Upon its relatively recent reveal, New Tales from the Borderlands immediately drew me in with its familiar visuals and charm, what with the original Tales from the Borderlands being my favourite Telltale game to date. Developer Gearbox Software has picked up the franchise with confidence, retaining much of the wit and charm via general humour and likable protagonists. While broader gameplay leaves a lot to be desired in the long run, it’s admittedly hard to think that fans of the Borderlands franchise as a whole would pass this one up.
A Vault Hunting We Will Go
New Tales from the Borderlands leaves the characters of the original Tales from the Borderlands behind to follow the story of three new protagonists, each with their own distinct personalities and motivations. Although some of the original characters feature, the new narrative is certainly intent on establishing a new trio of staple characters within the Borderlands franchise. The first of our three protagonists is Anu, a happy-go-lucky scientist motivated by her inventive ambitions, followed by Anu’s adopted brother Octavio, both street-wise and charming, and finally Fran, the tough-as-nails yogurt shop owner. While I would have liked New Tales from the Borderlands to pick up from where the original had left off, I can appreciate the inclusions of certain returning characters like Rhys, who retain much of their initial charm and personality, while presenting newer layers that allow players to fill in the dots, with a greater understanding of the conclusions their adventures had inadvertently driven them to. Split over five 1-2 hour episodes, New Tales from the Borderlands spends most of its first episode establishing the backgrounds of each character, before the trio are inevitably drawn together, as the hunt for a new vault beckons and a war with weapons manufacturer Tediore breaks out on the planet of Promethea.
The five episodes are well-paced for the most part, and do an even better job at deepening the characters as we join them for the ride. The first Tales from the Borderlands may have initially drawn our protagonists together over rather simplistic ties like greed, which allowed us to gain a deeper understanding of character personalities deeper into the narrative. In New Tales from the Borderlands, the additional time spent with each character feels more genuine, as their stakes within the latest vault hunt are equally justified, luring players much earlier on into a place of emotional investment than the original ever did. The first four episodes are, for the most part, well-paced and exciting, providing a balanced blend of intense action and nuanced conversations. However, the fifth and final episode unfortunately slows things to a crawl.
Without spoiling the narrative, the final episode takes a step back in order to justify the intentions of each character separately, as opposed to rolling the natural character arcs into the general premise, bringing everyone onto the same page. Here, character resolutions feel forced, as if New Tales from the Borderlands has to justify the actions of its protagonists to eliminate you from reading into their arcs on a deeper level. But when all is said and done, New Tales from the Borderlands still exudes a sheen of charm and style, through engaging cell shaded visuals, a catchy soundtrack, unique character designs and generally great voice performances from our three main protagonists.
A Part to Play
From a gameplay perspective, New Tales from the Borderlands plays out almost exactly how you would expect; you’ll get the opportunity to play as all three characters, taking part in multipole choice conversations and quick time events, while exploring smaller areas of interest for clues and items. Both conversations and quick time events feel incredibly familiar, thanks to the same witty and nuanced writing that made the first game so likeable. The mix of conversational replies feels adequate, promoting a range of unique paths in which to lead each of the protagonists eventual outcomes and personalities.
Quick time events while serviceable, feel all too easy. They’re also wedged frequently into action scenes where they feel relatively expected and less challenging as a result. New Tales from the Borderlands now lets you roam about smaller areas in third-person to look for clues and items of interest. You’ll be able to dig deeper into the nooks and crannies of each environment at your own pace to inspect items of interest and find cash, which can then be used to purchase cosmetic character skins. While these portions are ultimately short-lived, they do provide a nice break from the longer cinematics and conversations that can sometimes feel like an interactive movie. And I believe that’s where the gameplay issues lie, not in their functionality, but in their placement, or lack thereof.
New Tales from the Borderlands might not break new ground for the franchise and genre as a whole, but respects the light-hearted charm that the original had presented. A new trio of likable characters paired with an engaging story that holds its weight for most of the runtime feels familiar yet refreshing, even if it falls off slightly towards the end in terms of pacing. Gameplay also feels familiar, while dialogue provides a wealth of options to take conversations in interesting directions all while shaping the personalities and consequences of each of the three protagonists. Other gameplay aspects like quick time events feel both easy and predictable, while smaller third-person portions break up the longer cinematic sequences that drive most of the narrative’s pacing. For as safe as New Tales from the Borderlands plays things at times, fans of the Telltale predecessor and Borderlands franchise alike will appreciate the sequel for its undeniable charm.
THREE AND A HALF STARS (OUT OF FIVE)
Highlights: Likeable protagonists; Quality writing; Engaging narrative
Lowlights: Drawn out final episode; Gameplay wears thin at times
Developer: Gearbox Software
Publisher: 2K Games
Platforms: PlayStation 5, PlayStation 4 Xbox Series X/S, Xbox One, Windows PC, Nintendo Switch
Review conducted on Windows PC via Steam with a pre-release code provided by the publisher.