New Tales From the Borderlands review: a worthy Telltale revival

lou13 from new tales from the borderlands' key art

New Tales From the Borderlands

MSRP $39.99

“New Tales from the Borderlands’ story, characters, and visuals trump a lack of genre innovation.”

Pros

  • Hilarious story
  • Relatable and well-acted characters
  • Movie-quality cinematography

Cons

  • Minimal gameplay
  • No formula innovations

Telltale Games, the developer that helped define the choice-driven narrative adventure game, shut down unexpectedly four years ago. Now, we’re starting to see follow-ups to some of the titles that put Telltale on the map, as multiple companies (including one also named Telltale Games) try to carry on the former developer’s legacy. The first of these games to release is the aptly named New Tales from the Borderlands, a successor to the narrative-driven Borderlands spinoff released between November 2014 and October 2015. While it wasn’t one of its most successful games, the original Tales from the Borderlands was one of Telltale’s best games due to excellent comedic writing and a memorable cast of characters. Now, Gearbox Montreal is trying to continue the series itself.

While New Tales from the Borderlands focuses on a cast of mostly new characters, some former Telltale developers who worked on the original came on board to bring the sequel to life. The end result is a safe, but worthy successor to one of Telltale’s finest works.

Motley crude

Though a couple known characters like Rhys reappear in supporting roles, New Tales from the Borderlands mostly follow three new characters. Anu is an Atlas scientist trying to make a device with the powers of a Siren. Her brother, Octavio, is trying to get rich quick on the surface of the planet Promethea — and consistently failing. And Fran is a froyo shop owner struggling to get by and deal with her anger. Their designs and quirky personalities all fit right in with the eclectic cast of Borderlands’ main characters, and their respective voice actors all do a fantastic job bringing them to life.

It’s a solid narrative that grapples with sibling relationships, how corporations tend to destroy more than they create, and why people choose the do the right thing.

The story begins in a way that mirrors the original Tales from the Borderlands, with Anu running from the major corporation where she works. This isn’t a The Force Awakens situation where the entire plot mirrors that of its predecessor. For example, Anu is fired, not demoted, and escapes the Atlas space station after it is attacked by a rival company called Tediore that is also invading Promethea. From there, Anu eventually meets up with Octavio and Fran, finds a mysterious crystal with healing properties in a Vault, and tries to change the world for the better and take down Tediore with it.

It’s a solid narrative that grapples with sibling relationships, how corporations tend to destroy more than they create, and why people choose the do the right thing. In typical Telltale fashion, the middle of the story drags as the characters and story spun their wheels in the third of the game’s five chapters. Still, there are tons of great character and story beats in the last few chapters that more than make up for it — and we get the entire game at once this time around rather than dished out episodically. Anu, Octavio, and Fran are all relatable in their own ways, which kept me invested … even when they’d drop a clunker of a joke.

new tales from the borderlands anu staring at the camera
Gearbox Software

This is still a Borderlands game, even if it trades in shooting for narrative decision-making, so there are a lot of violent and crude gags along the way. Not all of the jokes land — the subtler ones tended to be what made me laugh the most — but I was never put off from playing because of bad writing. Unless you outright hate Borderlands’ humor (which some people do), you’ll find something funny to chuckle at in New Tales from the Borderlands.

New Tales from the Borderlands risked ruining this series by focusing on a completely different set of characters and not really following up its predecessor at all. Thankfully, Gearbox Montreal proves that the Borderlands universe is still full of unique and interesting stories to tell, whether it does so in a first-person shooter or narrative adventure game format.

Utilizing Telltale’s tools

By the time the studio shut down in 2018, Telltale’s games had settled into a standardized formula that was getting old. Its games shuffle between cinematic confrontations and conversations where players are occasionally presented with four-option choices, quick-time events, and adventure game-like segments where players can walk around and investigate small open areas. New Tales From The Borderlands doesn’t do too much to deviate from that formula. In fact, it deemphasizes much of the gameplay. Segments where players walk around often boil down to a couple of obvious object interactions and button presses that are even simpler than in Telltale’s older titles.

I’d recommend New Tales from the Borderlands to fans of the original and those yearning for a very traditional Telltale-like experience.

Hacking and gun-slapping minigames can even be skipped entirely. The Vaultlanders dueling minigame tries to add some depth to the gameplay with its figurine battles, but it just consists of mashing a button and dodging when a quick-time event pops up. New Tales from the Borderlands is intent on getting the most out of the “narrative” part of Telltale’s narrative adventure formula and doesn’t take any gameplay risks. It’s a bit disappointing and stale if you’ve played many of these games, as it doesn’t try to evolve or redefine the narrative adventure game in any interesting ways. That’s one area where these Telltale successors will have to improve if they want to stay relevant and attract new players.

Thankfully, it’s good at what it does. The cinematography of Tales of the Borderlands matches what one would expect from a good TV show or movie, with creative shot choices that accentuate the character or action moments. There’s no need to worry about some of Telltale’s signature technical issues getting in the way thanks to a shift to Unreal Engine 4. While Telltale Games told fantastic stories, its proprietary Telltale Tool game engine made for some janky experiences. Its games always had a bit of a clunky feel, with some rough animation and jitteriness when going from shot to shot. That’s all polished away here, as Gearbox Montreal is instead using a game engine that’s even used by filmmakers.

a character dressed as a doctor is kneeling, face to face with a girl with a red mohawk in new tales from the borderlands.

New Tales from the Borderlands looks just like Borderlands 3, only the way the players interact with the game and world is much different here. That’s just fine, as technical problems are one part of Telltale’s legacy that I’m OK with leaving behind.

This game doesn’t push the needle forward for the genre much; most gameplay outside of quick-time events is fairly negligible. Still, thanks to entertaining writing, strong characters and performances, and a different game engine that enables more seamless cinematography, I’d recommend New Tales from the Borderlands to fans of the original and those yearning for a very traditional Telltale-like experience. Hopefully, other Telltale successors like Star Trek: Resurgence, The Wolf Among Us 2, and The Expanse: A Telltale Series live up to the standard New Tales from the Borderlands sets.

New Tales from the Borderlands was reviewed on PC with a code provided by 2K Games.

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