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New Tales from the Borderlands Review

The fact that New Tales from the Borderlands exists at all warms my heart, considering that it had to defy the death of Telltale Games to do so. The original 2014 episodic adventure grabbed me with its excellent writing, sharp sense of humor, and likable main characters in Fiona and Rhys. While the unconnected, full-game-in-one-box follow-up gets a lot of things right, its attempts to flesh out the Telltale formula – not to mention the runtime – bog down what is otherwise a funny romp on a new planet with a new cast of anti-heroes.

What I like most about New Tales from the Borderlands are its three new protagonists: the prudish, know-it-all scientist Anu; her street-smart, fame-chasing adopted brother Octavio; and the rageaholic frozen yogurt shop owner Fran. L0u13 (“Louie”), a killbot who starts to question the purpose of his one-note existence di lui and gets a lot of laughs by the time the end credits roll, is also along for the ride in a non-playable role. New Tales was handled by Borderlands developer Gearbox itself in the wake of Telltale’s demise, but the quality of its characters and their humor is fairly consistent.

The group starts out on their respective individual paths but is quickly brought together by, in typical Borderlands fashion, a Vault, its treasure, and an evil corporation. And the first 80% of New Tales does a rather good job of mimicking what made the first Tales game so great: silly humor delivered admirably by talented motion capture and voice actors, cartoonish violence, and separate but interweaving plotlines. And like Vaughn and Claptrap before them, some of the side characters you meet along the way supply some of the most memorable moments, notably the nameless, action-figure-obsessed Tediore corporate soldier, the codependent talking gun Brock, and the ex-Psycho fittingly named Stapleface. You’ll have plenty of chances to throw zingers and one-liners at everyone, be they friend or foe, and your four dialogue options in each exchange are always appealing enough to make it tough to quickly choose just one.

You’ll have plenty of chances to throw zingers and one-liners at everyone, be they friend or foe.


That said, playing New Tales as a full, non-episodic game really highlights why the Telltale-style adventure works best episodically: it’s ideally consumed in small doses. To New Tales’s credit, it gives you every opportunity to play it that way, with breaks between its five 1-2-hour episodes that show how your choices compare to other players, just like in Telltale’s original. Within each episode, though, actual gameplay is almost comically minimal, which will be familiar to Telltale veterans. There are no puzzles to speak of; you’re mostly just watching cutscenes and performing the occasional quick-time event – though I do have to give props to the excellent music video montage-style sequences that happen in each episode. Sure, your controller is down, but they’re a fun and refreshing way to break up the large swaths of QTE’s and dialogue trees.

New Tales tries to give your hands more to do by occasionally letting you wander around a scene, examining objects and opening crates for cash that you’ll never be able to spend all of on the cache of cosmetic character skins, or participate in minigames such as hacking or the Vaultlander action-figure fights. These activities are a nice diversion on paper, but they’re all laughably simple. I’m not sure you could fail one if you tried, and while that in and of itself isn’t unforgivable, there’s also no better reward for acing these sequences instead of simply passing them.

But where New Tales really does drop the ball is in its final episode, none of which I’ll show here for spoiler reasons. I have no complaints about the pacing or character development in episodes 1-4, but the finale not only overstays its welcome – with a drawn-out fixation on painstakingly dragging each of the three protagonists through a journey of self-discovery – it also careens the plot off a cliff of sci-fi stupidity that seems misplaced even in Borderlands’s anything-goes universe. In short, the story gets really hokey at the end – regardless of which ending your choices lead you to – killing the momentum it had carefully built through its first four episodes. It’s a real “it’s the journey, not the destination” kind of situation.

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