New Tales From the Borderlands Review
After years of uncertainty, Gearbox Software has finally brought this Borderlands spin-off back to life with its latest installment, New Tales from the Borderlands. You’ll immediately notice that this isn’t from Telltale, but that’s alright! Gearbox previously spoke about how this New Tales is “its own product” and a stand-alone experience, all while remaining a spiritual successor to the beloved title.
Set on the planet of Promethea, this 5-episode saga dives past the well-documented adventures of various Vault Hunters and instead, revolves around 3 relative nobodies new to the business of being the center of attention in a world full of gun-toting and treasure-hunting.
If anything, Borderlands veterans will certainly recognize the planet and corporations involved, but the game does not require prior knowledge of the other entries in the franchise to be enjoyed.
See The World Through Their Eyes
In New Tales from the Borderlands, we meet 3 new characters that will make up our adventure: Anu is an optimistic scientist looking for more to live for than just bullets, bombs, and loot. Octavio, her brother, is quite the opposite, though no less positive in outlook-he just knows when to break the rules to get closer to his lofty dreams of life beyond the streets of Meridian City.
And then we have Fran, who runs her own quaint shop of frozen delights, and she’s more than willing to defend her right to dispense frogurt with authority even when her life is suddenly upended by a hostile corporate takeover.
The three unwitting main characters are joined by a number of other cast members, both new and returning. The interactions between these varying personas are the meat of New Tales from the Borderlands and provide the trademark craziness most of us have come to expect from the action-comedy franchise.
New Tales from the Borderlands is also full of quotable lines belted out by a very talented VA cast, even if less star-studded compared to its predecessors. I don’t think I’ve heard a repeat line so far in my mostly on-rails playthrough, so it is always good to know that despite the game being narrative-focused, the writing stays fresh from start to finish.
In a graphical adventure like New Tales from the Borderlands, performance is not a big determining factor and takes a backseat to the art direction, which it has in spades. It’s less of a visual casserole of minute and outlined details, but the spacing and arrangement of the sets and screens are well-structured and make even small items easy to spot.
We Have Time For Quick Time
The gameplay itself is a lot of listening to plot threads play out in fully voice-acted scenes peppered with QTEs and mini-games. Heck, even the dialogue is in quick time!
There are a lot of unique sequences; each main character has unique devices that give them different approaches to attaining progress, which I have to admit can get a bit tedious sometimes towards the latter half of the game.
If you’re looking for an adrenaline rush, this ain’t the game for that; however, there’s no shortage of exciting moments that’ll have you thinking on the fly about what the best course of action will be.
Alternatively, you can just turn down (or off) the QTEs and enjoy New Tales from the Borderlands as an interactive movie. It doesn’t take away from the heart of the story, which is still the pulsating cold-fusion core of the game.
The story in New Tales from the Borderlands is surprisingly very mature while retaining the oddball morbidity of a world where shooting someone in the head is just another Tuesday. I couldn’t help but be immediately smitten with the main cast blundering their way through debt, unemployment, and the aimlessness of life underneath the influence of corporate capitalism.
There aren’t a lot of easier-to-relate-to journeys than the ole “Stick It To The Man” cliche, and New Tales from the Borderlands delivers above and beyond in the genre. The story of our 3 misfits may still be a hero’s journey where they find true friends and closure by the end, but we get to do it in a very non-traditional, progressive, and actually quite fresh way despite what Borderlands is known for.
In an interesting design choice, all 5 of the episodes of New Tales from the Borderlands can be tackled in any order at any time, though doing so will select a random smattering of choices in the story automatically, which will take away a lot of the gravitas of the experience. I really wouldn’t advise that route, though it’s an option for quick replays to find missed secrets or dialogue. Oddly, replaying an episode can only be done from its beginning, and there is no option to skip dialogue you’ve already seen – hopefully, that’s added in an update to make repeat jaunts a breeze.
Speaking of mini-games, there’s a vaunted (vaulted?) big-ish one that’s been previewed in trailers, and me being the guy who played more Gwent in Witcher than Witcher itself, I just had to get my mitts on its gameplay.
Vaultlanders is a 1v1 sort-of turn-based fighting game, which I had initially thought to be an intricate card-battle system (like Pokemon), but unfortunately, it’s a lot simpler than what I’d expected. Still, it’s fun, and even if it’s a QTE-fiesta as much as the rest of the game’s action is, it’s got quite a bit of content in its unique finishers and sequences.
What we liked:
- Great story anchored by an entertaining cast of characters
- Classic gameplay that’s familiar and easy to pick up
- Borderlands look and humor
What we didn’t like:
- QTEs get tedious toward the latter part
Verdict: Buy It!
Overall, New Tales from the Borderlands is a great addition to the series, and despite switching developers, it hasn’t skipped a beat.
Borderlands fans will certainly enjoy the many references that will get you past the fact that you can’t fire too many guns in this one. Even if you’re not a fan of Borderlands but enjoy story-centric Choose Your Own Adventure books and games – basically titles like any of the old Telltale releases – you’re in for a treat.
New Tales from the Borderlands can be your bathroom-reading kind of game to just relax with, whenever you’re not in the mood for a clickfest. There’s also the fact that all episodes are available from the start with no waiting needed!
The game feels distinctly more Gearbox now than Telltale – not necessarily for better or worse, but it’s a more refreshing version of the game genre that can easily get stagnant if not done right, and New Tales from the Borderlands is hilarious world-building and storytelling done right.
*New Tales From the Borderlands was reviewed on a PC with a review code provided by the publisher.