian he meets, while Fiona and her sister Sasha immediately distrust Rhys and Vaughn even though the two are planning to swindle the boys immediately after they meet. Due to a few mishaps that I’d rather not spoil, the duos decide to team up, which allows for some great character work and some damn funny scenes. One of my favorite moments with Rhys and Fiona is the guard-knock out scene, where poor Rhys has no idea how to handle defeating a lackey that Fiona takes out with ease. The “opposites attract” story is as old as time, but Tales does it well, and its jokes are quick and smart.

Action and shooting is the backbone of Borderlands, and Tales still has that in spades. Combat has improved even further compared to The Wolf Among Us, and while it’s not perfect, I felt in control of any action scene I was in. There were a few scenes where I misread the “you’re being threatened, so you need to shoot” message as a potential action tree, which is more my fault than anything. Fiona has a one shot pistol on her at all times, and there’s a scene in episode two where she reloads it if you used the shot an episode before. I was planning on saving that ammo for any major conflicts I may run into, but almost immediately after, a scene comes up that has you pointing the gun at a man. I thought you could maybe wait it out and escape through other means, but you get shot if you don’t shoot. I was too busy thinking about saving my inventory, I didn’t bother to use my weapon on someone threatening me. I guess I’m not violent enough to survive on Pandora, eh?

Tales is jam packed with Borderlands mythos, going as far as incorporating the main villain of Borderlands 2, Handsome Jack, into the mix. As I mentioned before, I’ve never touched 2, so Jack is a completely new character to me, as is Zer0 (who shows up in episode one), and Athena, an assassin from the Pre-Sequel. I wouldn’t call these character appearances “cameos”, as they’re vital to the plot, but I never felt like I had to have previous knowledge of them. Jack got mentioned in passing multiple times before he shows up (as a hologram, mind you. Tales takes place after Borderlands 2 and Handsome Jack is *spoilers* dead as a doornail), so once he does appear it’s a big shock. Everyone gawks at how cool Zer0 is, and Athena showing up is considered a death sentence for the characters she chases after. There’s even room for ol’ Scooter to show up and assist you in catching a ride. Tales uses its world intelligently without alienating those who have never bothered with first person shooting.

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My only big complaint is the PS3 version of the game being exactly what you expect from Telltale. It’s hitchy, stuttery, and a bit aggravating. I can play the game fine, and I hear all the jokes, but sometimes I hear the jokes twice as the game sputters around a corner or I see a glimpse of Vaughn’s innards (or lack thereof) after a quick camera pan. Last gen console versions of Telltale games are still lacking and I hope if you go for a PC version of this game if you buy it.

Based on the first two episodes, Tales from the Borderlands is a welcome addition to the Telltale pantheon. There’s really great jokes, an engaging story, and hell, it’s making me want to pick up that Handsome Collection just to hang out on Pandora a bit longer. The beginning of episode two starts with Marcus the narrator mentioning how long it’s been between episodes with a snide “It’s been awhile, eh? Be patient!” Sorry, Marcus, it’s hard to be patient when the series so far has been this good.

John Michonski is Video Game Choo Choo's Editor in Chief. He's a fun man who likes to do good.

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