Tales from the Borderlands was a bit of an enigma, a marvel of humour and wry storytelling set in a universe with a predisposition for violence. Although it didn’t feature the ‘billions of guns’ that its bullet-heavy counterparts, it was an episodic romp through the Borderlands universe that Gearbox birthed but that Telltale nailed, through five swift episodes, and with no right to at all.
It was after Borderlands 3’s development concluded that Gearbox began searching for new ways to explore their zany little world. Without Telltale around anymore to hitch their star franchise to, Gearbox Quebec took up the reins to produce New Tales from the Borderlands, a spiritual successor to Tales from the Borderlands.
That noise you hear is the beating of the Telltale heart, living on through the eyes of a studio who understands the assignment.
It’s immediate that off the bat the team had learned some lessons from many of the missteps that, for a time, sunk the masters of story-driven adventures. With all five episodes launching day and date, gone forever is the often months-long gulf between episodes.
New Tales certainly appears to be Gearbox’s own take on the well-worn Telltale formula, though it’s not a sequel to the story that introduced players to characters like Rhys and Fiona. Though it’ll feature a few familiar places and faces, New Tales will be home to a new story with a trio of new characters that’ll endear themselves to you through full-tilt chuckles, astonishingly relatable ineptitude, and amity.
“We consider this to be a standalone title, a spiritual successor to Tales that tells its own story,” said Frederic Scheubel, Producer. “We use Promethea as a backdrop for the story because it’s something familiar for fans.
“Where it fits in the canon is kind of to be determined based on what comes after, but it’s clearly set after Borderlands 3.”
Of the three leads, Anu (voiced by Michelle Rambharose) is the composed ‘straight woman’ of the comedy troupe. She’s entirely deadpan and seemingly resistant to her oafish brother Octavio’s (Diego Stredel) streetwise facade, which often plays the two off each other to great effect. Fran (Lucia Frangione), a handicapable, perhaps sociopathic, diner worker with a penchant for selling froghurt. Of the three, I’m a Fran stan.
During the team’s underground expedition through a dirty sewer system, I enjoyed plenty of laughs. I was, however, ensured by the team that New Tales has more to offer than the three leads.
Perhaps even the character most beloved internally.
“Louie is my go to guy,” said Scheubel. “I really think you’ll enjoy him.”
Though the gameplay didn’t give a full breadth of what to expect from New Tales, the team assured us that there’d be plenty of open, exploratory sequences to wander and absorb beyond the regular dialogue trees and choices.
“There are a lot of great free-walk sequences to explore throughout the game and we think it strikes a perfect balance between explorable areas and story-driven scenes,” said James Lopez, Gearbox Software’s Director of Production.
So while I wish I got a greater impression of how these sections might play out, because I did grow tired of them by the end of Telltale’s initial stint, I’m hopeful that a new team might find some fun and inventive ways to inject a bit of levity into what was once a tired concept. There was enough proof in the presentation I saw that I might get my wish.
Following a hilarious moment where Octavio is immediately found out choosing to take a stealth approach under a cardboard box à la Solid Snake, he battles valiantly against a Tediore troop in a fun, pseudo-boss battle. Their respective means of attack are their Vaultlander dolls, an in-world send up of toys-to-life Skylanders figures.
Given the developer’s focus on accessibility and keeping things simple enough, the mechanics seemed rather rudimentary. As the player collects and battles more of the figures, I do kind of hope there’s a bit of identity to each one otherwise one of the few shining lights in terms of actual involved gameplay might fast become yet another tired novelty.
I’m extremely eager to revisit the world of Borderlands, particularly through the lense of New Tales.
I’ve not often gelled with the ‘shoot, loot, shoot again’ life cycle of the mainline games, but I fell in love with the humour, the characters, and the inventive departures from the formulaic. Tales from the Borderlands felt like the best of all of these things, and it certainly would appear from the demo I got to watch that this team has a real handle on maintaining the original’s spirit.
The most refreshing thing is seeing Gearbox turn in-house to take yet another creative risk, after the success of Tiny Tina’s Wonderlands, with their biggest franchise. It’s through these repeated successes that the team feels as though they’ve got a licence to thrill.
“Do we feel emboldened to keep taking risks? Absolutely,” declares Lopez.
“It’s a little corny, but the mission statement at Gearbox is we’re trying to entertain the world, and we’re always looking at new ways to do that.”