“Yes, yes, it’s been a awhile. Everyone knows…” – Marcus
Well, you’re not wrong there, friend – it’s been four months since the first episode, and I’ve been itching to get into the second. I’m happy to say that my anticipation was mostly rewarded and that Episode 2: “Atlas Mugged” continues to build and compound upon the mysteries which were laid out from the beginning. Since it has been some time since the last episode, a recap would likely be required for many players who are coming back to the game. Subsequent episodes in a Telltale series will usually do this by default, a kind of “previously on” sequence of the most important highlights of your last playthrough. Tales From The Borderlands (TFTB) continues this tradition though it does so using Marcus as a narrator for this brief section. Retaining the artwork opening sequence and narrator-style story that the franchise is known for, TFTB has owned this section of the game and made its own.
Trying real hard to match your sense of humor here, Telltale
The story picks up immediately where it left off in Episode One, with Handsome Jack creepily draped across your shoulder. Or, at least, draped across Rhys’ shoulder – as the player, you’ll be controlling Fiona for the first part of the game. TFTB has handled the dual character control in an interesting way, though it depends entirely on what you want to get out of it. The game will have you play through as one character up to a point, before rewinding back to the beginning and having you play back to that same point with the other. At the end will be some kind of quick-time action sequence that has your control bounce between the two and towards the ultimate goal of “not dying.” I love it, and I hate it, and I hope that Telltale find a happy medium before the end of the season.
Story-wise, this method is fantastic as the characters will often experience a major portion of the episode in different areas of Pandora from one another. The opportunity to do so is very clearly presented to you, at the very least, and both choices have equally engaging narrative. It can potentially maximise the amount of the face-time you get with places in Pandora that haven’t been seen before, which, as I’ve mentioned, I’m all about. The character dialogue and player choices feel much more in tune now, with any internal personality conflicts seeming much less apparent than they had previously. Telltale are also becoming more comfortable with Borderlands’ sneering and sarcastic humor, and have even started dropping obscure in-joke references.
I bet his kids were all like “WAAAAAAAAHH.”
When it comes to gameplay, however, I remain disappointed with Telltales decision to cling to quick time events. TFTB, just like Telltale’s other interactive dramas, are largely story driven, and heavy gameplay elements might disrupt the overall story flow. Unannounced quick-time events are just as disruptive when I’ve been focusing on the dialogue and story for the last ten minutes. Aside from being a tired mechanic in Telltale games in general by this point, it takes me out of the moment whenever I have to react suddenly with split-second accuracy. Not to mention that the action of Borderlands can’t be accurately translated properly through quick time events. Killing bandits just can’t be boiled down to “press A really fast.”
I’m not sure what could take the place of this action, but I’m also not sure that action is even “required.” While this is a Borderlands game and action should absolutely be present, the nature of the characters that you play dictate that the action should be happening somewhere in the background. Probably while you’re running away from it, piss gushing down your leg, with psychos and killers-for-hire hot on your heels. Maybe even some thugs in corporate threads, chasing you down in cars fired from lunar cannons – it’s the kind of thing that happens a lot in this series. The point, however, is that at no point should your characters be trying to “throw down” with any of these life-negating dangers.
Pictured: Three “normies” after their friend, covering them in pieces, started a fight.
I’m interested in the direction that the story is taking, I just think that it’s beginning to veer pretty far away from the original “these aren’t Vault Hunters” idea that they started with. The beauty of such an idea is that the main characters don’t have to get into the action, even have an excuse not to, meaning that quick-time combat shouldn’t be so frequent. I would’ve liked for this to allow Telltale to move away from relying on quick time events as a substitute for gameplay, instead experimenting with different gameplay design. Instead, they’ve doubled down and added in what feels like way more than the first episode, and the result was constantly jarring while trying to watch the story sections.
The visuals and music in this game are starting to hit their stride, slipping into the Borderlands groove to nail that Country-Western-SciFi feeling which characterises the series. The use of holographic HUD’s and tool-tips all over the place highlight that these aren’t just the tools of treasure hunters and mercenaries, but common tech that gets used by everyone. When the game isn’t focused on trying to push you into a fight that you have no place being in, it supports the base ideas of the story. It gives an insight into what it’s like to be a Pandoran every-man, someone who isn’t incredibly powerful and considers death a minor inconvenience. This is all to say nothing of the opening sequence, which is by far and away the best opening sequence that Telltale have done for any of their games to date.
I just really dug it.
I love the soundtrack that’s gone along with this series so far, especially the very thematically appropriate intro songs. This episode used “Kiss The Sky,” a song whose very relaxed melody and beat is in total contrast to the chaos that unfolds on the screen while it plays. The song also totally dominates the sound of the intro sequence, with no additional dialogue, sound effects, or music interrupting the track at any point. It allows the player a moment to reflect on the situation, characters, and general Borderlands atmosphere, re-adjusting to this world that they would’ve been away from for some time. It’s important to note that Borderlands’ overall atmosphere is one of slick, humorous style amidst total, unbridled mayhem, and this intro encapsulates that feeling perfectly.
Kiss the Sky was performed by Shawn Lee’s Ping Pong Orchestra (feat. Nino Mochella), by the way, which is just the best band name ever.
I enjoyed my time with TFTB: Episode 2, but I’m worried that the hype I want to feel for this game won’t be paid off. The gameplay issues from the first episode are hanging around, and they aren’t improving; detracting from an otherwise great story. The cliffhangers and narrative-setups that Telltale are throwing in are also great at making me want to look forward to the next episode. However, it’s difficult to maintain that interest when release dates are constantly pushed back, and you can never know when the next one is coming. The series has me hooked, and I want to rave about it the same way I would The Walking Dead; there are just a few problems that need to be worked out before it’s there. Figure it out, Telltale, because I want it in and around my mouth.
EDITOR NOTE: this game was purchased at retail by the writer and reviewed on PC across 4 hours of gameplay. Please also understand that in an effort to be fair, we will not score an episodic game until the season is complete.