Kevin Mitchell on December 2, 2014

Tales from the Borderlands: Episode 1 – Zer0 Sum Review

Although it seems like an odd pairing between two widely different game companies, Tales from the Borderlands isn’t the first time Telltale Games and Gearbox Software have worked together on a project. The fan-favorite, crass talking robot Claptrap from theBorderlands series was featured as one character in Poker Night 2. With an almost infinite mythos to explore, Gearbox has allowed Telltale Games to craft a story in the Borderlands universe that doesn’t need to focus on the vault hunters from all previous Borderlands titles.

Unlike the tales told in The Walking Dead and The Wolf Among Us, Tales from the Borderlands won’t be an emotionally somber roller coaster. Much like the mainstay Borderlands titles, expect an action-filled adventure from start to finish. At first, I was timid to think how the off-the-wall shooter elements and humor from Borderlands would translate into a point-and-click adventure game. However, after the two and a half hour long first episode entitled Zer0 Sum, I was hooked. There is very little downtime in-between sequences with even the longer, more engaging conversations (only a couple take longer than a few minutes) have a sense of urgency to them.

Borderlands games are about shooting and looting and Tales from the Borderlands features both of these key elements, although in a slightly different manner. While the main character won’t be picking up a weapon, aiming down the sights and pulling off head shots, you do have some unique tools at your disposal. As Rhys (one of the protagonists), a disgruntled employee of Hyperion, you are screwed out of a promotion by a rival colleague voiced by Patrick Warburton. Overhearing a conversation about a Vault Key, you head down to Pandora with the intent to buy it for yourself.

During one action sequence, local bandits and Psychos don’t take kindly to the fact you are from Hyperion, so you order a Loader Bot to launch additional firepower to the surface. After choosing a load out, you are given control of the weapon systems, allowing you to gun down countless enemies in gruesome and comical fashions. In the same process, you’ll be focusing on dodging and attacking while Rhys attempts to escape using the analog sticks to swipe in the same direction as the on-screen indicators. The commands are quite similar to those in the previous Telltale games, blending analog stick movement with precise button commands and the occasional mashing. Playing through the episode on PC, I thankfully didn’t experience any stuttering during these sequences. This was a concern as the PlayStation 3 version of The Walking Dead stuttered on every sequence.

Rhys isn’t the only protagonist in the game and half way through the episode, you switch to control of con artist Fiona. The narrative, at least for the first episode, is present in medias res as both characters have been captured by an unknown assailant and forced to tell their side of the whole ordeal. While both of the characters have a detailed background, it is up to the player on how they develop throughout the course of the game. Rhys isn’t a fan favorite to the supporting cast due to his connection with Hyperion, but the dialogue choices allow you to either flex your superior muscle or try and relate to them and come across more genuine. I took the latter approach, mentioning how Hyperion screwed him as well to come across sympathetic. I will revel at the right moment to turn him against the rest of the characters. Rhys also has cybernetic implants, allowing him to hack his way through security systems, as well as gather background information on almost any object in the environment.

The same type of choices apply to Fiona, and some of the choices I made had me thinking how this may affect the upcoming episodes. I don’t want to dig any deeper into the story to avoid any possible spoilers, but the very first major decision in the game has a major impact later on in the episode. While in previous games you had a degree of openness to the protagonists based on your dialogue choices, Tales from the Borderlands almost feels like a blank slate, given you the ability to develop the characters as you see fit and not just make the occasional decision.

Tales from the Borderlands is a crowning achievement to the art style that Telltale uses in seemingly all of their games. The bright color palette and cel-shaded appearance lends itself well to the Borderlands series. It’s not only the best looking Telltales game to date, it also runs smoother than my experience with both The Walking Dead and The Wolf Among Us. The strong written narrative and witty dialog are highlighted through some of the best voice actors and actresses in the industry, including Troy Baker, Nolan North, Laura Bailey and the aforementioned Patrick Warburton.

Simply Put

After playing the first episode for Tales from the Borderlands, I feel more excited and anxious for the next episode to hit than their other games. It’s almost scary how well the Borderlands franchise translated into the style of game Telltale is well-known for.

Note: The Tales from the Borderlands: Episode 1 – Zer0 Sum review was written based on a digital PC version of the game.

Tales from the Borderlands

Tales from the Borderlands: Episode 1 – Zer0 Sum 9
Action-packed episode with excellent pacing
Feels like a Borderlands in almost every aspect
More control over how the characters will develop
Spending currency on a mask felt pointless