I didn’t want to have to do this, but they gave me no choice
I was really excited to get to do the New Tales from the Borderlands review for Destructoid. Telltale’s Tales from the Borderlands is an all-time favorite of mine that I’ve played through multiple times, and while I was disappointed to see that Gearbox’s take on Tales wouldn’t continue Rhys, Fiona, and Sasha’s story, I was optimistic that the sequel would be an enjoyable experience. How wrong I was.
As I made my way through each subsequent episode, I regretted taking on this review more and more. Now I’m tasked with detailing what a torturous experience this was, and to be the bearer of bad news. And likely incur some wrath from those who want to defend this hot mess.
I honestly don’t even know where to start.
Does this even count as a story?
The pacing of this game is so, so slow. Narratively speaking, it takes forever to do everything. Most of this game features the characters standing in the same building and talking — even one of the big battle sequences had the characters stopping and talking every other second. In the final episodes, where the story is supposed to be at its most climactic and enthralling, it would have been slogged down by the snail pacing if what was going on made any sense at all.
A major plot point hinges on a montage of the characters sitting around and killing time. In the final episode, one of the main characters literally says they’re wandering around and doing nothing in particular. I don’t know who told the writers that I wanted to do chores and deal with an insurance claim in a Borderlands game without any sort of comedic twist, but they were sorely, sorely mistaken.
When it came to the actual speed of the lines delivered, or the pauses between lines, it also felt like everything was moving in slo-mo. I don’t know if it was a problem with the engine not loading things fast enough, but I felt like I was trudging through molasses the whole time.
None of the characters have arcs at all. Personality-wise, they don’t change or have any form of introspection (until some over-the-top scenes toward the end). The relationships aren’t developed in any meaningful or interesting way. One of the side characters had a somewhat interesting little semblance of an arc, but they use him so sparingly that it loses most of its impact. Some characters are introduced in the first episode and then never show up again except in the finale of the whole story. Threads are introduced and abandoned, or brought up in a way that would suggest some kind of significance that was never set up beforehand.
The final episodes try to pull off some emotional character moments, but when they haven’t been explored or set up well in the first few episodes, they feel melodramatic and hollow. Plus the tone is super awkward and weird in the scenes themselves, so they don’t even work out of context, either. It honestly feels like someone gave a 15-year-old the reins of one of the biggest series in gaming and hoped for the best.
The adventure would slow down to explain to me things that had just happened, or would keep beating me over the head with the same point repeatedly. That’s a bold move when the story doesn’t even have its own internal logic. In one scene, a character conveniently fails to recognize the building where he has worked for years, owned by the woman who basically took him in as her son, which ends up screwing everyone over. Seriously?
The character motivations don’t make any sense to me, either. I don’t want to spoil anything, but the idea of who these characters are in a world as violent and horrible as the Borderlands universe is inherently funny. In execution, they’re the driest, most uninteresting characters I’ve seen in a game in a long time. They never have one big goal that they’re working toward together, and the individual character motivations never get less vague than, “save the world” or “start a successful business.”
The first three episodes, though boring as all hell, are at least… kind of… something? They don’t really add anything to the characters or build upon the narrative in any way or have any sense of cause and effect when it came to the storytelling, but they at least weren’t incoherent. Things really went off the rails with the final two episodes, however.
Is it kink-shaming if it’s shameless in the first place?
It pains me to even have to talk about this, but the people need to know. Episode 4 of New Tales from the Borderlands is full of weird kink/fetish shit. I’m no prude, and if there’s a place to make “edgy” sex jokes, Borderlands is the place to do it. But oh my god, nothing about it was funny, or cheeky, or enjoyable in any way. It was just awkward and gross and made me deeply, deeply uncomfortable.
That episode alone evoked pee stuff, milking, force feeding, restraints and domination, public humiliation, a robot fully just having a prolonged orgasm in front of everyone, and an anal rape joke about said robot getting STDs. That doesn’t include other instances like allusions to necrophilia, and one of the main characters openly stating she wants to have sex with her surrogate son on multiple occasions. What the fuck? What the actual fuck?
There is no Borderlands in my Borderlands game
One of the greatest tragedies, though, is that New Tales from the Borderlands doesn’t even feel like a Borderlands game at all. It’s set in the Borderlands universe, it features characters from Borderlands, and there’s some violence like you would see in Borderlands, but that’s about where the similarities end. The final episodes especially devolve into some ridiculous sci-fi/fantasy stuff you’d only see in some D-tier anime, but not in a Borderlands game.
I also have to talk about musical intros, because the licensed music in Tales from the Borderlands is nothing short of iconic. Those songs have swagger, and a certain gritty groundedness that fits into the world really well. The songs in New Tales? Not so much.
The songs were either too bland, too on the nose, or didn’t sound like real songs at all. I regularly go back and listen to a playlist of all the songs from the OG Tales, but I have a feeling that won’t be the case this time around.
I think it’s pretty safe to say that Borderlands is best known for its sense of humor. Not every bit in every game in the series is going to land, sure, but Borderlands has always maintained a goofy, fun spirit, while pretty consistently making us all chuckle at the very least. When it comes to New Tales from the Borderlands, though, I can count the number of times I laughed on one hand. It’s just not a funny game.
It is not a story that works on any level whatsoever. Apparently, this game was supposed to be about standing up to big corporations? Or something? I guess the villain of the game is technically a CEO, but the story is too incompetent to say anything at all, let alone anything about the inner workings of trying to dismantle capitalism. The found-family, healing broken relationships angle doesn’t work either when your characters don’t have any chemistry. Telling me they care about each other doesn’t make me believe it.
The story really was so laughably bad I could feel myself going through all the stages of grief as I played. Although maybe I haven’t accepted it yet. I wouldn’t be quite as harsh if the narrative wasn’t all it had, but it somehow has less gameplay than the original Telltale games.
What about the gameplay?
“Okay, so the story was horrible, but maybe the gameplay was alright?” I hear you asking. Well, I hope you like disappointment, because that’s all this game consistently gives me.
New Tales from the Borderlands barely even qualifies as a game — you’ll often spend minutes at a time without any form of interaction at all. Maybe if they hadn’t used the “Tales from the Borderlands” it could have existed as its own thing, but it’s obviously pulling from the success of the first game. What is baffling to me, then, is why they wouldn’t somewhat stick to the Telltale formula.
The original Telltale games had a lot of point-and-click elements, which were pulled back to a minimum in New Tales from the Borderlands. Sections where you actually get to walk around and interact with the environment are few and far between, and they don’t add much except to the runtime.
The classic dialogue choices are still there, but they were also fewer and further between than I would have liked. On rare occasions they offered an interesting tidbit, but for the most part I found them to be pretty same-y and bland. I tried to pick the most out-there options to see if they would give me any more insight into the characters, but to no avail.
With the exception of the literal climax, those big choices with consequences lasting the whole rest of the game also appeared to be missing. Gearbox made a big deal about wanting to be less obvious about when you’re making a big choice for the sake of immersion.
Sure, in theory, I could have been more immersed if the story was well written and the choices were compelling. But hiding big choices from the player and not clearly coding how those choices were paying off made New Tales from the Borderlands feel really on rails, even if my playthrough would have looked completely different to someone else’s. Even the slightest bit of transparency, like something as simple as a story tree at the end of each episode a la Detroit: Become Human would have been to their benefit here.
Everyone’s favorite, the quick time events, really take center stage on this one — especially when you factor in the new mini-game. The characters start making a big deal about these little figurines you can find, and when you battle with them, it just throws a bunch of QTEs at you and calls it a day. They were also so easy I think I got hit once in one of these fights in the entire series. The fighting game reference is cute the first time, but it overstays its welcome really fast.
In conclusion: I wish I hadn’t played it.
I have a few positives: this game looks really good. It definitely needed more of a cell-shaded look if it were to accurately capture the Borderlands style, but with exception of some dull settings, the animation, character art, and environments looked nice. It’s about what you’d expect to see as the next evolution of Telltale’s style. I also didn’t encounter any bugs during my playthrough, at least that I noticed, so at the very least it’s playable and has some level of polish. Hooray.
I’m sure there will be people out there who have a better time with this than I did (anything better than pure misery will do), but if the general consensus is that this game is average or above, I will be baffled. There are so many other things I could talk about here, but honestly, in the end I was mad that this game wasted so much of my time. It’s certainly not worth the $40, that’s for sure. If I didn’t have to finish it for this review, I would have likely dipped out after the first hour.
I wish I could say I nailed New Tales from the Borderlands with a bad score because I was holding it to a higher standard because it was developed by Gearbox, and that it had a lot to live up to by following the original Tales. Those things may be true, but this game is a soulless slog regardless of who made it or what series it’s a part of.
If you’re asking my opinion, don’t play New Tales of from the Borderlands. Or maybe pool your money together with your friends and do it in like an ironic, The Room-style playthrough. Thankfully this game won’t detract from my enjoyment of the original Tales, but it’s a real shame to think of how this could have built on that first game. Unlike its predecessor, I don’t think New Tales from the Borderlands is a title I’ll ever be returning to.
[This review is based on a retail build of the game provided by the publisher.]