new tales from the borderlands

New Tales From The Borderlands Review – Tale As Old As Time

A new tale with an old feel...

It’s no secret that for a long stretch of the last console generation, Telltale Games and their brand of point-and-click adventure was a real mainstay in the zeitgeist. Of course, their fall is also well documented, but there’s no denying that, at the height of their powers, they told some tremendous stories that put player choice—or at least the illusion of it—at the heart of the experience. Tales from the Borderlands, through it all, reigned supreme as my favourite IP they tackled, and now Gearbox Quebec has resurrected the brand with a spiritual successor of their own making. 

New Tales from the Borderlands certainly recaptures the essence of what made the original enjoyable, and while it does circumvent some of the pitfalls that ultimately saw Telltale fail, it does careen headfirst into others.

new tales from the borderlands

As has always been the case, New Tales from the Borderlands is delivered across five roughly two-hour long episodes. Fortunately, all of the episodes are launching simultaneously, so there will be no poorly-cadenced release schedule for the season. The pacing felt a bit disjointed and for a Borderlands title, the game’s events felt less bombastic than I had expected. The finale, for example, for all of its reflective, existential ruminating, is a drag for much of its runtime. It has considerable heart and does manage to close out some character arcs in a satisfying manner, but it ultimately fell a bit short of the heights the original hit. 

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The lure of these ‘choose your own adventure’ games is the lure to return and explore the many narrative permutations but that lure simply isn’t there for me with New Tales. 

new tales from the borderlands

The three leads—Anu, her brother Octavio, and ‘fro yo’ slinger Fran—build up a fun camaraderie throughout the season, although I found their in-jokes to be very hit or miss. Louie, Octavio’s assassination bot of choice, is very much a tangential character and gets sidelined far too often. He’s absolutely the funniest part of New Tales, and never has a running gag about learning people’s full names dished up repeated yucks.

One thing New Tales does well is tie itself back to the franchise at large. Showing a small slice of life on Promethea, a slumly planet introduced in the series’ third mainline instalment, it really ramps up the conflict between Atlas and Tediore. Somehow, it feels like the most grounded Borderlands game of the lot, but it certainly has its moments of absurdity. 

Obviously, New Tales serves as Gearbox Quebec’s first venture into the genre Telltale lived and died by. Despite the opportunity to analyse where it stopped working for them and really carve out a unique interpretation on the well exhausted ideas we’re so used to, New Tales feels far too familiar and doesn’t manage to innovate at all on the genre’s tired concepts.

new tales from the borderlands

As you’d expect, the gameplay loop in New Tales is a balance of dialogue-heavy conversational pieces and free-roam areas where you’re able to explore, take in the environmental storytelling before arriving at the objective to push things along. I can’t fault the game’s ability to manufacture tension through the dialogue trees, throwing in a mix of scarily brief opportunities to respond and quick-time events, but the free-roam portions felt a bit like filler. They’re not exactly dense for lore to uncover, there’s a shit load of inexplicably ‘hidden’ cash money haphazardly stored in crates throughout the world, and the collectible Vaultlander figurines—despite being another very enjoyable recurring joke—weren’t exactly off the beaten path and felt like cheap busywork. Where settlements in Telltale’s The Walking Dead felt lived in and had lore in most corners, it doesn’t feel as though the same consideration went into the open areas of New Tales. 

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I did truly admire the team’s commitment to accessibility, which should be a standard and not something that requires lauding but until that’s the case I’ll continue to pay credit where it’s due. They’ve provided a wealth of options to make things more enjoyable for those who might struggle with quick-time events and quick-reflex inputs. 

new tales from the borderlands

New Tales absolutely nails the Borderlands aesthetic with the cel-shaded world, and the characters that inhabit it, standing out as one of the game’s real highlights. The presentation, as a whole, is pretty great. Each episode opens with an opening credits montage set to a playlist of banger rock tunes. It felt like a bit of a spiritual extension of that infamous first Borderlands trailer set to Cage the Elephant. One thing I’m thankful for is how well it runs. Obviously, it isn’t being funnelled through the Telltale engine—which got flogged to within an inch of its life for a generation without much iteration—but for it to hold a solid frame rate, render properly, and have swift loading times is a refreshing marvel in its own right.

Although New Tales does some things right, I can’t help but see it as a missed opportunity to really take the bull by the horns and create something that feels unique in this space. Instead, New Tales feels dated and of a time that’s now far gone. 

I expect fans will still glean a few belly laughs from it and ultimately rally around Louie, who absolutely needs his own spin-off.

new tales from the borderlands
Conclusion
New Tales from the Borderlands, as a spiritual successor to Telltale’s series, is a cavalcade of peaks and valleys. It expands on the franchise’s complex lore with a terrifically produced five-episode stint that will, for most, be a one-and-done experience that sadly fails to iterate on or improve the tired formula these types of games all rode into the ground.
Positives
Performs unexpectedly well
Louie is an all-timer Borderlands character
Accessibility options are pretty great
Does well to tie itself to the franchise at large
Negatives
Not nearly enough Louie
Doesn’t inspire an urge to explore unseen story beats
Fails to improve upon the ‘Telltale formula’
Pacing throughout feels a bit off
6.5
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