E3 2014: Tales From The Borderlands Is Match Made In Heaven

As a person who spent six years of her life studying narrative design and literature, I’ve been a fan of Telltale Games since they released The Walking Dead. Until then I had never encountered another studio that so beautifully blended the scope of cinema and the emotions of narrative into a form of interactive entertainment. As a gamer and a writer, it was a match made in heaven.

And Telltale kept surprising everyone after that—their intriguing narratives married some of the most beloved comic book series of all times with games that we would soon fall in love with as well. Somehow Telltale is able to create these connections with their own design and existing worlds to create novelty. The same can be said with their up-and-coming Tales of the Borderlands.

“In The Walking Dead choices are about thing you don’t want to do. In The Wolf Among Us choices are complicated. In Tales from the Borderlands, choices are things you want. Greed runs these characters,” explained Jon Stauffer, PR director at Telltale Games. He said this as Rhys, one of characters you play, opens a loot crate and takes the money inside without giving the player an option to take it or leave it.

Masterfully, Telltale hit the bulls-eye in their partnership with Gearbox. Telltale games are absolutely about player choice and Tales from the Borderlands is not exception—but here the player choice does not come at a sacrifice of the narrative of the game itself. In this respect the feel and look of Borderlands has been captured perfectly. The game looks like Gearbox from head to toe, from the environments and characters to the tiniest details in the menu interface. They even introduce new characters in perfect Borderlands style with the pause, comic book backstop, and sarcastic descriptor.

As the demo starts, the player takes control of Rhys, a man we know little about aside from the fact that he once worked at Hyperion and had the ambition to fill Handsome Jack’s post-mortem shoes. We first meet Rhys as he begins narrate a tale to a mysterious figure. He talks about his life working for Hyperion and his endeavors to rise above Vasquez, a “corporate jerkface” who quickly stole Jack’s previous throne. While in Vasquez’s office, Rhys searches for a way to push him off that throne so he can take it himself. There is valuable information in Vasquez’s computer, but the monitor is turned away from him. What’s interesting about Rhys, however, is that he has a cybernetic arm and eye. In the first few minutes controlling him the player is able to use Rhys’s eye to analyze the stats of nearby NPCs and also hack information from the computer. While it’s unclear how often this eye will be used in the game, it’s a nifty addition.

Through a little bit of spy work, Rhys discovers that Vasquez is trying to purchase a Vault Key—an acquisition that could help him get on Hyperion’s thrown. It then becomes his life goal to get the key before Vas.

This is where the adventure opens and we find Rhys on Pandora after meeting up with a couple of his friends. Following an opening scene akin to the grand opening sequences of the Borderlands we find Rhys, accompanied by his best friend Vaghn, in a town on Pandora called Prosperity Junction. Unfortunately for dear Rhys, Prosperity Junction is also rather bandit-ridden, and we all know how hospitable bandits are.

In short, the bandits get a little ill-tempered and start to attack Rhys and Vaghn, who lest we forget are not our heroic vault hunters but normal people just trying to climb the corporate ladder. Lucky for them, Rhys can summon a Motorbot, who can be customized in a similar fashion to weapons and shields from Borderlands. The player can’t directly control the Motorbot, but they do enter a first-person mode that allows them to select individual NPCs to shoot. I’m not sure how this will be used later on in the game but this time around, after a hilarious fighting montage, the player must make Rhys choose whether he should self-destruct Motorbot or let him live.

I don’t want to go into too much detail with what follows this sequence. Games like this are something that should be experienced with your own individual tale to tell. In short, following some issues purchasing the Vault Key, we run into another playable character in the game—Fiona, who interrupts Rhys as he is telling his story to the stranger, saying “that’s not how it went.”

Telltale promises that there are always going to be two sides to the Tales from the Borderlands. Rhys and Fiona each tell their portions of the tale with a mixture of truth and imagination. This leaves ample room for the comedy we've come to expect from Borderlands. The story so far has me chomping at the bit to get my hands on the title.

I had the pleasure of sitting down and interviewing some of the development team following the E3 demo, so stay tuned for that later this week… and get ready for a Pandora that you find both intimately familiar and brand new.

Katy Goodman is a freelance writer and graduate student in English. When she isn’t busy training birds of prey, horses, or freshman composition students, she can be found playing video games or climbing trees. She also really likes grilled cheese. Follow her on Twitter @InvizzyB or on her blog, Pixel Hearts.