At long last, it’s time to put this Tales of the Borderlands review to rest. As always, before we get started, a few bits of house-keeping. You can get up to speed on the previous episodes by reading our reviews for Episode 1: Zer0 Sum, Episode 2: Atlas Shrugged, Episode 3: Catch A Ride, and Episode 4: Escape Plan Bravo. We haven’t scored each one individually, but we will score the series as a whole this time. If you just want a full appraisal, skip down to the Series Summary at the end of this article.
Episode 4 was not just a high point for the Borderlands series, it was one of the best bits of work that Telltale Games have produced. The surprises, the shocks, and the ridiculous humour had been orchestrated to almost perfection, topped off by some brilliant performances from its voice cast. It meant that if Tales From The Borderlands was to end on a high note, Telltale had to go all out on everything. As I loaded up the game I was slightly nervous about if they could manage such a feat, but then I hit the main menu and I immediately sensed Telltale knew the gravity of the situation.
How, you ask? Simple – the re-recorded main theme.
The studio’s resident composer Jared Emmerson-Johnson has always done a fine job with his scores under his care, but his take on the Borderlands series has been one of my favourites. In fact, I’ve listened to the main theme a number of times because I enjoyed it so much, but upon loading the game for the final episode I realised something had changed – the previously-used synth instruments had been replaced by an actual orchestra. The end result was absolutely breath-taking, set the tone for the big finish, and proved that Telltale weren’t messing around.
The series has been noted for its slower starts in the last few episodes, but that isn’t the case this time. The stakes were already high and continued to be raised from the get-go in hilarious and / or terrifying fashion, depending on the player’s choice from the end of Episode 4. There are many twists and turns even before the opening credits half an hour in, and Telltale proved once again that they know exactly how to pull the heart strings when they want to.
Keeping this review spoiler-free means there’s not much I can actually talk about at this point, mainly because I don’t want to ruin any of the surprises that emerge from the final instalment, but I can say that the story is wrapped up in an enjoyable and very satisfying manner. Rhys’ inevitable showdown with Jack thrust the best gaming villain of all time (yes, I’m going there) into a whole new light, and the final confrontation for our heroes is not only built up in a brilliantly, but executed in a very Borderlands style. We may not have been running around shooting guns, and yes, it was a QTE section, but the way it plays out – depending on the player’s choices – had the Telltale and Borderlands fan in me on the edge of my seat. It was tense, it was hilarious, and it was action-packed to the very end (and the Borderlands 2 fight music was the perfect finishing touch.)
In other words, Telltale nailed it and deserve the most bro-filled of fist bumps. Or a huge hug. Choice is good, after all.
So, is the finale better than Escape Plan Bravo? From a narrative point I’m not entirely sure, but I will say that from a technical standpoint I actually found the game to suffer from stuttered animations and many clipping errors. Once again it comes back to the same criticism that the game engine needs an update or replacing. That said, the technical flaws don’t detract from the fact that The Vault of the Traveler more than succeeds in closing off the story that began 10 months ago, whilst hinting at what might come next. Surely, if you’ve been waiting for the final part, that’s all the matter at this point.
The short version:
The Vault of the Traveler finishes off what Escape Plan Bravo began, delivering an entertaining conclusion to the Tales From The Borderlands series. Even at this late stage, important choices are made and help create a finale that is fun and satisfying.
With all the episodes now out, how does the series fair as a whole? Has Telltale managed to keep the series faithful to its source material whilst delivering its own brand of adventure gaming? The short answer is yes. The slightly longer answer is that, with Tales From The Borderlands, Telltale have created their finest work to date.
As a Borderlands fan I have enjoyed experiencing a focused storyline set on the world of Pandora, and seeing familiar faces return to propel the series forward has been, to be frank, an emotional journey. I’ve laughed, I’ve cheered, I’ve gasped, I’ve even been close to tears more than once, and it’s all thanks to the expertly crafted narrative paired with a genuinely witty script delivering time and time again.
It also helps that the voice cast for Tales From The Borderlands have done a fantastic job with said script, be it newcomers like Rhys and Fiona, or established characters like Handsome Jack and Athena. That said, the showstoppers have actually been the non-human characters like Loaderbot and the adorkable Gortys. Stealing almost every scene they’ve been in, something tells me that Gearbox will now have to incorporate them into their next title in some way, although the same can be said about the rest of the new characters.
Tales From The Borderlands differs from Telltale’s other recent series in that it can take the comedic route more often, and is all the better for it. As Jon pointed out in his review of Episode One, the end result is something that is just fun to play. Sure, there were tough choices to make, some were even agonising at times, but the results were satisfying to watch unfold, often rewarding the player with a genuinely funny sequence of events. The ‘unreliable narrator’ method also helped in this regard too, building up the dynamic between Rhys and Fiona.
The graphical style of Borderlands was always going to fit with Telltale’s cel-shaded engine, but the overall art direction for the game has been executed with care and attention to detail. While body animations remain stiff (something we’ll get to shortly) the facial expressions have been a significant improvement over previous Telltale titles, although that maybe down to the team’s years of experience with the engine. The soundtrack too has been expertly utilised, be it Emmerson-Johnson’s original score, music borrowed from the Borderlands franchise, or the licensed music used for the intro and outro credits to amazing effect.
It would almost seem like a perfect adventure game were it not for the fact that, as we’ve said like a broken record, the game engine is well past its prime. Telltale have certainly done a great job delivering a superbly woven narrative yarn, but compared to other games in the genre their products are now falling behind. An upgrade or replacement is needed now more than ever, but I fear that we’ll be stuck with it for longer due to the success Telltale have found on mobile devices. That isn’t an excuse Telltale can hide behind forever, though.
Ultimately, as I said before in my review of the finale, the technical blunders won’t matter if you’re invested in the story and characters, because that’s why you play Telltale Games’- for the story. As a multi-pathed adventure game it succeeds brilliantly. As a game in the Borderlands universe it succeeds brilliantly. It might not convince FPS gamers to play an adventure game, but it might convince those who have yet to play the Borderlands series to give it a go. I'd call that a win for everybody.
Oh, and you really should play Borderlands 2 if you haven’t, just for more of Handsome Jack's monologues.
- Fantastically written storyline that is funny, heart-warming, & heart-breaking in equal measure.
- Some of the best QTE sequences Telltale have produced.
- Stays faithful to the Borderlands series while still delivering a Telltale experience.
- It’s taken us 8 months to reach the finale. Let’s speed up those releases in future, eh?
- The engine needs an overhaul or replacing. Seriously.
- The bar has now been set remarkably high for Telltale Games’ future projects.
The Short Version:
This is, without a doubt, the finest series Telltale Games have produced to date. Whether you’re already a Borderlands fan or not, Tales From The Borderlands delivers an emotional, entertaining, and downright fun episodic adventure title.
9 – EXCELLENT: Only the exceptional need apply here. There might be one or two slight blemishes, but overall games that score a 9 are genre-leaders: must-have titles with perhaps the odd imperfection. You won’t be wasting a single penny in buying a game that scores this high. A few games of this calibre will make it worth spending hundreds on a console or powerful enough PC. Killer apps, indeed.
Platforms: PC (reviewed) | PS3 | PS4 | Xbox 360 | Xbox One | iOS | Android
Developer: Telltale Games