One of my biggest draws with the online Borderlands series is its sense of humour. I had some good laughs while playing, but Borderlands jokes were like a shotgun blast where some hit and others didn’t. That’s okay in bursts, but shotgun blasts after shotgun blasts can get tiresome. Telltale Games’ take on this universe, Tales From The Borderlands, rectifies this by providing a more nuanced and subtle take on humor throughout the franchise’s circuit. It has become one of my favorite Borderlands games, with a great story and memorable characters.
I’m happy to report Gearbox’s adoption of that formula in New Tales From The Borderlands preserving that sense of humor with a dramatically improved visual style better suited to later entries in the series. It also has a memorable cast – I wanted more of them. Unfortunately, however, the entire package is marred by a lackluster overall story that lacks cohesion, and I wish Gearbox gave these characters a better story to live within.
New Tales From The Borderlands features some familiar faces and names with Tales From The Borderlands’ Rhys, who is now the CEO of gun maker Atlas and other major corporations like Maliwan and Tediore. Most of the game takes place on Promethea, which Borderlands 3 players should realize.
Selfless but selfish introvert scientist Anu teams up with her adopted street-smart brother Octavio, his LOU13 assassination bot, and Fran’s Frogurt owner Fran. Together, they aim to protect Promethea from Tediore’s invasion, protect a hidden treasure, and ultimately, attempt to create and change the world with a gun-proof device. The story sets this up pretty well in the first episode of this five-part saga, and I’m excited to see where it goes. But just a few hours later, I felt confused.
Without spoiling anything, the story bounces between seemingly random subplots that feel less important than the main conflict. At one point, I was desperate to avoid a Tediore invasion. Then an hour later, I’m on a Shark Tank-like game show to showcase Anu’s gear to investors. And then my primary concern seems to be to open a business amid the ruins of the ongoing Tediore invasion. I wanted more of the world-saving story that the first episode set, but the side beats and steps along the way were more distracting and loosely coupled than anything else.
The story ends beautifully, with a sweet moment of a bow at the top, and by the time the credits are over, I’m excited to experience what this character team has been through. . I just wish the whole game had the coherence I felt in the first and last episodes.
Story aside, New Tales From The Borderlands features four of my new favorite characters in this universe. Anu is funny and quirky in the classic way of a self-inquiring scientist, and some late-game revelations add depth to her personality which I appreciate. Octavio plays great, and I’ve had a lot of fun figuring out his “cool” style with my picks. Fran is a sexually confident middle-aged woman who sets aside tact in favor of bluntly telling people, “we should be bones.” She feels like the most classic Borderlands character – with some fart jokes (admittedly one of these made me laugh a lot).
LOU13 is my favorite, though. His cryptic humor and journey out of the parameters of the assassination program kept me smiling all the way. Each character shines in their own ways when isolated, but together, my favorite conversations of the entire game took place, leaving each one at odds with the others in their own unique ways. .
Of course, the success of these moments comes down to Gearbox’s excellent character writing and the choices the game makes for me at both the trivial and important moments in the story. I could set Fran up with a big power game about a remark when captured by the Tediore, or I could ask her to answer questions by making fart noises. I enjoyed crafting my roles for each of these characters, and Gearbox, like Telltale, excels in that.
Most disappearing are Telltale messages “this person will remember”. This is a nice touch in theory, as it removes that gambled element from the formula and allows players to live with their choices without knowing how they affect the story. However, in reality, I missed them. Without these tips, save for a few random things that happen without explanation, I feel like I’ve lost touch with agency. Sure, I’m making the choices I want, but I’ve been trying to piece together how my actions affect the better story. Immediate reactions are available; it’s easy to tell if Octavio doesn’t like what Anu says, for example. But exactly how my actions changed the broader story remains a mystery. I’ve been guessing throughout, but I wonder if Decision X leads to Consequence Y.
I’m also unimpressed with what I’m doing when I don’t choose dialogue options. The game starts with swiping left, right, up or down, or pressing a button, crushing it repeatedly, or holding it down. Occasionally, you can walk around a small area looking for money or talk to the locals, but these didn’t do much for me. This kind of adventure play was the norm years ago at the height of Telltale’s development, but now it seems stale and I want more variety.
The occasional mini-games, such as a turn-based JRPG parody, or another where I had to hack my computer by clearing the NSFW spam on the screen, helped in that respect, but I still wanted to. more than that.
Vaultlanders, a minigame that appears several times in each episode, is a fun minifigure-based fighting game but only for the first few times. There are Vaultlander characters to collect in each episode, and each character has their own stats and abilities, but that doesn’t matter much. I never struggled to defeat an enemy and never worried about my abilities or stats. That’s because playing involves unintentionally spamming the attack button and sometimes dodging by swiping in one direction when an enemy attacks. Like all minigames, this one can be completely ignored, but I was eager to find the purpose to put it in the game and play through each one. Unfortunately, I didn’t find the purpose, and these quickly became quick annoyances that I had to deal with when I just wanted to get back to the story.
However, by the time my 10-hour journey in New Tales From The Borderlands is over, I’m glad I experienced it. There’s good to it, but sometimes it’s cluttered with outdated mechanics that make you feel more compelled because Telltale made them in the previous game rather than being essential to enjoying. The cast is excellent, and as a character-driven experience, this game excels. I just wish Gearbox supported them with a story as powerful as the ones in their personal arc.
In the end, New Tales From The Borderlands feels the same way, and fans of the first season will likely enjoy this, but it’s been almost eight years since that first installment, and I want more evolution.