It took them a while but Telltale has finally completed the Tales from the Borderlands series just as they got Minecraft: Story Mode off the ground. It’s fitting that one of Telltale’s game spin-offs ends as another begins. From what I understand of Minecraft: Story Mode (review coming soon), it’s apparently designed to appeal mostly to kids which is how I would peg the stereotypical audience of Minecraft proper.
I look at Tales from the Borderlands in a similar way. No, it’s not a kids’ game but it is a game designed to appeal to the audience of the proper game that it’s based on. In its final episode, though, Tales from the Borderlands finally clicks in the way we’ve gotten used to from Telltale Games.
Spoiler Alert: As per usual for my reviews of episodic games, I will try to keep the reviews as spoiler-free as possible. However, referencing the four previous episodes are fair game and may be spoiled. If you want to talk about the proper Borderlands games in the comments, have at it.
As you would expect, this game picks up right after the hasty conclusion of the last episode. In the context of the inevitable fallout of that final decision in Episode Four, I can understand why they cut the episode early there. I still can’t help but feel that the decision really meant nothing in the grand scheme of the plot and Pandora. I can’t say that’s surprising coming from Telltale but early scuttlebutt about the Minecraft game is the exact opposite (although pundits expect meaningful decision determinant differences to be far fewer final three episodes there).
While the payoff to that decision was underwhelming, when you get to the final half of the episode, the decisions you made over the course of the series come back to make an impact on one final mission. Well, it makes an impact in so much that these decisions will affect who is available for the final mission. Whether the mission plays out any differently in any way other than dialogue and a couple of QTE sequences, I don’t know. I don’t intend to replay some seven hours of the game in order to make different choices just for one scene when I have my doubts that the decisions will actually matter.
At the very least, I will give Telltale some credit with the writing otherwise. They do attempt to tug on the heartstrings a little bit. They don’t put Rhys or Vaughn on the line because I think Telltale has finally realized that they just weren’t well-written characters. I never cared about either of them and enjoyed my time with Fiona and Sasha much more than the boys. If the episodes were 90% with the con-artists, I would have enjoyed them more.
The problem with trying to go for some tearjerking in the finale is that you have to care about the characters. When you’re too busy trying to do comedy, you seldom connect with the characters. The girls showed some development but the only ones I really liked or connected with were the bloody robots.
There are a few positives in this episode, though. The run-time was a little over two hours. I ran at about 2:05 but I think that your run time will be within ten minutes of that. I think that would make this the longest Telltale episode since the first episode of The Wolf Among Us. In other words, this might be the longest Telltale episode in two years. I’m not sure that’s a ringing endorsement, Telltale.
And while the episode started with the same old QTEs (click here, go in this direction, break your Q key), there was a climactic fight scene that did QTEs closer to that of a proper fight game combo. Your fingers flew over the QWEASD keys as you entered the combos on-screen. It was the most unique take on the QTE I’ve seen out of Telltale. I honestly wouldn’t mind more of this in future games. It kept me engaged rather than zoning out between occasional prompts. Dare I say, the fight was actually really fun as a result of this design choice.
I’d say that one of the highlights of the episode was the original music. Jared Emerson-Johnson usually does the score for Telltale’s games but this episode was the first time in any of the games that I’ve played where the music has stood out in a good way. I’m talking about maybe I should see where I can download the score good way. He certainly made an impact in this episode.
Unfortunately, the rest of the audio department let them down. As I noted with the final episode of Life is Strange, all the male extras were terribly voiced. I think they shared one voice actor who did it on the same headset that they use when screaming at people on CSGO. It was a noticeable drop off in acting and audio quality.
And it wouldn’t be me and TFTB without some technical issues plaguing this episode. I don’t know how old the Telltale Tool is but they just couldn’t get it right for this series. While I didn’t have a game breaking bug, it was still full of issues.
In the final mission scene, there were some quite obvious pauses and odd jumps that looked to be in places where I would expect decision determinant dialogue to be dropped in. I wouldn’t have thought that picking a particular dialogue or animation would be that hard considering the frequent and lengthy loading screens but this is the hand Telltale dealt me.
Actually, when I think about it, the whole final mission was a bit of a technical mess. The audio seemed out of sync. Subtitles stopped halfway through the screen to continue onto the next line. In a getaway scene in the van, the camera juddered all over the place to the point where if it held on any longer, I would have gotten motion sickness. And the final dramatic button pushing was foiled by an extra standing between the camera and the button so I didn’t actually see it.
And to top it all off, I had problems with the final screen. Rather than seeing the choices screen after the credits, I was told that I was offline and couldn’t access the server. I was given the option to skip that or refresh my choices but I wasn’t given a cursor to choose either option. So I had to ALT-F4 my way out of the game. It was a fitting end to this series.
As one would hope, Tales from the Borderlands ended on a high note. The final episode was far and away the best episode of the series. It was the only episode that really dared to push what we were used to from Telltale Games in terms of visuals and story and mechanics. If the whole series was like this, I could understand the scuttlebutt about being a game of the year candidate. I’m not actually sure it’ll make my Top 15 of 2015 list.
Normally, I would do a big season recap but I don’t really feel passionately enough about TFTB to do that. It’s a perfectly serviceable comedy game that captures the irreverent nature that you can find in the Borderlands universe without actually reminding you of either a Borderlands or a Telltale game. If you really want to play it, I think it’ll be worth it at around 50% off or better. You can wait for the 66% daily deal at Thanksgiving, right?
Tales from the Borderlands – Episode Five: The Vault of the Traveller was played on Windows PC but is also available for OS X, PlayStation 4, Xbox One, PlayStation 3, Xbox 360, iOS and Android. Review code for this game was provided by Telltale Games. Your impressions of the game may change depending on platform played on, PC specs and whether time really heals all wounds.