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Slick’s Nit-Picks: Tales from the Borderlands

This has been a big year for Telltale Games; we have the new Minecraft: Story Mode which kicked off this month along with two series that are wrapping up this fall. The interactive stories are so well scripted that they attract players who generally have little or no interest in the source material. I am one such player as I have never picked up any of the Borderlands titles. I had nothing against the Borderlands series, I just felt like I did not have the time to get involved in the open world series. Tales from the Borderlands managed to catch my eye as we provided coverage of the release of the last few episodes. The previews showed me a story that appeared to be on the same level of quality of the Walking Dead series that I had enjoyed so much previously. Now that Episode 1 of the story is free on consoles and Steam, I saw no reason not to try it out. I had to find out for myself if this game had characters as appealing and a story as compelling as previous titles from this company.

His corporate ladder has Vaseline all over it.

HE SAID, SHE SAID Tales from the Borderlands throws you right into the middle of one man's corporate struggle. Meet Rhys, a guy who literally has everything going for him: a solid position in middle management with a team of his two loyal friends, Vaughn, and Yvette. Together, the trio is headed to the top of Hyperion's corporate infrastructure. Rhys literally has the tools to make his dreams come true. Aside from his friends, he has a cybernetic eye and a bionic arm whose interface can hack most any computer. His eye can scan his surroundings and give information on the weak points of objects, weapons, even people. With the combination of tools, talent, and backup, it only makes sense that he gets “promoted. . .” to head janitor. His new boss Hugo Vasquez does not like him and is looking to make an example of him. Rhys decides to make the first move and try to get back at Vasquez by stealing an extremely lucrative deal from him.

She is only conning herself.

Enter Fiona, a Pandoran con artist with quite a large bounty on her head. The deal that Rhys is looking to intercept is down on the planet and it involves a Vault Key. Fiona and her sister Sasha are working with Sasha's boyfriend August in order to sell said key to Vasquez for a cool ten million dollars. This would not be much of a story if things did not go horribly wrong, forcing a team-up between Rhys and Fiona. Let's just say that a lot of stuff happens.

Together they make . . . a mess.

The reason for such a vague explanation is that the story really begins at the end and I just had to explain who the storytellers are. Rhys and Fiona have been captured by a masked individual that wants information from them. Exactly what is unknown, but he wants to know their stories from the beginning to figure things out. Despite being held at gunpoint, our protagonists manage to make each other look like idiots by telling the story from their respectively creative points of view. This makes for many moments of hilarity as you move through the episodes. If this were a big screen movie, it would easily rival the sci-fi camp of recent hits like Guardians of the Galaxy and Ant-Man. The story Telltale put together is a ridiculously fun ride that you must experience if you are a fan of science fiction, comedy or just Borderlands.

For fan reference, this game takes place after the first three games. Several series characters appear, including some surprises.

PIZZA PARTY! The art style of the Borderlands series has been retained in this game and fans will be happy to know that the graphics are on par with Borderlands: The Pre-Sequel. Production values are through the roof for what you will be used to seeing in Telltale titles. That is not meant to be a slam, it is just saying that Telltale continues to step up their efforts to bring us top-quality entertainment. It is really cool how the intros are woven right into the story now; the above video is cut straight from episode four gameplay. The entire game is smooth and seamless, with the only graphical jumps done intentionally when you look at a computer screen or use Rhys' eye function. Music is also a big part of the storytelling and Telltale made sure that whether you were watching a cutscene or searching for the next piece of the puzzle that the music fit properly. This is one of those welcome experiences where the game is as fun for bystanders to watch as it is for you to play.

CATCH A RIDE Telltale has a gameplay formula that works for driving their stories forward. What tends to vary from one game series to the next is what I can only explain as a differing difficulty level. Unless you have essentially zero hand-eye coordination, none of Telltale's games are truly difficult. What changes from one title to the next is the amount of time you have to respond. In Tales from the Borderlands, that might even change from one episode to the next. Sometimes you have a good ten seconds to respond to someone talking to you and sometimes you might only get about three to maybe five. The quick time events are what will literally be the death of you. On a first playthrough, you cannot see them coming and missing them usually means you are going to stain the landscape. One moment, in particular, has you entering what are nearly Tekken commands. I highly doubt that there will be any controller throwing over this game as the controls are responsive and directional QTEs accept input from either analog. As long as you remember that even an interactive story does have a pause button and you should not be afraid to use it.

The only real downside in playing a Telltale Game is that if you play from the launch of the first episode, it may be a year before you see the final credits roll. Waiting is a pain in the butt, but Telltale makes sure to give you such a quality product that it is worth waiting for. I was fortunate to be able to enjoy this story from beginning to end in just a few days. These five episodes can be completed in about ten hours if you play straight through without breaks, but you are encouraged to play several times as there are variations in how the narrative unfolds. Certain actions may take people out of the story permanently while others may cause characters to appear. Along with the regular episode leaderboards which tell how your decisions measure against other players, there is a final surprise leaderboard at the end that you definitely want to have at least all options open to you on. As Telltale Games go, Tales from the Borderlands is one of the prettiest titles to date and it has definitely been the most fun I have had so far. With Minecraft: Story Mode being available now, that would be the only title that might be as fun until season two of this game (hopefully) begins. With the story now complete, Episode One, titled “Zer0 Sum” is free for download. That means that there is no reason whatsoever for you to not experience Tales from the Borderlands. Even if you have never touched a Borderlands game you are in for fun and laughter. The season pass is something you need to add to your holiday wish list if you have yet to play this game.