You can’t buy Telltale’s episodic adventures one episode at a time on PC—you’re buying all five in the season for $25/£20—so it doesn’t make much sense for us to score each one individually. We’ll review and score the whole package when all the episodes have been released, while individual episode reviews like this one will be unscored criticism and recaps.
Spoiler warning: We discuss the content of these episodes pretty freely so that those already playing can discuss—if you’re not already playing, you may want to wait until we review the whole season at the end, or read our comparable less spoiler-ey review of episode one.
The pilot episode is usually one of the worst episodes of any given sitcom (Cheers excluded), but Tales from the Borderlands started really, really well. Telltale’s good at those first impressions. It also seems to falter in the second episode—The Wolf Among Us did, and Tales from the Borderlands does too.
Telltale has a baseline level of ‘good’ that it rarely dips below, and that’s true here. There are some very good things in this episode: being chased by moon shots; Vaughn talking while peeing; Fiona and Rhys continuing to be unreliable narrators. And there’s a good decision at the end that I want to go back and try again, though I don’t think I’ll find out what it means until the next episode. Cliffhangers, eh?
Episode two is not bad, but I was expecting better after the excellent first episodes. A lot of the lines fall flat for me as the humor regresses into jokes about sporks (“it’s a spoon and a fork!”) and bros—the stuff of primetime TV. The umpteenth aggressively absurd character description doesn’t have the effect it did last time, and a bit involving an eyeball is more gross than funny.
There are some good quips, and some good character interaction, especially when the plot isn't moving. I like seeing these characters chat about life and poke fun at each other. But that good stuff, such as Fiona and Sasha struggling with Felix’s betrayal, is sandwiched between seemingly trivial events. There’s a decision in the middle I just didn’t get, for instance. As Rhys breaks the fourth wall to ramble about important choices, I can decide to meet up with Fiona and Sasha at their present location, or meet up with them at the destination we were all headed for before splitting up. Even the characters don’t seem to know why this is an important decision, with Rhys limply justifying it to his captor. Meanwhile, Fiona and Sasha are negotiating repairs for their caravan—oh boy?
Another weird thing: August comes back, and has this whole scene with Fiona where we’re led to believe he still has stupid feelings for Sasha, who had just been using him to sell the fake vault key to Vasquez in episode one. I'd thought he was far less important than he apparently is, and I suppose we’re now meant to consider his motivations and whether or not he can still be manipulated. Nothing comes of it, but maybe it’ll be important in a later episode.
Episode two is also technically inferior. Long, weird pauses in dialogue make it feel like an old JRPG that's pulling audio from a disc. Sometimes the characters do a good job of chattering while waiting for your input, but other times Vasquez especially seems to trail off like he's forgotten who he's talking to.
The walking segments are still awkward as ever, and this one includes an especially bad one. As Rhys, you have to scan the ground from a first-person perspective to find power conduits, then reconnect wires to power up some old Atlas tech. Getting the camera to point at the place you want to look is a struggle. You can nudge it around, but if you can’t see what you’re trying to find, you have to back out to third-person and clumsily steer Rhys somewhere else. And finding the circuits is busywork I thought Telltale was expunging from the adventure genre. It’s the most puzzle-like thing it has done in a while, but not a puzzle—just annoying.
And, of course, mashing ‘Q’ is still a vital part of the game. Maybe it wouldn’t bother me on a controller, but I don’t like jamming my keys to death so that a character can hold onto something.
The good news is that I fully expect Tales from the Borderlands to get better, and there’s lots of interesting stuff to resolve: Rhys is dealing with a hallucinatory Handsome Jack, who is the funniest part of this episode, and Fiona and Sasha still have to deal with Felix’s betrayal. Vaughn, meanwhile, is still just sort of... there. I feel like I'm supposed to distrust him, but I'm just not worried about him. He seems like he'd be a pretty ineffectual traitor, and as a friend, he's largely just Rhys' punchline. As I said, I enjoy the banter, but he's still the least interesting character.
Mostly, I hope we don't have to wait another four months to see what happens. It's too long! I am impatient. And forgetful.