New Tales From The Borderlands
From 2014 to 2015, Telltale Games would release Tales From The Borderlands, a game that was a cog in the Telltale Games machine. During the mid-2010s, the "episodic" narrative genre took gaming by storm, coincidentally including Square Enix's Life Is Strange. While the latter blossomed into a multimedia success story, the opposite rang true for Telltale Games. Despite their success in turning several IPs, including The Walking Dead and Minecraft into successful episode stories, the company folded in 2018. Four years later, New Tales From The Borderlands would release.
I was there when the game was announced as the final reveal during the Gearbox Showcase at PAX East. Randy Pitchford himself teased a "special announcement" at the end of the showcase much to everyone's surprise, knowing the fate of Telltale Games. The rights to Tales From The Borderlands were purchased and a new game was being developed during the pandemic. With a release date slated for Autumn, almost all of the fans were waiting in anticipation for the day to arrive. It has arrived, and as expected, it has been met with polarizing reviews.
Obviously, Telltale Games weren't the writers this time around, but some of its former staff were hired as consultants. A doctor in interactive writing was brought in as the lead writer as well. Those on board with the development were fans of the Tales From The Borderlands game and wanted to try their best at making their own narrative Borderlands game. The reason why I am careful in describing New TFTB as a "sequel," because Gearbox even announced the game as anything but. It's not TFTB "Season 2," it's not even "TFTB 2," it's a spiritual successor to the original.
I haven't played the original but I did my research as a cross-reference before starting the game. For those who have purchased the Deluxe Edition, the original Tales From The Borderlands is included to get players up to speed with Rhys. The same Rhys before he became CEO of Atlas, who is the employer of Anu. Anu is one of the three playable characters and the one that players begin the game with. While the player doesn't need to have played the other games in the series, New TFTB assumed you know some things about the world much like Tiny Tina Wonderlands.
Moving forward there will be spoilers for Episode 1 so if you wish to skip to the end, I'll say this much. New Tales From The Borderlands gives the "looter-shooter" life. There's an interesting diverse cast of characters who all play a role in fighting for their livelihood. It shows that no matter the genre, the world of Borderlands is a very beautiful land to explore. Now, to explain why you need to know about this world beforehand.
For example, Anu has created a
gun device that mirrors the phase-shifting powers of the Sirens. Her coworker, Phuong, teases her by saying that she was influenced by her favorite Siren, Lilith. Lilith is arguably the Borderlands franchise's "central character," so it wouldn't be uncommon for her to have fans. In order to power the device, Anu needs to look for ore. It is here that her goggles come into play, where she can scan objectives to look for potential locations for the ore.
You can find money in a safe, find pieces of information about the animals Anu let loose earlier, or even scan your partner much to her distress. Eventually, it's revealed the ore is in the toolbox but before Anu can celebrate, she is summoned to Rhys's chambers to explain herself for letting go of the animals. At this point, your choices in dialogue don't matter too much but if you make unprovoked decisions like throwing your friend under the bus, she will not let it go throughout the chapter.
Already on the verge of letting Anu go for letting the animals run free (I suppose this is an ongoing thing...), Anu demonstrates the device for Rhys. Depending on what the player chooses, you can transport various important items including a photo of Rhys's love interest from Tales From The Borderlands. However, when it's clear that she has no way of returning the transported item back, Rhys fires her. It is here that the scene changes to the second protagonist, Octavio.
Octavio is a street "smart" kid living on Prometheus who has a run-in with an assassination robot named LOU13 (pronounced Louie). The latter wants Octavio to help him with a hit and no matter the response, Octavio agrees to go with him. The hit is someone who is a skag abuser, so that's enough reason to put two shells in his brain I guess. Getting the person out isn't difficult but depending on your actions, it may be a clean hit or a messy one. Regardless, LOU13 gives Octavio his share and they go join his friends for tacos.
Lastly, there's Fran, the owner of a Frozen Yogurt shop whose latest attack in the city obliterated half of her shop. She also has extreme anger issues, largely stemming from the gaping hole in her shop, but also for other reasons. Despite this, she makes a pretty cool frozen yogurt. It's time to explain how QTEs work in this game as there are "three types." One type will require the player to press and hold a button, another means pressing the correct one, and one to move out of the way of danger. While it seems you can't fail a QTE, how characters perceive you are determined by your success.
A cool callback for those who played Borderlands 3 is the appearance of Lor, a regular at Fran's frogurt shop. In Borderlands 3, Lor was originally Lorelei, a non-binary who was male-leaning. In a sort of a "where are they now," Lor's appearance and his name change suggest his transition. This was confirmed in an "in-universe" interview with Fran that can be read here.
Another fun fact, Lor's voice actor, Ciaran Strange, is also a non-binary trans man who just recently (like, as of the time this gets posted) announced that he voices the voice of young Denji in Chainsaw Man. A huge congrats to him and his achievements.
All three characters are tied to each other more than the player initially realizes. Anu and Octavio are siblings who appear to be going through a rough patch. However, Anu cares for her younger brother deeply, and overhearing an invasion of his town is enough for her to take an escape pod to where he's at. Octavio, after meeting up with his friends and finding the taco stand owner's pet, Juniper, also finds out about this via hacking a nearby radio. Fran is the employer of Octavio who works part-time at her store. It is also the location of the game's first fight with a rowdy customer high on sugar.
There are many things going on at once and everything is in real time, which makes the pacing of the game consistent. There are sections where the player can roam around and find money, talk to NPCs, and find collectibles. Most of the time spent will be within cutscenes doing the occasional QTE. I cannot believe that this was a cause of criticism considering it's not a Borderlands title. There are no "looting" and "shooting," unless you're aiming at a target.
Depending on your choices and your scavenging skills, you will earn quite a bit of money that you can spend on different costumes. The costumes in typical Borderlands fashion are cosmetic and are reskinned colors. While I'm not sure if there are other ways to spend your money, bragging rights are bragging rights. Sometimes you just want to wear a gaudy leopard coat or a bright red outfit to match your thrusters.
After several shootouts from Octavio and saving a Psycho woman from getting executed via Anu later, the episode ends with the trio reuniting after an explosive finale. In the end, you get a rating system depending on if you chose dialogue that benefited the relationships among the three characters. You are also compared to other players depending on if you left the angry customer as a block of ice or if you shattered him Sub-Zero style.
The story so far is okay as I always felt the Borderlands world was ripe with more narratives. You aren't a Siren, a muscle man, or someone who can dress up as other imposters. You're an everyday man, a scientist, and a working-class woman. You are the little guys and when it's done right, unlike The Breakers, it feels refreshing. New Tales From The Borderlands left a lasting first impression on me and with a total of five episodes, I'm curious to see how my thoughts are by the end of it.
New Tales From The Borderlands is available on the PC, Nintendo Switch, PlayStation 5, PlayStation 4, Xbox One, and Xbox Series X/S