December 11, 2014 by Paul Curtin
When hearing the term “cel-shaded” used to describe a game, Borderlands and The Walking Dead are usually the first two franchises that come to mind. But aside from a similar art direction, the two don’t really share much else in common. In previous installments, Borderlands has always focused on being a fast-paced first-person shoot-and-loot, and as a result, the unique world of Pandora and the crazy characters who occupy it have never been fully realized… that is, until now. Never before has the world of Borderlands felt so alive.
The Walking Dead developer, Telltale Games, has taken the solid foundation Gearbox has built over the years and infused Borderlands with their own award-winning character-driven formula to create yet another gripping storyline full of interesting and memorable new characters. From the cel-shaded characters and locations to the music, colors, font choices, and sense of humor, everything feels exactly like previous Borderlands games – and in some ways looks even better.
Tales’ story focuses on two never-before-seen protagonists, Rhys and Fiona, both taking turns recounting how they first met during a heist gone awry. Rhys (voiced flawlessly by Troy Baker as usual) works for the Hyperion Corporation, one of the chief weapons manufacturers on Pandora whose CEO, Handsome Jack, was the main villain in Borderlands 2. Being an elitist who lives high up above the grimey world of Pandora in Hyperion’s space station, Rhys pictures himself as a silver-tongued corporate devil – think Sterling Archer, but with a mechanical right arm and eye implant that helps get him out of jams. Fiona (also voiced flawlessly by industry vet Lara Bailey) on the other hand has been raised into a life of crime and is looking for that one big score to get her out of Pandora’s seedy underbelly.
In typical Telltale fashion, you as the player get to decide how the characters react under certain situations and in doing so are able to shape their personalities. Do you want the character you’re playing as to take the money off a man you just saw murdered right in front of you or let him rest in peace? Will you get revenge on the ones who betray you or try to salvage what little relationship you have left with them before it’s too late? For the most part, it’s up to the player to determine how likeable or despicable these new characters can be.
With two narrators of the story, these choices you’ll make throughout the course of Episode 1’s two-hour campaign also directly change how major events unfold. With Rhys telling his story first, the second half of Zer0 Sum switches to Fiona, where she’s able to point out which parts he’s embellishing when recalling her own version that’s more grounded in reality. But it’s not just Baker and Bailey who bring this story to life; Tales features even more memorable old and new character appearances who are voiced by other voice-acting vets like Nolan North, Patrick Warburton, and Chris Hardwick.
After so many serious games, Telltale is finally getting their chance to have some fun with Borderlands, and they’re certainly not wasting it. The pacing in Tales is much faster than in previous Telltale games. Scenes that they would usually drag out for more dramatic effect have been cut down to make more room for the action. And don’t worry, the sharp quick-witted writing and humor you would expect in a Borderlands game is still present and doesn’t skip a beat. Without giving away too many of the jokes, I’ll just say that I will name my first born Loader Bot… probably not…
If you’re a hardcore Borderlands fan expecting this to satisfy more of your FPS gear-grinding needs, then this is not the game for you. Like other Telltale games, there’s not much here in terms of shooting, and most of the chaotic action sequences restrict the user to a single flick of the controller in one direction to move and dodge incoming threats while aiming to pick up nearby items or frantically tapping a single button. Telltale has introduced some interesting new features like Rhys’ ability to scan objects with his eye and reveal hidden secrets and inside jokes – most of which require knowledge of previous Borderlands games to fully appreciate. And there’s also loot and a currency system, but in its current state, both play too small of a role and are a bit of a letdown. Considering this is the first in the series, there’s sure to be more uses for these new mechanics in the future that give hope for a bigger payoff.
So far, Tales of the Borderlands is exactly what you would except if you’ve ever seen Borderlands and one of Telltale’s previous games and imagined what a mash-up of the two would be like. Borderlands fans who are looking for a pure shooter might be slightly let down to find how most of the action and loot scavenging has been replaced with conversations between characters and quick time events, but those looking to dive deeper into the unique world of Pandora will not be disappointed. Telltale clearly knows what they’re doing, and they’re giving the franchise exactly what it’s needed for some time: better storytelling and character development. Tales from the Borderlands: Episode 1 – Zer0 Sum gets 4.5 out of 5 stars (Amazing).
- Gripping new story
- Memorable new characters
- Exciting action sequences
- Feels like Borderlands
- Currency and loot a bit of a letdown
- Typical Telltale minor tech issues