Tales from the Borderlands "Zer0 Sum" (REVIEW)

written by Justin Prince (@prince_justin)

After the breakout success of two seasons of The Walking Dead and Wolf Among Us, Telltale Games takes their episodic point-and-click format to the world of Pandora. Admittedly, I was incredibly skeptical how a game that is essentially a first person loot based shooter could translate to the narrative driven format of Telltale’s games.

You could color me surprised, the sharp wit and colorful characters of the Birderlands universe are wonderfully realized in this tale of a guy and a gal just looking to get ahead.

“Zer0 Sum,” the first part of this five-part story introduces us to the game’s two main protagonists. Rhys (voiced by Troy “the Daniel Day Lewis of voice-acting” Baker) is a Hyperion employee with high hopes of moving up the corporate ladder with his work buddy Vaughn (voiced by Chris “Nerdist.com” Hardwick). Of course this rise to corporate god-hood is derailed by his brazen boss Hugo Vasquez (voiced by the amazing Patrick “Joe Swanson” Warburton), who interestingly enough “earned” his position by means of corporate mutiny thanks to kicking the previous boss out an airlock.

meet Rhys our somewhat unfortunate hero

meet Rhys our somewhat unfortunate hero

Our second hero is the shrewd Fiona (voiced by Laura “I’m so in love with this woman” Bailey), she’s a treasure hunter and con-artist… looking for the next big score. This of course intertwines her fate with our unfortunate hero Rhys.

Gameplay is played in familiar fashion, if you’ve played either The Walking Dead or Wolf Among Us, this format will feel very familiar. The game forces you to make decisions that can dramatically affect the characters that populate this world and members of the principle cast as well. At least with the narrative of the first episode, nothing felt too earth-shaking when it comes to the decisions made, of course the repercussions of my decisions I feel may not fully rear its results until later episodes.

Aesthetically, Tales from the Borderlands stays incredibly true to its roots. The art direction follows the more shooty-shooty-bang-bang look of the games that inspired this less combat heavy take on the Borderlands mythos. The game ran silky smooth, much better than when I played The Walking Dead… a fact I let slide thanks to the truly engaging narrative. The frame rate never dropped during my playthrough, which was surprising given the sheer amount of stuff that blows up during this first episode.

Helloooooooo Fiona

Helloooooooo Fiona

While first episodes of these series tend to be fairly light on story exposition, there was a lot going on in “Zer0 Sum.” Battling with crazed psychos, explosions galore,  and an unexpected surprise at the end. I’m attempting to leave this light on the spoilers, but in subsequent episode reviews you can expect the spoilers to be less… masked, at least when it comes to the previous episode.

Zer0-SMILEY

Zer0-SMILEY

This first episode sees a recognizable face making the first official cameo from the previous games. Zer0 from Borderlands 2 plays a major role in this episode, but of course this can’t be an episode spoiler what with his name being in the title.

Familiar visuals

Familiar visuals

VERDICT

Anyway, I’d say I was satisfied by this episode. I was pleasantly surprised but looking back on it I can see how it works. While I love the combat of the Borderlands games, the witty dialog and incredible cast of characters translate well to this type of storytelling. It’s only the start but I see a strong future for the rest of the series, like the runaway train that were previous Borderlands games, Tales from the Borderlands keeps the laughs coming like a stray rocket to the face… just with less blowy-upy.

PROS:

+ Witty dialog
+ Tons of Borderlands goodness
+ I'm in love with Fiona

CONS:

- uhhhmmm
- uhhhhhh...
- not much to be honest

SCORE BREAKDOWN

Story 5: Like Borderlands without the shooting, the dialog is just as witty. With the story front and center it’s a testament to how good the writing is.

Graphics 4.5: The visual style retains every bit of the charm from the previous games, an absolute win!

Audio 4: Music and sounds are distinctly “Pandora.” I digs!

Level Design 4: Point and click adventure games lead a very straight forward take on the world, which makes it hard to feel open. Pandora feels just as big.

Polish 5: They went to great lengths to make this feel right at home with the other games… can’t wait for the rest!

Controls 5: From walking to selecting objects, everything controls well.  If it ain’t broke…

Overall Gameplay 5: Easy to navigate, can’t ask for much more.

Extras 5: Cameos from established characters bring a smile to my face, lots of Borderlands goodness crammed into a unique package.