CAAAATCH A RIIIDE! Last week, Telltale’s comedy adventure Tales from the Borderlands released their mid-point episode of the season. I have been busier than normal lately (busy meaning binge watching Seinfeld on Hulu), so I just managed to play it last night. Thrills, hilarity, and excitement are there in spades, as well as a few familiar faces.
WARNING: Spoilers follow. Scroll down to “final thoughts” for less spoilery talk, or just buy the episode and come back. It’s five bucks, for crying out loud.
Telltale Games has been on a roll lately. With a handful of successful seasons of games under their belt, they have been shaping up to be at the forefront of interactive storytelling. They’ve had a trend of working on two games at a time with season 2 of The Walking Dead and season 1 of The Wolf Among Us. This time, we are getting two seemingly polar opposites in tone — the much more serious and morose Game of Thrones, and the pure zaniness of Tales from the Borderlands.
Each of Telltale’s recent games have been hugely enjoyable games. You get quite a variety of storytelling with their tone-shifting, choose-your-own-adventure content. While I love most of the episodes of these games I’ve played, Tales from the Borderlands may be a contender for my favorite of Telltale’s games.
They just nail Borderlands’ sometimes serious, most times silly, all times extreme tone. I don’t know how much time and energy Gearbox has devoted to helping Telltale make Tales feel like Borderlands, but they just keep consistently hitting the mark. Some of our favorite characters from the series show up, but it is never in an obtrusive sense like Game of Thrones struggles with sometimes. When a legendary Vault Hunter, shows up, you can tell that things are about to get exciting.
Athena plays a larger role in this story than in previous episodes. This development of her character, and her interactions with Fiona in particular that make me want to go back and play Borderlands: The Pre-Sequel. I never got to play the Pre-Sequel, since it came out right around the time I was getting my Xbox One, and I have yet to purchase The Handsome Collection. I have every intention of playing it, but playing this makes me want to do it even more.
Athena spends the episode training Fiona in the ways of the Vault Hunter — increasing her weapon’s effectiveness, teaching her how to focus, and just giving her more confidence. Fiona really grew in big ways this time around, and a lot of it was with the help of the Atlas-hating, shield throwing assassin that it turns out was hired by Felix to teach her and Sasha how to survive.
Things start off with a bang, as you have to escape the clutches of Vasquez and August. You activate the adorable GORTYS, a little Atlas robot who knows how to find The Vault of the Traveler. Amidst all of the rabble and confusion, Vaughn gets hit with a paralysis dart, and is hilariously frozen in place for a great deal of the episode.
We also meet Vallory, August’s mother and leader of the bandits in search of the Vault’s ancient treasure and knowledge. She is an enormous, angry woman who is incensed that the deal with August fell through. Things take a surprising turn as she blows Vasquez away with no hesitation. I was completely taken off guard by this, as I was assuming that Vasquez was going to be the primary antagonist of the game. That’s what I get for making assumptions. Vallory is much more imposing and unpredictable, and it makes for a much more exciting villain. I was happy for her inclusion.
The side characters are what help make Tales from the Borderlands more fun and interesting. I didn’t mind Vaughn’s paralytic silence, because in turn we got more interaction between Loader Bot and GORTYS, who could carry the season on their own, easily. I loved that they cast Ashley Johnson for the little Atlas Robot. Ashley Johnson is obviously better known for her portrayal of Ellie in The Last of Us. Now we get to hear her play off of Troy Baker once again, albeit in hugely different circumstances. I was a little surprised, as I could have sworn that GORTYS was Melissa Hutchison at first. It wouldn’t be that out there. Telltale has a tendency to use voice actors for several games, which I love. You’ve got your Dave Fennoy, and Adam Harrington, and Erin Yvette all playing pretty prominent parts — voice actors who have been in nearly all of Telltale’s latest series. It’s also cool to see them bringing in new talent as well. It helps to keep things fresh.
The team has to travel to an old Atlas facility to upgrade GORTYS enough to pinpoint the Vault’s location. The decrepit location was mostly abandoned, but also willed with dense and mysterious plant life that was luminescent. There was also an old Atlas scientist setting up shop on the base. He kept his identity secret to try and avoid getting murdered by the vengeful Athena. More on that in a bit.
Rhys and Sasha get some time alone when trying to shut down the facility’s old security system. You can choose to try and pursue some romantic flirtation with her, which my version of Rhys jumped at the opportunity for. Fiona and Rhys always feel at odds, but Sasha always is the more goofy of the two sisters. Her personality meshes quite well with my not-so-serious style of Rhys.
That’s what I love about games that incorporate player agency. I don’t play my characters exactly how any other person does. This gives you more options for having a unique experience you can enjoy on a personal level. Not all games can boast that claim.
Athena is bringing up Fiona to badass status. More and more, she is getting extensive combat experience, even unlocking a cool ability she has to focus and make quick decisions in battle. It makes her sequences all the more interesting. I honestly can’t tell which protagonist I like more as the story unfolds.
Things get crazy (or should I say berserk) when Athena realizes the stranger works for Atlas. Just as she’s about to stab the guy to death, none other than Brick himself bursts directly through the wall and tackles Athena. That’s when all hell breaks loose. Vallory has tracked you and your friends to the Atlas base, and has commissioned the service of legendary Vault Hunters Brick and Mordecai to take you down.
I won’t spoil everything, but I will say things get really entertaining and action packed. Your characters don’t necessarily come out on top, which makes things begin to look a little unsavory. Brick and Mordecai drag the wounded Athena to what I assume is Sanctuary and you are left behind with Vallory. It was interesting to see some of my favorite Borderlands characters on a competitive side of the conflict. Vault Hunters have never really been considered heroes, but they always felt so when guided by your own hands. I can’t fault Brick and Mordecai. It’s just business, after all.
The episode concludes when GORTYS reveals to Vallory the location of the Vault of the Traveler — which turns out to be none other than Helios, Hyperion’s lunar headquarters. This should make things interesting when the next episode comes out, especially when we see what happens with Rhys and Handsome Jack. Will Rhys end up becoming the new head of Hyperion? Only time will tell!
Tales from the Borderlands has quickly become one of my favorite Telltale entries to date, and Catch a Ride only further cements that. New friendships develop as we learn more about our central characters. New adversaries reveal themselves on the board. Things crash. Stuff gets shot. Mayhem ensues. Tales from the Borderlands lies in it’s character and charisma, as well as it’s unique narration from it’s unreliable narrators. The game makes me want for these characters to appear in other Borderlands games, as we are learning much more about them than we ever did in Gearbox’s original series. I’ll intently await the next episode.
What’s Good: Alternate costumes, Fiona’s increasing badassness, Loader Bot and GORTYS
What’s Not-so-good: Framerate drops and texture pop-ins Telltale is infamous for
What’d you think about Episode 3? Have any theories about the man in the mask? Sound off in the comments below. Thanks for reading!