As a gamer I don’t think I have ever played a game that I would give a perfect 10/10 score to. Tales from the Borderlands comes really damn close however. If you have ever played a Telltale Games game – that makes sense right? – you will know just how good at telling a new story in an established universe they are. Before beginning this overview of the game I will warn you that there will be spoilers but only for my play through because of course your play through WILL differ.
In Tales from the Borderlands – which I will refer to as ‘TftB’ from this point on – you play as Rhys. He is a corporate player who works for Hyperion, the big bad company intent on ravaging Pandora for as much profit as possible. You begin the game on board the Helios Space Station orbiting above the planet. I found myself taking an immediate disliking to Rhys, he is a very cock-sure and arrogant business type who only cares about himself, willing to step on and even manipulate his best friend Vaughn to get what he wants. In the opening of the game it is a promotion that he is after. When he learns that it is Hugo Vasquez (voiced by Patrick Warburton) that got the job he was after he is not best pleased. We quickly discover that Vasquez got the job by having the previous owner of the office murdered and ejected into space.
While wondering what his next move should be Rhys overhears a conversation that Vasquez has on the phone. He is discussing a deal regarding a Vault Key. To those of you that don’t know a Vault Key is a key that opens a vault – duh! These vaults are located on Pandora and hold lots and lots of treasures. The keys are highly sort after and most people believe the vaults to be a myth.
Rhys and Vaughn acquire the funds needed to undercut the deal that Vasquez has made. They steal his car and head to the planet’s surface. They quickly run into trouble with Bandits and are forced to call in help, this comes in the form of Loader Bot. The decision making begins properly here and you get to select the weapons that he arrives with. I chose a Riot Shield and a Rocket Launcher. This was a great feature and seeing how he uses the other weapons available is reason enough alone to play this game again. Loader Bot gets overwhelmed with the amount of bandits that show up and although he protects Rhys and Vaughn, you now have a decision to make. Do you tell Loader Bot to flee and save himself or do you tell him to self-destruct, killing the bandits but also sacrificing himself at the same time. In my play through I told him to blow up. I didn’t realise at the time that this would cause repercussions throughout the entire game, it seemed like a very small insignificant choice. How wrong I was. It just showed me that every decision you make does mean something, no matter how small.
If you have ever played a Borderlands game you will know that the humour plays a huge part in the story, Telltale Games did not miss the a beat when delivering the punchlines and the extremely awkward situations that Rhys gets himself into are hilarious.
Rhys and Vaughn are now in the meeting with the current owners of the Vault Key – a rough looking character called August and his friend Sasha. During the meeting things get heated when Sasha doesn’t like the fact that it isn’t Vasquez that turns up, she backs away holding the Vault Key but then moves forward again when she see the money. August then starts saying that he’s got a feeling and wants to back out of the deal. Rhys now has a decision to make – Break his heart or Blow his mind – I picked the latter and the ensuing rambling speech that Rhys gives is absolutely hysterical.
In TftB you play as Fiona. That’s right! Two main characters! Boom! Sometimes I find games that try to introduce multiple playable characters completely miss the mark – a recent example of this would be Batman: Arkham Knight and the DLC of the game. Telltale of course, has done an amazing job. At this point in the game we jump back in time a little and meet Fiona who – along with her mentor Felix and her sister Sasha, that’s right the same Sasha as before! – have come up with a plan to sell a counterfeit Vault Key. Unlike with Rhys I found myself warming to Fiona right away. She has a very unique Steampunk look and also displays some very touching family values. Her introduction was very well done.
Although she cares a lot about her family it is also money that motivates Fiona, this is displayed when – on her way to deliver the fake vault key to August – she witnesses a man get attacked by Psychos, and one of the options was to take the money from his wallet. I chose this option. One thing to note is that Felix hands Fiona a gift – A very stylised Derringer hand gun that she hides up her sleeve, the catch. She only has one bullet.
While preparing for the con Fiona is told that the paint on the fake vault key is still wet, this becomes important when you have to fake out August. He goes to touch the Vault Key and you are given a decision to make – ‘Keep your cool’ or ‘grab his hand’. I decided to keep my cool and this seemed to pay off, all that happened was he ended up smearing wet paint on his own face. All went well and now we skip forward to the meeting. Fiona has to sneak inside to spy on proceedings and when she does you learn why Sasha reacted the way she did before, she tells Fiona and Felix over her radio that Rhys has cybernetic implants and so could be able to tell that the key is a fake. When she backed up with the key in her hand Fiona (the player (you)) plants an EMP device onto it. When I pressed the button the EMP activated and also disabled Rhys’ mechanical arm, causing him to drop the key and it to smash into multiple pieces.
In the confusion Bossanova – a truck driving badass – smashes through the wall, steals the briefcase full of money and then leaves. He is being pursued by Zer0 – a Vault Hunter and playable character from Borderlands 2. This felt great and having him show up was a great piece of fan service.
In the gunfight Fiona has the option to protect her sister by shooting August with her only bullet. I chose not to, and Fiona, Felix and Sasha escape and head back to their caravan. They return here to find Rhys and Vaughn trying to steal it. Rhys quickly finds himself knocked out and Vaughn reveals that he is able to track the stolen briefcase. Upon waking up Rhys has no choice but to work with Fiona & Sasha. They locate the money and so rush to the get there. This part of the story really focuses on the interaction between the two main characters; I don’t really want to get into the specifics of the choices that I made during this section as I don’t think my description will do the amazing story telling justice. Just know that the exchanges that Rhys and Fiona have are very funny and they both refuse to trust each other – see rubbish description.
The group arrive at what seems to be a huge arena and after coping the place out they find an entrance, they get split up though, Rhys and Sasha head into the underbelly of the arena whereas Fiona and Vaughn find themselves entered into the competition- which, by the way, can only be described as a Chariot race, to the death, with explosions. As the race the begins but in another part of the arena Rhys and Sasha spot the brief case. It is guarded by 2 psychos, Sasha shows off her combat skills and quickly dispatches the guard on her side. Rhys… errrrr not so much. He struggles with his guard and eventually uses his stun baton to knock him out. We now find out that Sasha is a bit of a weapons nut and asks to get a closer look at his baton – a small bit of foreshadowing here, winky face. I decided not to trust her and I do not let her look. ‘Sasha will remember that’.
The money suddenly starts to rise from the room and into the arena where it eventually ends up being collected by Bossanova who is hovering above the arena in a DJ Booth. No I am not making this up. Rhys and Sasha are brought into the arena too, they have to fight off multiple enemies and also dodge a large Skag. An interruption by Zer0 at this point causes Bossanova to drop the briefcase onto the Nascar-like race track and it is picked up by one of the Psycho Racers. This leads into one of the best action sequences in any video game I’ve played. Fiona and Vaughn are racing after the truck with the money and are trying their best to stay alive. This involves Fiona defending their chariot from the rear and Vaughn steering it from the front. The high octane soundtrack that goes along with this section is amazing and the quicktime events that you have to react to as Fiona are so brilliantly timed I kind of didn’t want this part to end.
As the race progresses Fiona and Vaughn finally get hold of the case and Felix now shows up in the caravan, he opens the door on the side and the last piece of action is having to jump across from one moving vehicle to another. This is when the most difficult decision you will have to make so far happens. At least in my opinion. Felix betrays you, he pulls a gun on you and wants to steal the money. In the struggle the caravan crashes and you get the following options: you can try to calm Felix down and win him over by talking about Sasha and family or you can shoot him. Although quite difficult I found the anger that I felt because of the betrayal lead my decision and I shot him. The case then exploded and the arena was showered in cash.
When the four characters converge in the middle of the arena they all discuss what has just happened- this moment feels particularly meaningful, more so for Fiona and Sasha who have basically both just lost their father. Remember Loader Bot? Well it turns out that he didn’t die and he shows up again, startles Rhys who then falls into a room just under the arena. It is in this room that the big reveal and cliff-hanger occurs. Rhys has had someone in his head the entire time – who? Handsome Jack.
I mentioned right at the beginning that this game was ‘almost perfect’. The one flaw with it is that you do really need to play Borderlands 1 and 2 to get a full understanding of the backstory. Unless you do you can’t fully appreciate the impact that this game has on the overarching Borderlands universe. Why does Hyperion want to ravage the Pandora? Where do the Vault Hunters come from? Who is Handsome Jack?*
If you’ve read this far you’ll be happy (or maybe not) to know that this overview has been of episode one of five for TftB. That’s right there are four more episodes for you to play and I strongly suggest that you do. In fact I have purposely left some of the decisions that you have to make out of this post so that you are still surprised when you do play this game.
Tales from the Borderlands is my absolute, without a doubt, hands-down, favourite game of 2015.