Tales from the Borderlands
FBT tells a tale. I avoided TftB on release. You dive into Borderlands for a shooter Looney Tunes experience not some Lucasarts throwback. But three years after Telltale collapsed, Gearbox has re-released it, and hungry for a solid Borderlands experience after the pitiful BL3, I decided to give it a punt even though it seemed an idiotic tie-in cash-in. Turns out I was the idiot. TftB is as far from Borderlands’ main series as you can get. Told mostly in flashback to a mysterious bounty hunter, we’re point and clicking two unreliable narrators; Rhys, who is trying to claw his way up the Hyperion corporate ladder after Jack’s death, and small-time Pandorian hustler Fiona, who attempts to sell a fake Eridian Vault Key to Rhys. When the deal goes south, they find themselves hunted by Hyperion and half the Galaxy’s bounty (and Vault) hunters. Looking for a way to bargain their way out, the two unlikely partners stumble onto ‘Gortys’, a mysterious, child-like robot which is the key to a Vault-sized treasure… First, the criticisms. A lot of the time, this is a walking sim. There’s a minimal puzzle or choice to be made, usually we’re walking them between cut-scenes or listening to them bicker - we’re just along for the ride. There are several QTE moments though, which brings me to my second criticism. We’re still getting PC games that Don’t. Let. You. Modify. Keys?! I’ve never been a WASD but to get this to work how nature intended, I had to employ an AutoHotkey Fix which made QTE’s all the more fraught, trying to remember what I’d hotkeyed Q to or where E now was. But even though this is a far cry from Borderlands proper, TftB is close to perfect… I barely miss fragging skags or visiting a New-U… As they stumble from one close shave to the next, Fi and Rhys gather a gang of reprobates, including Fiona’s pragmatist sister Sasha, needy and nerdy accountant Vaughn, and robot Loader Bot, who doggedly supports Rhys and Fiona despite them endlessly putting it in fatal situations. Plus great little cameos from Athena and Janey Springs, and Brick and Mordecai making a Pre-Pre-Sequel appearance; and finally I understand why Rhys trusts Zer0 so completely in Borderlands 3, and get to see Scooter’s departure, which was surprisingly touching. But the real star is adorable robot Gortys, and her C3P0/R2D2 relationship with Loader Bot. Now I can take a break from shooting characters and hang out with them instead, TftB has given me a whole new appreciation for the series. This totally ‘gets’ the Borderlands tone – we might not be struggling through yet another second wind or Skag Gully, but it totally nails the feel without ever pulling a trigger. The same insanity, lawlessness and complete disregard for laws or logic is as much a driver here as any totally unfair showdown in the main series. I still hate Borderlands 3 though. Early on, Rhys hacks a chip recovered from Nakayama, the villain of BL2 DLC Big Game Hunt, who was obsessed with bringing Jack back from the dead - and thanks to Rhys, his dream is realised. The chip included a self-aware AI of Jack, now inside Rhys’ head, who attempts to sway Rhys away from the rest of the gang with offers of letting him take over Hyperion, which is all Rhys ever wanted. I sense some player choices coming on… Although the choices you make echo and impact episodes later, they don’t ever touch the actual narrative. No matter how much of a Jack-loving ass you play Rhys as, or double-crosser you make Fiona, they still stumble toward the Vault and save the day. All you’re doing generally is altering how people perceive Rhys and Fiona, there’s nothing substantial you can affect – there’s some impacts and inconsequential NPC’s fates in your hands, but nothing story-altering. Characters shake off a choice with ‘so anyway…’ and snap back to the plot but that’s fine with me; the story is so desperate, thrilling and out-there that I don’t want to interfere. You’re having way too much fun and settle into deciding what kind of people Rhys and Fiona are and react accordingly, knowing this is all way beyond them. Every episode sees Rhys and Fiona in increasingly outlandish, outrageous Borderlands-believable situations that are as thrilling as they are insane – the scene in episode Catch-A-Ride! where they’re all leaping about over speeding trucks to recover Gorty while pinging one-liners is pure Indiana Jones awesome - topped only by a Hyperion corporate stooge finger-gun fight... now where the hell is Q again!? And the final fight, while awesome is just a precursor to a great little cool-down chat between Rhys and Fi as they reflect on how far they’ve come and how much they’ve changed – or not. It might actually be my favourite Borderlands ending. In fact, this might be my second fave Borderlands game... come on, they even get a Ferris Buller ref in there. TftB is mostly just here for a good time, a quick-moving, rip-roaring adventure but the charm, wit and sense of friendship they layered into it makes TftB something special. All in, TftB is a solid 10-hour game, just right. This being a Borderlands spin-off you’d expect it to have short-cuts, random events and paddling-pool level shallowness but it’s full of brilliant characterization, set-pieces and fun; Loader Bot’s unshakeable faith in the leads, and how they actually took his faith to heart was the stuff you’d expect from full-on emotional dramas, not some jokey cartoon game. It’s got some heft to it. To think this was followed by BL3… Playing this, I finally understand why the gaming community was so devastated at Telltale’s collapse. I loved Tales of Monkey Island, but I missed the others, and I’m gutted. At least two of my favourite games I caught up with last year, Firewatch and Oxenfree, were made by Telltale alumni. Telltale lives on I guess, but I really missed out. The only thing I hate, other than the key assignment thing, is this has triggered me to replay Borderlands 3 just for the chance to see some of those characters pop up again. But I’m going to struggle to shoot any Loader Bots. This is essential adventure gaming - even for those who hated Borderlands.