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Tales from the Borderlands: Episode One Review

Replay Value:
Overall Rating:
Online Gameplay:
Not Rated
2K Games
Telltale Games
Number Of Players:
Release Date:
November 25, 2014

Developer Telltale Games excels in the realm of narrative achievement and character development. Borderlands has always been about fast-action, constant looting, and multiplayer goodness. How to reconcile the two? Well, Telltale proves their adaptive and innovative talent beyond any shadow of a doubt with Tales from the Borderlands: Episode One – Zer0 Sum . It’s not The Walking Dead or The Wolf Among Us ; rather, it’s a thumping, rousing good time with a wonderfully compelling and intriguing plot mixed in. The designers meld a fast-paced shooter with a thoughtful story arc and that isn’t easy to do.

Telltale adopted the cel-shaded style and did a damn good job. This is a beautiful, wonderfully-appointed game, complete with the vivid, bright colors so common in the franchise in question. There’s also a surprising variety of landscapes, as you’ll be continuously intrigued by your changing surroundings. The special effects are brilliant and effective and the overall ambiance is perfect. Gearbox has always done a superb job with the cel-shaded approach but honestly, Telltale may have done them one better. I’m not the biggest fan of some of the design choices but that’s a mostly subjective complaint.

Then there’s the great soundtrack, which instantly reminds one of his or her latest Borderlands experience. Jared Emerson-Johnson, who scored Telltale’s recent hits, tackled this project with a combined care and verve. He obviously did his homework and kept the spirit of Gearbox’s up-tempo games, but he also included some of his own personality and creativity. Add in the excellent effects, which are almost as diverse and satisfying as the environmental variety, and you’ve got a top-tier technical presentation. It’s doubly awesome because in this instance, we get excellent technicals and a well-written story.

Here’s what’s most critical about this product: Telltale understood that in order to remain faithful to the Borderlands IP, they couldn’t produce the ponderous, slower-paced adventure with which their fans are familiar. However, they still needed to infuse their artistic flair and penchant for narrative creativity. To successfully blend the two gameplay traits – which are fundamentally at odds with each other – is quite the achievement. The dialogue sequences are quick and upbeat, just like the gameplay, and such sequences always seem to have a sense of urgency and a dash of humor. Toss in the trademark atmosphere, and you’ve got a winner.

Not everything works flawlessly. For instance, some of the jokes fall flat and the quick-talking characters start to border on irritating as the adventure rolls forward. On top of which, I got the sneaking suspicion that the gameplay balance wasn’t quite perfect. These are minor irritants (depending on your personal preferences) and perhaps the only other complaint involves the length of the quest. It always seems as if Telltale’s fantastic stories are over too soon, but that’s probably just because I can get lost in a quality narrative. It’s far too rare in gaming today and really, we may have to lean on teams like this to propel us forward in the world of literary artistry.