Review: Tales From The Borderlands – Episode 1: Zer0 Sum

REVIEW_INFO_BLWe’re only a few days away from the second chapter in Telltale’s collaboration with 2K Games, but is this series worth jumping into? Read on as Press-Start tells you a tale from the Borderlands, and answer the question wether this new part of the Borderlands universe is worth pursuing without its first-person shooter aspect.

NOTE: Due to the technical disparity between iterations of Telltale’s previous titles, the technical aspects of this review may not apply to all releases of Tales From The Borderlands.

Tales From The Borderlands – Episode 1: Zer0 Sum is available for purchase from Steam, PlayStation Network and Xbox Live. Season passes are also available. (Prices and availability may differ per territory and service.)

BANNER_STORYThe story of Tales From The Borderlands is told from two different perspectives, and has you play as the worker-gone-rogue Rhys, and the ever-so-badass con-artist Fiona. We begin our story as the characters are recalling prior events from their own unique perspective, which are explored throughout the episode.

Rhys is a young individual who has worked all his life working up the ranks at the Hyperion Corporation. Following the demise of an important character in the company’s hierarchy Rhys is ready to move up to the job he always wanted, but as some unforeseen circumstances arise Rhys is kicked back and must find an alternative way of getting the life he always wanted for himself and his allies. Accompanied by his comrad-in-crime Vaughn, Rhys goes on a quest to screw over his employers and live the dream as he originally intended.

SCREEN_BL_0004_Layer 1Our second protagonist is Fiona, a con-artist who was spent most of her life in the game with her sister Sasha, conning people all over Pandora. But every con-artist dreams of that one big score, and she and her partners team up to pull of a scam that could make them millions and set them for life.

But what does all of this have to do with each other, you ask? As the stories of our protagonists intertwine, Tales From The Borderlands hits full gear, and combines what we know and love about the franchise with Telltale’s stellar writing, which seem to blend together seamlessly. The key difference here is that Telltale’s iteration takes a little more time to explore its characters and events more thoroughly, which is to be expected considering the shift from a first-person-shooter to this kind of game. But whilst the writing may be a bit deeper, the original charm and feel of Borderlands are still fully present, and introduces us to both new and old characters, in both friendly and villainous roles.

SCREEN_BL_0000_Layer 5Whilst the characters are a bit more straightforward in this iteration, the humor in the dialogue and character interactions are still quite present, and in the 2 and a half hours I spent with this episode I can’t say I encountered any characters that I found enduringly annoying or badly-written, as even the weirdest characters had their charms and a solid place in the narrative of Zer0 Sum.

Zer0 Sum may be some of the best material that the Borderlands universe has had to offer so far, and the great dialogue combined with likeable and well-written characters make for a powerful start of a series that may become one of Telltale’s greatest if it keeps up this pace. The main conflict and callbacks to returning characters on Pandora are well-balanced, and Zer0’s return in particular make the first episode in the Tales From The Borderlands saga worth giving a shot. Returning players will without a doubt have a blast with the story in this episode, and even newcomers without any knowledge of the world of Borderlands will find themselves in for quite a ride. There may be a few jokes that are more easily spotted by returning players, but these are just as entertaining without their original context, which is a bit surprising.

BANNER_PRESENTATIONTelltale Games has always had a visual style of their own, but Tales From The Borderlands may be the furthest the studio has ever gone out of their comfort zone. Whilst Telltale’s classic style is as present as ever, it is heavily mixed with the visual cues that we’re accustomed to by the Borderlands franchise, cell-shading and all. Tales From The Borderlands may be the strongest title from the Telltale library visually so far, especially considering the visual fidelity the Xbox One version showcased on my 40-inch screen.

SCREEN_BL_0003_Layer 2Thanks to the visual style of the game rough edges and slightly blurred textures are more or less complimenting the artstyle, rather than forming any visual issues that would otherwise stick out like a sore thumb. The opening sequence of the game alone was a confirmation for me that Telltale did everything they could do mimic Gearbox’s visual design for the franchise, and they’ve successfully done so. Character and environmental models are quite detailed, and often over the top like the narrative for a story like this demands.

The game runs at a resolution of 1080p on current gen consoles, and my playthrough on Xbox One has been mostly fluid. Stuttering in Telltale titles isn’t unheard of, but I have to be honest when I say this was one of my smoothest experiences with one of their titles so far, especially considering their track record prior the PS4 and Xbox One when it comes to console ports. Model edges are pretty sharp, and all-in-all there isn’t much to criticise when it comes to this game’s graphical department. Tales From The Borderlands is a fine looking title, and the effort that the studio took in replicating the original art style of the franchise is pretty impressive.

BANNER_GAMEPLAYSimilarly to my Game of Thrones review, there isn’t a whole lot that can be said when it comes to the gameplay of their titles that differentiates it from its predecessors amongst Telltale’s seemingly-vast library. The main base of gameplay is pretty much identical to their other series, and consists of dialogue-based decisions and exploring the world around you to a certain extent. You choose the way that characters handle situations and the story is influenced by the decisions you make. This is done by simply selecting a response, though choosing an option isn’t always as easy as you might expect due to the weight of some of the decisions you are given. Tales From The Borderlands is slightly more lighthearted in this context though, but it does offer you some interesting predicaments to tackle as you move throughout the story. This doesn’t mean that the gameplay in this title is any less entertaining than Telltale’s other titles, as it might actually be one of their most fun titles in ages.

SCREEN_BL_0001_Layer 4Tales From The Borderlands does seem to rely a bit more on quick-time events throughout the episode. Whilst The Walking Dead, Game of Thrones and The Wolf Among Us had a decent amount of action, Tales From the Borderlands spends much more time with these mechanics during its longer action sequences, and some of them are quite unforgiving. During the more tense moments it might not be a smart idea to divide your attention, as these sequences are keen to keep you on your toes due to the small margin of error, which is actually a nice change of pace when it comes to the more dynamic sequences of the episode.

The game also introduces a currency system, which is a rather questionable addition. Money is obtained by performing certain actions throughout the story, but so far the actual use for currency is minimal, and it feels quite unnecessary unless Telltale is planning on extending the system further in future episodes, which is not exactly the most exciting idea they’ve come up with.