Game Review | Tales from the Borderlands | Season 1 | Overview
Season Summary: Corporate stooge Rhys, and Con woman Fiona team up to discover the secret of an alien vault on the dangerous planet Pandora. (IMDb)
*** SPOILER ALERT – Do not read any further if you don’t want any spoilers ***
In comparison to the highs of The Walking Dead and The Wolf Among Us, Tales from the Borderlands has to go down as at least a bit of a disappointment. There’s certainly a lot that works and it’s often very funny – a trick many games can’t achieve – but the series too often disappoints to match up to Telltale's best.
The game looks pretty good for the most part, with some sections taking advantage of the sci-fi setting to really go all out with the environment design and provide some genuinely beautiful images. The characters all have pretty good designs too, but the animation means they don’t move as well as they look like they should.
I wasn’t keen on the voice-acting at first, but the performances do improve as the episodes go by, with the performers presumably much more comfortable in the roles after a settling-in period. The music is pretty great too, with some excellently-chosen tracks for the title credit sequences.
However, this is a game, so the usual complaint of Telltale randomly throwing a control system at you that seems to conflict with the on-screen action crops up yet again. The only time I will ever grant an exception for this is during the big battle in the finale. It’s set-up to be controlled like an arcade fighter, so it’s only fitting that the controls deviate from the usual there.
Setting things up does seem to be a problem with this particular series though, with a lot of characters disappearing, re-appearing or even being killed off just because that was what the story required rather than for any meaningful purpose. I will just add the caveat though, that with games like these where you can change what scenes you see due to your choices, that what was anti-climactic in my play-through may unfold differently in yours.
Of course, this then leads to the question of why you’d design a game that could potentially be unsatisfying and underwhelming if the player doesn’t make the ‘right’ choices. The scope feels a little too wide and trimming away a subplot/character or two could have really made the whole thing feel much better.
Then again, with this being a licenced property from another developer and being kept in continuity with the main Borderlands games, maybe it wasn’t possible for Telltale to really do that and certain characters and storylines were included at Gearbox’s request?
Regardless, the whole thing feels a little deflating in the end. There’s undoubtedly a lot of good in Tales from the Borderlands, although it does get shakier as the season progresses and you end up just having to put up with the mediocre sections and hoping that the next fun bit comes along soon.
It’s interesting to compare this title with something like Life is Strange rather than the other TellTale games. I want to play Life is Strange again, despite the fact that I don’t really like a lot of the characters because the game takes too long setting them up for what is a fantastic second half of the season.
Tales from the Borderlands is pretty much the exact opposite: I really like the characters and the world they inhabit, but the shaky end to the season means I don’t really want to play through it again, but maybe selected episodes instead.
And that ending? It should have been left at the fade to white when Rhys and Fiona open the Vault chest. Showing the empty Vault, with the pair presumably teleported somewhere means we don’t get any real closure for the story and feels far too forced a set-up for a second season.