I loved the first Tales from the Borderlands, and the way it immersed me into the world of Borderlands on a narrative journey I really cared about. Here’s the thing though, I’ve never really played any other Borderlands games, that was my first. Since then, I tried a bit of the first game and the opening of Borderlands: The Pre-Sequel, and as much as I enjoyed them, circumstances got in the way. I’ve wanted to get back into the series for a while, so when I saw the reveal of New Tales from the Borderlands I was pretty excited at the opportunity it could bring.
My hype was mixed with an even amount of concern though. New Tales from the Borderlands puts franchise creators Gearbox in charge, after gaining the rights back from Telltale Games who developed the first Tales game. I’d heard mixed things from friends about Borderlands 3, specifically around the writing and narrative which would be crucial to a Tales from the Borderlands game, so I was pretty worried. I’ve finally played and completed the imaginatively titled New Tales from the Borderlands, and I had a wonderful time.
Characters are a key part of any good narrative adventure game, and the cast of New Tales from the Borderlands is as whacky as one would expect in a Borderlands title. The player controls three protagonists, with each being well realized and three-dimensional. There’s Anu, an Atlas scientist who is career driven to a fault but comically awkward and genuinely cares for her brother. Octavio, Anu’s younger brother, is on a mission to be a successful entrepreneur on the streets of Promethea but has more ambition than brain cells and is stuck working for a frogurt shop. Finally there’s Fran, Octavio’s boss, and the overly aggressive owner of Fran’s Frogurt working on her anger issues.
Outside of protagonists, there are a lot of memorable side characters too. Following the characters on their journey is LOU13, an assassination robot with a surprising amount of depth and charm for a robot designed to kill. My personal favorite character however was Susan Coldwell, CEO of Tediore and antagonist of New Tales from the Borderlands. She is an incredibly serious character, which both makes her feel incredibly real and threatening, whilst also making her genuinely hilarious in how her harsh personality clashes with the unhinged Borderlands world around her. I cannot praise enough the performance of Coldwell by voice actor Samantha Ferris, immediately becoming one of the most charismatic and love-to-hateable female villains in gaming history.
The choices the player is given in how the trio interact with their surroundings are often very fun to pick from, and do have significant consequences at least in their current conversation. The game isn’t just locked to picking dialogue responses though, there are a number of opportunities to walk around a small area of the world and interact with it in a number of ways. Decisions are still the core of gameplay progression though, with each chapter usually having a couple of dialogue choices that will give different responses and repercussions when chosen. As is often seen in narrative games, these consequences snowball, giving a number of endings that are significantly different from each other.
One of the pitfalls of these kinds of games is the disappointment that comes with failed choices that don’t pan out as you expected. I specifically was leaning into a certain ending for a certain character through my entire playthrough, yet at the end the worst possible thing happened to them. There were a number of times that I made a decision for my characters as was presented to me by the game, only for it to be completely undercut to try and keep the characters from branching away too far from their established personalities.
Clearer signposting of key decisions would have been appreciated and given the player more agency over their quest. For example, some important quick time events (QTEs) affected some character relationships, even if failing them wasn’t a narrative choice I intended to make. It’s a little disheartening to see a friendship you’re trying to create start slipping because you weren’t fast enough to press some buttons. It’s important to note this can be turned off in the settings, but I didn’t notice the option on my first playthrough.
I use the phrase “first playthrough” because the game is surprisingly replayable. There are collectible Vaultlander figures in each episode that can be found by going back and playing through them again. The Vaultlander figures can then be used in enjoyable but extraordinarily easy minigame battles. As previously mentioned, there are also many smaller consequences and different endings to experience too.
The writing of New Tales from the Borderlands is great with its emotional moments, and handles each character carefully to give them nuanced emotions and create some interesting conflicts. Where the writing can slip behind a bit however is the humor. Borderlands has always been comedic, but New Tales from the Borderlands seems to be trying a bit too hard sometimes to be ‘quirky’ and ‘random’.
Failed jokes can sometimes be a little cringeworthy, with some dated internet-style humor making particularly Octavio lose his character a bit at points. It’s hard to be immersed in a young, trendy character and feel they’re a real person when at points you can feel the slightly outdated millennial humor of a writers’ room in what they say. I don’t want to be too harsh because the dialogue of New Tales from the Borderlands is pretty great 90% of the time, but the remaining 10% is very clunky and verging on embarrassing. Humor is famously subjective, so your experience may vary here.
My overall experience of New Tales from the Borderlands was a good one. I can’t dive too deep into the story without spoiling it, but there are some great surprises, returning faces and the occasional plot twist. The game is also lovely to look at. The locations of Promethea are well realized, and often quite beautiful in their mundane settings. The only time the game doesn’t look good is when it’s cutting corners. Some key action scenes are done off screen or in creative ways that, whilst smart, are still clearly being done due to budgetary or time restrictions. There’s a particularly exciting moment that is teased to happen through the story, only for the game to seriously undercut once it happens with a creative choice that sacrifices the surprise for a cheap bait-and-switch that’s meant to be funny but instead feels cheap.
Despite my complaints, I’d happily replay New Tales from the Borderlands – I already have started my second run! The game might not be the best it could be, and it certainly could’ve used more work on the writing and on some of the key action scenes. Despite this, the characters are loveable, the world is engaging and the player choices are expansive. There’s always something whacky happening in New Tales from the Borderlands, and it’s definitely worth experiencing at least once.
Bobby played New Tales from the Borderlands on PlayStation 5 with his own copy. New Tales from the Borderlands is also available on PlayStation 4, Xbox One, Xbox Series X/S, Nintendo Switch and PC.