Whether it’s the Star Wars Universe or Harry Potter’s realm, fans of popular movies, stories, and games often write fan fiction as a form of entertainment. If you ever looked down on a fan fiction writer, go back and apologize because Tales from the Borderlands feels like it is shaping up to be the best fan fiction story I have ever come across, but in this case, I was able to experience it in a video game. What’s even better is I have only experienced the first part of it and there is so much opportunity for growth. Tales from the Borderlands is a joint venture between Telltale Games, the developer and publisher of the critically acclaimed The Walking Dead franchise and Gearbox Software, developer of the loot based shooting franchise, Borderlands.
While Telltale’s games are works of fiction that take place in a previously established universe, Tales from the Borderlands’ story feels like better writers took what the Borderlands’ games had to offer in terms of story and made dramatic improvements, giving me new appreciation for the source material. Coincidentally, Zer0 Sum, the first of the five episodes in this game, demonstrates that Telltale has made improvements to its own formula as well. Gamers who have played The Walking Dead or The Wolf Among Us will quickly notice that Tales from the Borderlands just feels different. While it is too early to say the writing in Zer0 Sum is better than the first episode in any of Telltale’s other series, I can easily say the story and the voice acting just feels bigger than anything the developer has ever done. Additionally, The Wolf Among Us had incredible sequences that did a good job of bringing action to a Telltale game, but in episode 1: Zer0 Sum, the developer has taken things up a notch in a smart way, putting players in situations where they have limited opportunities to use a weapon, making it feel like a precious commodity.
Tales from the Borderlands takes place after Borderlands 2 and puts players in the roles of two new characters, Rhys and Fiona. Rhys is an employee of the corrupt company Hyperion, and wants to be like Handsome Jack, and Fiona is a con-artist and citizen of the planet Pandora who is always looking for a big score. These locations are familiar to anyone who has played the Borderlands franchise, but it is important to mention that Zer0 Sum is obviously written so anyone can enjoy the game even if they are unfamiliar with the history. Less than ten minutes into this first episode Rhys and Fiona find themselves in dangerous situations and their paths cross in an interesting way. Through the use of flashbacks, the characters describe some of the issues they face in their adventure, and players get to choose dialogue while not being fully aware of what is going to be revealed in the story! This method of storytelling makes for an interesting use of a common plot device.
Graphically, Tales from the Borderlands has the wasteland look of a Borderlands game and the characters are drawn in a method that fits within that world. While Telltale usually does a superb job of capturing the environments of the source material, this might be their best effort. New characters are introduced with the same ridiculous show cards as Borderlands, and the over-the-top violence, which is customary for the series, is there as well. As a whole, the characters and the animations also look great, particularly on the Xbox One and Playstation 4. Technically, Zer0 Sum plays better than any Telltale episode before it. While the new generation versions of The Walking Dead have a tremendous amount of lag between sequences, I only noted one occurrence in the first episode of Tales from the Borderlands.
Tales from the Borderlands uses the Telltale Tool which means the majority of the gameplay is executed in conversation and decision-making. This continues to work in Zer0 Sum as the decisions players make for Rhys or Fiona can truly change the way characters view you moving forward and relationships can be built or broken in half. Tales from the Borderlands includes some new functionality as Rhys has the ability to scan objects and characters to find tidbits of information, and there is also a currency system. It is made incredibly clear in Zer0 Sum that money is hard to come by on Pandora; lying, cheating, stealing, and even scavenging the dead for currency is customary. As a negative, the benefits of having money were not as clear, and partway through the game I seemed to lose money inexplicably.
Overall, Zer0 Sum demonstrates the excellence of Telltale Games – not just utilize someone else’s source material and provide a good story, but expand upon what we know and love about the original franchise. Tales from the Borderlands was not as anticipated as some of the developers’ other titles, but if Zer0 Sum is any indication, by the end of these five episodes, Tales from the Borderlands could be the best body of work Telltale has ever done.
- + Interesting Characters
- + Engaging Story
- + Great “Action” Sequences
- – Currency system seems pointless