New Tales From The Borderlands: A Review – A Tale as Old as Time

It’s no secret that Telltale Games and their type of point-and-click adventure were hugely popular for a significant portion of the previous console generation. Their decline is likewise well documented, but nobody can argue that when they were at the top of their game, they told fantastic stories that made player agency (or the appearance of agency) central to the experience.

Through it all, Tales from the Borderlands has been my favorite IP that Gearbox Quebec has worked on, and now they have revived the brand with a spiritual sequel of their own making. Despite avoiding some of the problems that led to Telltale’s demise, New Tales from the Borderlands nonetheless careens headfirst into others.

Five approximately two-hour episodes make up a new season of New Tales from the Borderlands, as has always been the case. A good thing is that all of the episodes are premiering at the same time, so there won’t be any awkwardly spaced-out broadcasts during the season. The game’s events didn’t feel as grandiose as I would have liked for a Borderlands game, and the pacing was a little choppy.

For example, the conclusion, with all of its introspective, existential musings, is a slog. Although it has a lot of heart and ties up some loose ends in terms of the characters, it doesn’t quite live up to the standards set by the original.

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These choose-your-own-adventure games usually have me coming back to see what happens next, but I just couldn’t bring myself to do that with New Tales.

The season progresses with a nice camaraderie between the three main characters, Anu, her brother Octavio, and fro-yo vendor Fran, even though I didn’t always get their in-jokes. Octavio’s preferred assassination bot, Louie, is a minor player who is frequently overlooked. Never once has a continuing gag about him learning people’s complete names served up repeated laughs; he is, without a doubt, the funniest aspect of New Tales.

New Tales does a good job of connecting itself to the larger franchise. It greatly amps up the antagonism between Atlas and Tediore by showcasing a small slice of life on Promethea, a thin planet introduced in the third core installment of the series. Despite having its share of outlandish moments, this Borderlands game manages to feel the most realistic of the bunch.

New Tales is Gearbox Quebec’s first foray into the interactive storytelling genre that made Telltale so successful. New Tales feels too similar and doesn’t manage to innovate at all on the genre’s stale notions, despite the potential to evaluate where it stopped working for them and carve out a distinct version of the well-exhausted ideas we’re so used to.

The gameplay loop in New Tales is, as you might imagine, a mix of conversation-heavy portions and free-roam areas where you can wander and soak in the environmental storytelling before arriving at the objective to progress the plot. While the game succeeds admirably at building suspense through its dialogue trees by incorporating a variety of frighteningly brief opportunities to react and quick-time events, I found the free-roam sections to be a tad tedious.

Despite being another entertaining recurrent joke, the collected Vaultlander figurines weren’t exactly off the beaten road and felt like cheap busywork, and there is a shitload of mysteriously ‘hidden’ cash packed haphazardly in crates across the globe. Whereas the towns in Telltale’s The Walking Dead felt lived in and had lore around most corners, the wide spaces in New Tales don’t seem to have received the same attention.

Until accessibility becomes the norm rather than the exception, I will continue to give praise where it is due, and I must say that I am quite impressed by the team’s efforts in this area. For players who have trouble keeping up with fast-paced situations and demanding input requirements, they’ve included a plethora of customization options to make the experience more satisfying.

The cel-shaded world of New Tales and the characters that live in it are some of the game’s best features, and they do a fantastic job at emulating the style of Borderlands. To sum up, the presentation is excellent. At the beginning of each episode is a montage of opening credits set to a variety of hard rock anthems.

Using this song made me think of that initial Borderlands trailer set to Cage the Elephant’s music; it was almost like a spiritual sequel to that trailer. I appreciate how smoothly everything operates.

The fact that it manages to keep a steady frame rate, render properly, and have rapid loading times despite not being processed through the Telltale engine (which was beaten to within an inch of its life for a generation without many iterations) is impressive in and of itself.

Despite New Tales’ merits, I can’t help but feel that it squanders a chance to produce something truly groundbreaking in this genre. Instead, New Tales seems out of place and stuck in the past.

Fans will probably get a few good chuckles out of it, and they’ll probably end up supporting Louie, who deserves his show.