I have really enjoyed the narrative focus of the different Telltale Games releases over the last few years. I have always enjoyed a good point-and-click adventure and these games have always struck me as the natural evolution of the genre. They offer lots of story, good voice acting, some exploration and quicktime events that sit on top of decision making that has weight and adds replay value to the game. However, despite the fact I enjoyed the Borderlands games themselves, I had thought that this would be an off paring. Thankfully the execution is outstanding.
The game starts with you controlling the character Rhys, voiced wonderfully by Troy Baker. There is a smarmy, sarcastic quality that mixes with Baker’s charm across all the characters that he plays that makes Rhys a character that is far earlier to like that he should be. After all, he hopes to be the next big shot on Hyperion, a place known for breeding bad people. Of course, being a Telltale game, you have a lot of control over how Rhys handles situations. Is he loyal to his friends or not? Is he a jerk who threatens people or more of a character prone to trying to smooth talk his way out of (or frequently back into) trouble?
These distinct styles of handling Rhys make for an enjoyable enough experience on its own as Rhys and his best friend Vaughn soon find themselves on Pandora as they try to stab Hyperion’s current arrogant big shot, Vasquez (who is voiced by another favourite actor of mine in Patrick Warburton). Before long, it is easy to see where Vaughn and Rhys are coming from in wanting to stab the dude.
Rhys would have been a strong enough character to carry this title all on his own, but then Telltale throws us another curve by having you control a second protagonist, Fiona. Rhys might talk like a conman, but Fiona and her sister actually are con artists and before long nothing about this adventure or how it unfolds is how it initially seemed. This leads the characters through a lot of exposition as both the representatives from the corrupt good life (Rhys and Vaughn) try to find some common ground with the Pandora natives in Finoa and her sister Sasha, who have been doing whatever they need to in order to get by.
Telltale Games also experimented with the multiple protagonist approach in its recent Game of Thrones release, and it is a nice change of pace from prior games that put you in one person’s shoes throughout the story. In Game of Thrones this change in characters is useful for showing people in very different locations all participating in a bigger picture and helping to show their challenges and motivations. There is something similar at play here with Tales from the Borderlands, but the use of two characters who are explaining their backstory to a man who has captured them at the beginning allows the protagonists to paint an unreliable narrative. They are each telling events how they saw them, and the contrast between both points of view means that we’re not meant to be certain of the story of either.
A pair of new mechanics work their way into Tales from the Borderlands as well. Rhys has a cybernetic eye that allows him to scan the environment in a new light and gather additional data on some things. Fiona has access to money that can be found or earned – and later spent on different things. Neither mechanic is called upon very often, but it helps to lend some further distinction between the two characters, and potentially sets the game up for far deeper exploration in coming chapters.
The Telltale games have never been technical marvels and there were a handful of hiccups with the visuals and audio that did detract from the experience a little when they occurred. Thankfully they were not terribly frequent, but I would say there were about half a dozen of those moments over the course of a little over two hours of play. While I am on a technical note, the visuals have never been the focal point of these games, but here the use of colour and style originating from the Borderlands games is actually appropriate to the franchise.
Tales from the Borderlands: Episode One – Zero Sum is ridiculous, but a lot of fun. I have not laughed this much at a video game in a long time, but the over-the-top situations and incredibly likable voice cast help to sell what seemed like an odd couple into what could very well turn out to be the perfect marriage.
– Nick H.