While 2k has given us overflowing amounts of ballistic, barbaric explosions through our gun-toting vault hunters, the world we know as Pandora has another vault holding a treasure trove of storytelling. Telltale plans to unlock that vault in their genre-shifting addition to the series in Tales from the Borderlands. And while many skeptical Boarderlands fans waffle at the genre-changing addition, the PAX Prime demo comforts us that maybe exploring the history of Pandora naturally fits in a Telltale style.
The Tales from the Borderlands demo starts out with a tribute fitting the first five minutes of the original Borderlands. After a series of hysterically surprising, yet expected deaths, we finally meet Rhys and Vaughn, our first two Vault-hunting heroes of this new Telltale adventure.
Rhys and Vaughn are here, like all protagonists on Pandora, to search for The Vault and its untold riches, and they arrive in the town of Oasis to purchase a key from one of the locals, going over the head of their corporate asshole boss Vasquez.
Tales from the Borderlands plays well to its western tropes, a far cry from the noir-tinged haziness of The Wolf Among Us or the apocalyptic struggles of The Walking Dead. Rhys and Vaughn roll into the wrong town as city slickers, and things quickly shift to an awkward, one-sided shootout at high noon, where the player only stands any chance because Rhys summons a giant loaderbot to do all his dirty work for him -- a plan which still goes sideways when the dumb loaderbot needs player guidance to get anything done.
As the demo continued, Tales from the Borderlands played its hand, revealing the game’s specific focus of a key western motif -- the tall tale. By the demo’s finale, when the player’s first pivotal choices arrive, Rhys can decide to take the key by force, or, as the game describes it "blow the buyer’s mind." By choosing to blow his mind, Rhys gave the most charismatic, persuasive, mind-blowing argument he could come up with on the spot -- and then Fiona, the other player character, calls him out on his bullshit.
Because as it turns out, the story up to this point has been being recounted by Rhys to Fiona and an unnamed, helmeted man who don’t believe a word of it.
As Fiona explains how she saw the scene play out, the player suddenly has four choices to shift the direction of the story, instead of the two Telltale usually reserves for crucial plot points. And the choices are vastly different. My choice to let “The Vault Hunter [jump] in,” led Zero, the assassin from Borderlands 2 leaping through the window, with the demo abruptly ending thereafter.
But the other options were just as surprising. A second option featured a Psycho Bandit showing up without mention of Zero. This is because, as Telltale founder Kevin Bruner explained to me, they wanted Tales from the Borderlands to focus on the impromptu storytelling. “Making up the story as you go go is part of the game.”
Compared to the more gunplay-focused elements of the previous Borderlands, this new tall tale method of storytelling felt like a refreshing dynamic to examine Borderlands’ high-energy world. On a planet where most NPCs are introduced by telling zany, over-the-top tales to the player, engaging with these stories beyond bullets and laser gun fit more naturally inside of Gearbox’s world.
If you ever played The Walking Dead or The Wolf Among Us, you might be quick to point out that gameplay-wise, little changes between the two. Previously, The Wolf Among Us separated itself from The Walking Dead by calibrating its character interactions through the lens of the noir detective Bigby, and now Telltale shifts to the wild west for gonzo desert crazies and player-crafted tall tales meant to amuse and exaggerate.
Thanks to the new Borderlands addition, we can see a clear thematic identity for Telltale emerging that both defines and separates their games. Tales from the Borderlands mutually benefits the development of the Pandora narrative while also boosting Telltale’s repertoire with the signature Borderlands flare.
Telltale Games' Tales from The Borderlands has not announced a release date, but will be hitting Steam, Xbox One, Xbox 360, PS4, PS3, and PS Vita.