The Borderlands spin-off with an episodic and narrative-focused approach comes with a sequel more than eight years later… is it up to it?
The title of New Tales from the Borderlands is self-explanatory. He is a robot who has removed the typical mask worn by Pandora’s bandits and psychopaths. That is exactly what the game is. Something chilly and mechanical that is disguised beneath some recognisable aspects (setting, genre, episodic format…). 2K Games tries to act as if nothing happened, as if eight years had passed since the first instalment and Telltale Games was still in charge of the spin-off. However, both are noticeable. They are noticeable and substantial. These Borderlands ‘new tales’ are amusing, but they lack the originals’ spark and inspiration. Like a skag steak, it’s decaffeinated and bland.
Three losers must work together to preserve the cosmos.
The story is unrelated to Tales from the Borderlands from 2014, although it takes place after that and follows the exploits of three new… heroes? losers? On the one hand, we have Anu, the genius, a bright researcher hired by Atlas to create lethal weapons with which the firm may continue to take lives. Anu has only one issue: her conscience.
Her instruments are designed to save lives, not take them away, making her a virtual objector. As a result, you can probably predict her starting point: she was fired by her boss (our old friend Rhys) fifteen minutes after starting to play.
Fran is the second, sweet lady in the most modern wheelchair you’ve ever seen, complete with her own ‘OnlyFrans account. She owns a frozen yoghurt restaurant in the middle of nowhere (of a LlaoLlao, wow), and her company has seen better days. Arms corporations are constantly fighting for control of the planet she is on, and this has resulted in the establishment being ripped apart as a result of a missile, laser, or other hazard dropping from the sky that has destroyed half of her dinner.
Fran has always struggled with managing her wrath, but she’s been good with it until now when she has to deal with the insurance and discovers that no one is going to pay for the place’s repairs.
Fran, Anu, and Octavio, from left to right.
And Octavio would be the connector between all of them. He is Anu’s brother and Fran’s store employee. A trickster, a low-life crook with grandiose airs who survives on favours and aids a violent robot named LOU13. Octavio brings the leading trio of failures to a close with few lights but plenty of jokes. To raise funds, the three of them will embark on an expedition filled with previously seen locales and situations.
The old joke will never die.
Expect comical cold-blooded murders, meetings in futuristic corporate offices, sections to infiltrate through stealth and/or wit, the classic Pandora Chamber with a hulking guardian monster inside (and its always unsatisfying reward), the typical very violent television programme in which we will participate to earn money, and so on. The sieges lack the element of surprise and fascinating novelty that they had in the past.
The feature is taken by the new claptrap and killer robot LOU13 (pronounced Louie).
Empathizing with the characters is also not the easiest thing in the world. Fran is endearing, while Octavio can be unpleasant, and Anu, despite being the female counterpart of Rhys, adds a moral to his ineptitude that cuts the roll and contradicts everything we adore about Borderlands. She creates order from chaos. We will end up loving both brothers, but it will come at a cost. It’s almost as if the secondary characters steal the show. LOU13, the killer robot, and the new and advanced Claptrap class are both hilarious. They are an important element of the story, and they hit the mark, not the villain, or rather the absence thereof.
Despite the lack of significant surprises or particularly compelling characters, New Tales from the Borderlands is capable of amusing and provoking more than one or two giggles throughout its five chapters. Five chapters of approximately two hours each add up to a total of ten or eleven hours at the controls. It is appreciated that they are released at the same time and that there is no waiting between them, but the episodic format, which is aware of the binge and does not have initial summaries (the characteristic “previously in…”), nor does it play with cliffhangers and tension, does not make sense. Curious and contentious decision.
Simple QTEs and no-impact decisions are by far the worst in the game.
QTEs and linearity hold you back
It has lost some of its enchantment, but the story is still enjoyable, and it is not the fault of New Tales from the Borderlands. Its main issue is the extremely fast-paced events. And certainly not for themselves. We’ve grown accustomed to the genre, and there are numerous varieties. They are due to their simplicity and antiquity. Simply press a key or button. Furthermore, they are erratic, making the title feel more like a movie than a game at times. The best example of what we mean can be found in a small detail: we are notified before they emerge in case we have dropped the remote control and need to retrieve it. Sometimes the developers themselves appear to have forgotten.
The same can be said for decisions. There is no one left who is unaware of Telltale’s trickery and constant crossroads because all roads go to Rome and change very little, but it is a game in which we are accomplices. We attend it knowing and thrilled because of their efforts, pretending that our adventure is unique and varied by four minor modifications. We had the strongest sense of bottleneck and linearity in the genre here.
Nothing appears to veer from the course. If we fail a QTE, a character usually dies, and despite how daring and terrible it is, a loading screen emerges, forcing us to restart the checkpoint and get it right. There is no replayability and no desire to conceal it.
The passages involving character movement are tallied with the fingers of one hand.
rice with things
Keep some additional tricks up your sleeve, such as wide and explorable zones where we control the player in the third person; combat minigames amongst figures (a la Super Smash Bros. Brawl); or fantastic allusions to sagas like Metal Gear Solid. A few glimpses of what might have been. Experiments with squandered potential. The same goes for its leading trio’s relationship structure and the ability to save money for costumes and skins. Details imply that 2K Games understood New Tales from the Borderlands in the same way as many here interpret paella. That is rice with many ingredients. A multifaceted game. Unfortunately, they are parsimonious with the quantity, so it ends up being a jug cocktail where anything goes and nothing sticks.
There are some unusual ideas and mini-games, such as skirmishes between collectable characters.
Fortunately, the difference from Telltale Games’ history is also obvious in another industry, and in this instance for the better. Technically, it is evident that it is the work of multiple people, because it does not scratch at the level of performance, nor are the characters as hierarchical as normal. The graphic foundation holds up well and is complemented by some excellent voice acting and a less-than-stellar musical repertoire. It attempts to mimic the openings and montage sequences to the pace of the original classics, but the result is cringe-worthy and awful, to say the least. Using a shoehorn, more licences may have been saved. One is lime and the other is sand.
CONCLUSION Do you have one of those boring interactive story games? At one point, one character asks another. That’s how New Tales from the Borderlands is. He is amusing, capable of making himself laugh, and very clear in his presentation and mechanics. However, it is also tasteless. The protagonists, plot, and situations have lost their lustre, the quick-time events are horrible, worse than usual, and their decisions don’t bother to conceal one of the genre’s most linear experiences. Telltale Games’ development is obvious (technically for the better, in the rest for the worst) and the product falters, though it’s not horrible and the game is perfectly capable of grabbing a few laughs and engaging us for a couple of afternoons.