There’s a lot to like about the second episode in Telltale’s “Tales from the Borderlands” game. For one, it’s finally out, as the first episode was released in November last year. Fortunately, it’s clear that the extra development time has been put to good use.
The second episode, titled “Atlas Mugged,” begins with an animated recap of the events of the first episode. The recap is both well-done and necessary, as I could hardly remember some of the secondary characters from five months ago. After that, the episode picks up right where the first left off.
The series takes place in the “Borderlands” universe, which mostly consists of Pandora, a hellish desert world populated almost exclusively by tyrants, monsters and bandits, along with the occasional hero. The sections where Rhys or Fiona interact with the world around them offers an interesting look into the way normal people would scrape out a living if they weren’t treasure hunters.
Before “Tales,” there were three “Borderlands” games, and by the third, titled “Borderlands: The Pre-Sequel,” it was clear that the formula was getting a little stale. Thus, “Tales from the Borderlands” might be the best thing that could happen to the series. The writing is razor-sharp, with exchanges that make the player laugh, feel empowered or even sad, all in the span of a few hours.
While the other major game Telltale is currently working on, “Telltale’s Game of Thrones” suffered from having too many protagonists, “Tales from the Borderlands” has just the right number for its story: two. With wildly different personalities, backgrounds and interests, Fiona and Rhys offer contrasting versions of the same story. Switching between the two is a great way to change up the scenery or action without making the game confusing.
Besides the excellent dialogue and quick time events, there are also a few barebones puzzles scattered throughout the episode. One early puzzle is entertaining because the gruesomeness of what the player is asked to do is mixed with humorous exchanges between the two characters watching. A later puzzle, however, involves walking around an abandoned, brownish-gray town and clicking panels in order to proceed. Even if the scene’s only purpose was to extend the game’s length, Telltale should have found a way to make it at least a little entertaining.
Running series tyrannical madman Handsome Jack is also brought in in this episode, albeit as an as yet unexplained holographic representation of Jack, complete with fashion sense and insults, which only Rhys can see. Jack has always been a fan favorite, but his performance here is arguably better than in “The Pre-Sequel,” the last AAA “Borderlands” title. Jack is still nowhere near trustworthy, and suggests that he would murder the main characters if he only had solid hands, but he’s a blast in every scene he’s in.
A large number of characters make cameos in this episode, from the mechanic Scooter to former protagonist turned bounty hunter Athena. If you liked them in other “Borderlands” games, you’ll probably like them here, but if you don’t they aren’t around long enough to get really irritating.
One last word about the comedy in “Tales.” This is probably one of the funniest games I’ve played in years. What’s amazing is the fact that there are almost no pop culture reference-based jokes in this game. Only a brief joke at the expense of “CSI” and a “Terminator” reference are found, and they both work pretty well. For other developers looking to make a funny game, I would point to “Tales” as a strong example of how to do it right.
“Tales from the Borderlands” makes me very excited for the future of this series and for Telltale. This game does so much right it can be easy to forgive the few missteps. This is an extremely polished product that retains the feel of grittiness and heart that AAA games rarely achieve these days. If Telltale needs five months to make a product this good, well, then “Tales from the Borderlands” may yet be worth the wait.