Tales from the Borderlands (Xbox One) Review

By Albert Lichi 14.04.2022

Review for Tales from the Borderlands on Xbox One

Tell Tale Games established a model for episodic adventure games that emphasized on cinematic story telling. Each game usually got about five episodes to tell an overarching story where decisions and actions determined by the player would nudge the outcome towards a specific direction. This was made possible thanks to the developer's cheaply made game engine that allowed episodes to be made quickly and below the line. This would have been a great system if only the studio did not drive itself bankrupt from the excessive costs of the licenses they acquired to make their games. While some of these stories were hits or misses, one of Tell Tale Games' more ambitious and creative episodic adventures is based on the first-person looter-shooter franchise: Borderlands. How did this outlandish mixture turn out to be a delicious concoction? Find out in the review of the Xbox One version of Tales from the Borderlands.

Calling Tales from the Borderlands a video game is generous. Like many of the narrative driven adventures, the bulk of the gameplay revolves around making decisions for characters which branches out towards other scenarios. Once in a while there will be a few quick-time events and very brief moments of directly controlling the protagonists in an enclosed area where they are able to examine a few points of interest. There is minimal control over the actions and users participate more like a director than being a player in the story's events.

Depending on expectations, this can be enjoyable or an utter bore. Fans of the Borderlands series who are used to the rootn' tootn' and point'n shootn' with lootn' will have to prepare themselves for an experience where most of the action is a cutscene or a very basic QTE. Fiona and Rhys are protagonists who are not like any of the vault hunters that the series is known for. Fiona is a con-artist who has gotten by thanks to her quick wits and panache for ripping people off; she is not a warrior. Rhys is a corporate shill who has spent his career as a white-collar guy, who happens to have some minor cybernetic implants that make him a gifted hacker; he is not much of a fighter either.

Screenshot for Tales from the Borderlands on Xbox One

The story plays out with both Fiona and Rhys giving their versions of the events that transpired up to their current predicament; as they are both being taken prisoner by a mysterious masked bounty hunter. Fiona and Rhys are both sarcastic and flippant jerks to each other, but may still harbour feelings for one another. As unreliable narrators who both tend to interrupt one another as the story unfolds, the question of what actually happened is left up to the imagination of the viewer. It ultimately is irrelevant, since the tone of Tales from the Borderlands is very absurd and often self-referential and the antics that the gamer experiences may as well be as true as anything else on Pandora.

Rhys and Fiona are not alone in their western style adventure; they meet many characters along the way. Some happen to be familiar faces to fans of the series and others are completely new, yet feel very consistent with the established style of the franchise. Vaughn is Rhys' co-worker, a high-strung geeky accountant who stays unusually fit and undergoes a surprising character arc over the story's events. Sasha is Fiona's younger sister; a sexy tomboy who is very close to being an authentic Borderlands-style vault hunter, thanks to her love for guns.

Screenshot for Tales from the Borderlands on Xbox One

Other supporting characters like Loader Bot and Handsome Jack become regular and pivotal characters as the narrative develops. There are many surprising and clever twists that Tales from the Borderlands devises by using the established canon of the franchise. The story may be like a wild western style adventure, but the heart is still rooted in science fiction and comedy. The seeds planted by players in earlier episodes that get paid off much later are excellently executed. Results usually range from hilarious to jaw-dropping; it can be satisfying to guide Rhys and Sasha into an adorable relationship, or to stress Fiona's loyalty to her friends. The stakes feel earned thanks to a careful balance of comedy and drama.

It becomes easy to care about the characters because of how well written and acted they are. While most gamers are no stranger to the likes of Troy Baker and Laura Bailey; in Tales from the Borderlands, they play characters that are carrying the story 100% of the time. Because there is no dissonance of what the player may force them to do, like in an open-world action game, they are always in character. The only thing holding them back is the utterly lack-lustre animation and lack of expression the models have.

Screenshot for Tales from the Borderlands on Xbox One

Sadly, Tales from the Borderlands is still using the same game engine that Tell Tale Games has been using for over a decade now and it is pushed to its absolute limit. If one is squinting, the stiff animation and vague expressions might get by. However, the overall presentation won't immerse anyone. Pandora looks as if Borderlands was made on PlayStation 2 specs. Texture resolution is woefully low and the background assets are very simple geometry. The style of these games always aimed for a rough and sketchy, comic book, pen and ink look and on Xbox One, the line work looks smudged and jagged. Sadly, none of the assets have been improved from the older versions. The environments had to be made fast and cheap to accommodate the episodic release schedule and the result is a world that never feels convincing. Thankfully, this release model is a thing of the past and narrative adventure games usually release as one complete title.

Tales from the Borderlands may not look like much, but it is the most ambitious story that Tell Tale Games has managed to craft. The scope is impressively epic with many environments and awesome action scenes that are expertly choreographed. The intros for each episode also make excellent use of licensed music to set the tone and also make for a visually stimulating mini-music video. There was a lot of effort put into the cinematics to make them as visually stimulating as possible and it makes Tales from the Borderlands stand out from their other tie-in adventure games.

Screenshot for Tales from the Borderlands on Xbox One

Cubed3 Rating

7/10
Rated 7 out of 10

Very Good - Bronze Award

Rated 7 out of 10

Tales from the Borderlands's visuals have aged poorly and the animation quality won't impress anyone, but the centre of the experience is the characters and story. Coming into this and expecting a traditional Borderlands experience will only lead to disappointment. This is enjoyable for people who have never played any Borderlands title, or for fans of the setting who want to see the universe get further fleshed out. The sense of humour is still intact, for better and for worse: it can be a bit exhausting for every character to be a snarky and sarcastic rogue, but at least they do have heart where it counts.

Developer

Telltale Games

Publisher

2K

Genre

Action Adventure

Players

1

C3 Score

Rated $score out of 10  7/10

Reader Score

Rated $score out of 10  0 (0 Votes)

European release date Out now   North America release date Out now   Japan release date Out now   Australian release date Out now   

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