Tales from the Borderlands – Episode One: Zer0 Sum does a brilliant job of drawing the player into the world of Pandora. Both fans of the franchise, and players being introduced for the first time, will appreciate the engaging characters and their story.
+Art-style is spot on with the Borderlands franchise
+ Well-designed characters
+ Realistic and humorous dialogue
+ Intriguing story
– Keyboard controls can be fiddly during intense scenes
Platform(s) available: PC, Xbox 360, Xbox One, PS3, PS4, iOS, Android
Platform reviewed: PC
Telltale Games are perhaps the masters of the episodic gaming genre. The company tends to make use of existing IP, allowing the player to choose their own path within popular franchises. Past games made by the company include Back to the Future, The Walking Dead, and The Wolf Among Us.
Tales from the Borderlands was created in a collaboration between Telltale Games and the developer and publisher of the Borderlands series, Gearbox Software and 2K Games. All the elements that make up Borderlands (the art style, humour, and shooting) have been applied to the Telltale format. So it’s an episodic visual novel with the odd action scene quick time event, while players choose what the main character(s) will say in certain moments.These choices affect character relationships, and what happens in the story.
Tales from the Borderlands takes place after the events of Borderlands 2, and its DLC. Zer0 Sum is careful to introduce new players to the world, while creating a ‘welcome back’ atmosphere for fans. One of the first things players will notice is the art-style; a sort of a rough around the edges, comic book look that is both a signature of the Borderlands franchise, and indeed Telltale games. The world, Pandora, and its characters have been beautifully designed while creating a believable atmosphere and a solid sense of place.
In the story, players must choose the paths of Rhys and Fiona, who unwillingly find themselves having to work together, after their separate plans to get rich fail. Rhys is a smarmy but determined corporate type, working for Hyperion, and fancies himself to be the next head of the company (he even got a hair-cut in the style of the former leader). Meanwhile, Fiona is a con-artist who, like most living in Pandora, was forced into a life of crime from a young age. The game gives about an hour with each character before the stories intertwine, successfully giving a sense of two sides of one story.
Players feel the weight and history in even tiny side-characters, which makes for a highly believable experience. You can never be completely sure of how someone will react to what you say, although the more time you spend with them the more you can gauge their reaction.
While Telltale often makes use of gritty stories and difficult moral choices Tales from the Borderlands is filled with the series’ iconic humour. The comedy is really well placed, from small quips from characters and descriptions, to amusing banter. It makes sense that in a world where someone is always about to kill you, that the inhabitants will have learnt to have a dark or sarcastic attitude.
In general, the gameplay works in the same way as most other Telltale games, where players have a few seconds to choose which conversation branch they want to follow. There are moments when the player has control of the characters movement which, more often than not, is a chance to explore the current environment. Rhys has an extra ability which allows him to scan items and gain extra information from what appears to be some sort of government files on people and things. Instead of information, Fiona is all about money; she can pick up money, from taking certain paths, and can also choose whether or not to spend it at specific moments of the game.
Most of the actual combat is in the form of quick time events. It’s worth noting that these events play out smoothly with the use of a controller, but the keyboard controls are pretty fiddly. In addition to this, at certain times, Rhys is able to summon a Loader Bot to help deal with multiple enemies. The Loader Bot can be equipped with certain attack or defensive weapons then controlled by Rhys via a telecom screen.
Tales of the Borderlands – Episode One: Zer0 Sum does a great job at setting up characters, the world, and gameplay mechanics. It’s not necessary to have played any of the previous Borderlands titles, but there are style choices and references a plenty that fans will appreciate. Episode One works as a humorous prequel to events, with everything kick-starting at the end – hinting towards a greater, crazier, journey to come.
This review was originally part of the GamersFTW site, the servers of which have been taken down. It now appears on GabsTannerReviews out of respect for the developers/publishers that gave me a copy to review.