New Tales from the Borderlands – Review
Follow Genre: Adventure game
Developer: Gearbox
Publisher: 2K
Platform: Switch, PC, PS4, PS5, Xbox One, Xbox Series X|S
Tested on: PC

New Tales from the Borderlands – Review

Site Score
7.2
Good: Individual characters are great
Bad: Main story feels underwhelming
User Score
9.0
(2 votes)
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Rating: 9.0/10 (2 votes cast)

Ah, Telltale Games; the ill-fated developer of a unique brand of choice-driven QTE adventure games, whose gameplay style was so iconic that you’d know exactly what you’d be getting into when you picked up one of their titles, whether it was The Walking Dead, Batman, or Back to the Future. Somewhat unexpectedly, the studio had to file for bankruptcy in 2018, and although LCG Entertainment picked up the rights to Telltale’s back catalog, many believed that the demise of Telltale meant we’d never get to see another game in the studio’s beloved style. Enter Gearbox, the studio behind the Borderlands franchise. Back in 2015, Telltale released the original Tales from the Borderlands, which to this day still stands as both one of Telltale’s best games and one of the best entries in the Borderlands franchise as well. Gearbox has taken it upon themselves to release a spiritual successor to that game in the form of New Tales from the Borderlands. Can the game live up to Telltale’s legacy or is this just a cheap copy?

Story

Rather than pick up where things left off in its predecessor, New Tales presents players with a completely new standalone story, set approximately one year after Borderlands 3, with a trio of completely new characters acting as our misfit protagonists. There’s the anxious but altruistic scientist Anu, her younger brother Octavio, a street rat who aspires to become a rich and famous businessman, and perhaps the most interesting character of the three, Fran, the owner of the froyo shop where Octavio works. Overweight and wheelchair-bound (or should that be hoverchair-bound?), she has to deal with the aftermath of a laser having destroyed half of her business, and it’s clear from the get-go that she has a dark past and some issues she’s still dealing with. Rounding things out is a range of likable supporting characters, from Anu’s lab assistant Phuong to LOU13, an assassin robot that only kills his targets after they tell him their name.

There’s a lot that can be said about the direction that Gearbox took with these characters. Judging from early reactions of the Borderlands fan base, our protagonist trio definitely didn’t fit the expectations of the fan base compared to Tales’ heroes Rhys and Fiona. Granted, these definitely followed more traditional templates, and there is something that can be said about New Tales focusing on inclusion, not just with its main players but with its supporting cast as well. As long as characters aren’t defined by specific traits and are well-rounded, however, there isn’t any real reason to complain about Anu’s skin tone or Fran’s implied sexuality.

If these are things that you feel uncomfortable with, then we can already tell you that New Tales isn’t going to be for you. New Tales gives its cast enough room to showcase their personality without relying on cliché character traits, however, so if you can look past them, there is a lot to like here… if you’re willing to overlook specific issues with the overarching story. We won’t dive too deep into that story -after all, this is almost entirely a narrative-driven experience- but we can say that although the cast gradually grew on us, the overall story didn’t live up to its predecessor. The main story revolves around weapons manufacturing company Tediore looking for a Vault. The key for said Vault happens to be in the possession of Atlas’ CEO Rhys Strongfork. Through a series of unlikely events, our main trio ends up tracking down this Vault for themselves, but as their luck would have it, their journey is filled with Psychos, Tediore troops, and monsters.

Unlike the original Tales, which was so well-rounded that we’d even recommend it to people unfamiliar with the Borderlands universe, what you’re getting here in terms of overall story arc felt very underwhelming. Characters and dialogues are well-written for the most part, although we couldn’t help but feel that Rhys -who makes a return from the previous game, in an extended cameo appearance- suffered from a massacred personality compared to how he ended up at the end of the events from the previous title. Speaking of previous titles, there are plenty of nods to other games to be found here, but they often feel shoehorned in, and they would be lost on people that simply played Tales but skipped the mainline Borderlands franchise. We know that this is probably a minority of New Tales’ audience, but it also highlights how forced certain elements feel, and the well-rounded cast can’t really save the mixed bag that the main story is.

Graphics

Both the Borderlands games and Telltale’s backlog have a striking visual style, and New Tales falls somewhere in the middle. The original Tales definitely skewed more towards Telltale’s iconic aesthetics and New Tales definitely feels different, with more realistic-looking character models -hands in particular- and less heavy black outlines. That said, the game doesn’t quite break tradition. If you’re a fan of Borderlands’ art direction, then you’re absolutely going to love New Tales, and if you’re not, then this game isn’t going to change your mind. There were some instances where character animations felt a bit awkward and stilted, and facial expressions in particular felt ‘off” at times, although this is something that we’ve come to associate with previous Borderlands titles, so we’re not sure if this is just a stylistic choice or not.

Sound

One thing we absolutely adore about the Borderlands franchise is how well-curated the music is: the opening cutscenes are typically accompanied by fitting songs, from Ain’t No Rest for the Wicked in the original game to Busy Earnin’ in Tales. We’re happy to say that New Tales continues that tradition, although the songs carry less oomph. Gearbox relied on lesser-known artists this time around -perhaps because this was more cost-efficient. Now, your mileage may vary here, but we felt like the music was definitely less memorable. The voice cast, on the other hand, does a stellar job. New Tales is fully voiced, of course, and although many of the actors are making their debut here, there isn’t a single performance that felt phoned in. Our only regret is that Rhys wasn’t voiced by Troy Baker, although his replacement, Ray Chase, already took up the character’s mantle in Borderlands 3.

Gameplay

We half-expected to be greeted by Telltale’s signature phrase “This game series adapts to the choices you make. The story is tailored by how you play.” when we started a new game. That phrase has become a bit of a running gag, as many people have noted that those choices tended not to matter all that much in hindsight. Given that New Tales wasn’t developed by Telltale, the phrase is omitted, but apart from that omission, what you’re getting here is almost a carbon copy of what Telltale offered in terms of gameplay. In practice, this means that New Tales plays out like a movie or series, with limited interactivity and minor plot changes depending on choices made in dialogue trees. The gameplay is largely based on QTEs with minor exploration at key points in the game. Overall, this means that there isn’t a whole lot to New Tales’ gameplay, but given the nature of the game, that’s not a bad thing.

If you’re terrible with QTEs, you have the option to turn these off entirely or simply make it so that the game accepts any button input instead of specific ones, when prompted. While we can’t complain about these as they are optional, it does mean that interactivity can be made even more limited. Then again, nobody is going to play through New Tales for the gameplay instead of the story. There is a secondary gameplay element in the form of Vaultlanders, a thinly veiled Skylanders parody (in 2022? Really, Gearbox?) that involves collecting tiny plastic figurines. Rounding things out in the main game are optional alternate skins for the main cast, which you can purchase using in-game currency. There’s also a minigame that involves pitting the aforementioned Vaultlanders against one another, but it feels more like a way to pad the ten hours or so that the main attraction has to offer rather than like a substantial extra.

Conclusion

While we can’t entirely rule out bias on our part (because our expectations were so high), we have to say that New Tales simply doesn’t live up to its predecessor. That doesn’t mean it’s bad -not in the slightest, in fact- but given how important the story is in a game of this nature, we couldn’t help but feel disappointed with what was offered here. There is a lot to like in terms of character development, although you need to give the protagonists some time to grow on you -especially Octavio. Returning to the Borderlands universe is never not fun though, so if you keep your expectations in check, New Tales is worth checking out. Here’s hoping that this is merely a first attempt, because we’d love to see a third entry that brings New Tales‘ cast together with Fiona, Loader Bot, and Gortys.

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Rating: 9.0/10 (2 votes cast)
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New Tales from the Borderlands - Review, 9.0 out of 10 based on 2 ratings
SebastiaanRaats


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