I love a bad joke. Dad jokes, terrible puns and oneliners—they all appeal to me, which is why I have always found the Borderlands universe painfully funny. I'm still laughing about the town called Buttsville in Tiny Tina's Wonderlands. The original Tales from the Borderlands was as hilarious as it was heartwarming, introducing new characters who—thanks to its adventure games structure—actually had a purpose and a story I cared about. And despite the genre shift, it was very much a Borderlands game in every sense: vault hunting, scams, capitalism, guns, and weird humour.
What is it? An episodic, QTE-heavy narrative-driven Borderlands spin-off.
Expect to pay: £34.99/ $39.99
Developer: Gearbox Studios
Reviewed on: Intel i7-9700F, RTX 2070 Super, 32GB RAM
Release date: 21 October, 2022
New Tales is still funny, but too many jokes overstay their welcome and overall, it just feels a bit rushed. It's obvious that Gearbox has tried to imitate the pacing and storytelling style of Tales, but instead, we have the introduction of characters who are never really seen again and plot points that end up being loopholes.
The narrator in New Tales from the Borderlands introduces the three main characters as idiots and doofuses and he's not wrong. Our trio of 'heroes' might be some of the most annoying protagonists I've ever played as, which is a credit to the writing team because that's exactly how they're supposed to be. You play as each character in rotation and will control various conversations in a group setting. An assassination bot, Lou13, is also present for the majority of the story but you don't get to play him, which is rather disappointing.
Let me introduce these dinguses: there's Anu—nerdy doctor and anxious, socially inept weirdo—and her younger brother, Octavio, a clout chaser. If TikTok were in the Borderlands universe he would be the most annoying creator on the app. And Fran? Actually, I quite like Fran. She's self-assured and makes it her mission not to lose her shit at the other two idiots every five seconds. She made a lot of sex jokes that I laughed at, and some I made a shocked Pikachu face at, so I have some complicated feelings about her.
New Tales from the Borderlands shares a similar theme to the rest of the series: one mega corp is trying to take over the other, while searching for Vaults and the treasures that lay within. Eridium, easily the most sought-after commodity in Borderlands, can move over in New Tales: it's healing shard time. Only, there's an angry entity that lives in the shard who's been separated from their death-dealing cosmic twin. And did I mention that Tediore has managed to get their hands on it and that the seemingly sentient shard has possessed Anu and nobody knows what to do about it? Yikes.
This is… actually a cage
For once, there's not much focus on the main or supporting character's backstories, which is quite refreshing. I don't much care about who these losers were before they turned bomb expert/sniper/taco-stand owner. There's a fast turnaround of introductions where said characters are only briefly seen again in montages. There are a lot of montages, one per act, and they kinda sucked. I would have rather they were playable sequences and, while the songs used in them were good, there wasn't the usual bombastic use of music to set the scene as in other Borderlands games.
Whether it was a budget issue or time constraint, there's a lot missing from New Tales. All of the episodes are available upfront, so you won't be waiting months between releases, but you're definitely still left wanting. In one sequence, Anu and Fran are in a shark tank and Fran is beating up sharks. Only, it's all a QTE with Octavio narrating and—aside from a quick look at the blood seeping into the tank—you don't see any of the action. And given that Fran's whole vibe—should you choose to keep her on the straight and narrow—is "I will not break my anger sobriety", it was really disappointing to see it all reduced to a behind-the-scenes event.
QTEs felt really overused—did I really need a quick-time sequence to slap some cage bars, or as part of a gratuitously overdrawn 'science experiment' to see if the healing shard really worked? There are a lot of what could have been really fun moments hidden behind QTEs, and I can't help but feel that a paced release of each chapter so that more time could be spent on New Tales development would have been the better option. You can fiddle with the difficulty of QTEs in the menu, and failing one doesn't automatically lead to death or a game over, but it will impact the story in ways that might not be clear until later on.
5 billion dollars? That's almost 6 billion dollars…
As usual, New Tales is full of toilet humour and is genuinely funny, but you probably won't find it as funny if you don't like memes. Fran and Lou13, in particular, had some cracking one-liners that had me pausing the game to laugh. In between the usual awkward, *finger guns* types of laughs like "[screams internally]" and a well-timed use of the phrase "thirsty", there's a reference to OnlyFans (if you guessed it's OnlyFrans, then well done), and insults about playing narrative-driven video games with a lot of fourth-wall-breaking stares.
On the flip side, there are a lot of sex-heavy jokes that don't land well at all, and many that are recycled making them a bit stale after a few hours. It's also painfully boring to see the characters in virtually the same situation every time. Anu will be freaking out and being super awks, Octavio will play buzzword bingo by himself and act painfully incompetent, and Fran is probably making the situation sexually tense for reasons. It takes the majority of New Tales to see some real growth between the characters but for some reason, they just never seem to learn. Or maybe I just made some really bad decisions for them.
At the end of each episode, you get a rating of how well each character is bonding with the other, and Lou13 will rate your team's morale on a scale of zero to skateboards. Why skateboards, you ask? No idea, it is never properly explained other than Lou13 tries quite hard to be rad but unfortunately got all of his cool guy chat from Octavio.
I was fired for playing Vaultlanders
The Vaultlanders action figure minigame is excellent, however. Vaultlanders are action figures of characters from previous games, like Maya, Fl4k and Brick. Each has unique attack and defensive stats and an ultimate of sorts you can use mid-fight. Basically, it's Mortal Kombat but with plastic figures. You whack your action figure off your opponents, dodging attacks and then hitting them with crit attacks until you get a K.O. It's as stupid as it sounds and I love that you can get access matches at any time from the main menu.
There's a recurring character—found in many cold storage areas for reasons that are never explained—who reminds me of your rival in the Pokemon games. If you find him, you're locked into battle and winning the fights means you can take the Vaultlander figurine from him. Once you've won the first fight against him, you can choose to play Vaultlanders matches from the main menu, if you need a break from the story. Unfortunately, encountering the Badass Superfan falls into the same repetitive story trap as the rest of the non-QTE sections: You can finally roam free, loot some boxes, oh and a little prompt tells you there's a Vaultlander or two hidden in this very small area.
The Badass Superfan and the rest of the Tediore soldiers are some of the best tertiary characters. The banter between them is so stupid and funny and I ugly laughed a lot. It reminds me a lot of Jake Peralta and the Brooklyn 99 squad—rambling, sort-of incoherent nonsense that's just for laughs. One of the soldiers forgets his teammate's name and is just shouting "Doug? Wait, isn't it Anthony? Doug Anthony?" and the absurdity of it happening during what is actually quite a tense stealth QTE mission made it funnier. Throughout the story, there's a good mix of really dumb humour with serious decision-making or QTE events that saves it from being soulless, but there's still something missing.
Sadly, the Telltale magic just isn't there. There are predictable twists and surprise events during the story with plenty of successes and pitfalls, but Gearbox just hasn't managed to get the pacing right. Chapter-based games can always feel like a bit of a slog in the middle, but parts of this were downright painful to get through. You can't even skip ahead with the dialogue so you're trapped in a sequence until either a QTE begins or you can finally have some freedom to wander about a tiny, limited area. It's difficult to understand who the target audience for New Tales is, other than elder millennials with a cynical sense of humour. It made me laugh a lot, but equally, there were too many sections that I wanted to just be over already which sucked a lot of the fun out of it.