Tales from the Borderlands is considered by many to be one of the best stories crafted by the no-longer-defunct Telltale Games. It’s mix of humor, action, and surprising amount of heart left a strong impression with players. Now, the series returns with New Tales from the Borderlands, an all new interactive narrative game.
It’s a successor, not so much a proper sequel, though series alumni have contributed to the development. I sat down with the team at Gearbox Quebec for a hands-off early demo of the upcoming title to see if they have been able to recapture that Telltale magic. They have, though that’s because Gearbox seems comfortable sticking with the script rather than totally reinventing the narrative genre.
My demo began early into the second chapter of the story. The protagonists Anu, Octavio, and Fran pursue armed troops of the gun manufacturer Tediore into the sewers. The classic Borderlands humor is front and center as Octavio takes a call from his “friend” Paco, who, after threatening to kill Octavio himself, advises everyone to take a stealthy approach. This is the first moment of player division. And after selecting military jargon-heavy answers, Octavio asks “Weapons and equipment OSP?” in a line lifted directly from Metal Gear Solid.
“Our choices are designed so that their flow feels natural,” Lin Joyce, head of writing at Gearbox, tells Digital Trends. “Rather than using indicator text … the characters themselves are going to respond in ways that make their feelings clear. We wanted to keep you immersed in the experience, and let the game do the talking.”
The dialogue tree itself is fairly conventional. Each cardinal direction represents a different answer with text indicating the feel of the response, more than a 1:1 read through. A meter shrinks, indicating how much time you have to choose an option, and it will default to the most neutral response if there isn’t any player input.
“Every choice has an immediate consequence,” Lin says. “Some have mid to longer-term consequences. We aren’t being brazen about which one matters, because they all matter … There are some interesting twists and turns that culminate in one of five distinct endings based on what you do.”
The branching paths are demonstrated in the next scene, as the team decides whether to take a non-violent approach or kill everyone they see. Fran is pushing the more murderous method that is selected, and Anu’s expression is visibly upset with the decision.
“We aren’t telegraphing,” Lin says, “but the way you make choices as one protagonist has an impact on the other protagonists and how they feel and respond to you throughout the game. “
Fran sneaks ahead aboard her floating wheelchair, a Tediore Soldier just ahead. As she approaches, a button prompt appears on screen. This takedown will be decided in a Quick Time Event (QTE). It’s … a disaster. Several failed button presses leave the guard alive, alerted, and filling Fran’s torso full of bullet holes. Oops.
“QTE’s can be notoriously ruthless,” James Lopez, Director of Production at Gearbox, tells Digital Trends. “Our accessibility features allow you to dial it up or down speed-wise. If you want a big challenge you can make it more difficult …. or you can dial it down and make it easier. “
This time we take Anu’s pacifist approach (disgruntling Fran in the process). The Metal Gear Solid allusion from earlier is reinforced as a radar appears in one corner of the screen, and Octavio begins sneaking up on a guard while inside a box. The guard sees through the ruse immediately (let’s be honest, a cardboard box isn’t a clever tactic here). Rather than kill Octavio though, he challenges him to a duel using Vaultlander Figurines.
“That is Vaultlanders,” Lin says, “one of the minigames in New Tales from the Borderlands. That one is initiated by a Vaultlanders superfan. To prepare for this you can collect Vaultlanders Figurines throughout the game.”
The battle takes place zoomed in on the figurines, and is presented like a classic 2D fighting game, health bars and all. The figurines have unique stats, and skills. They swing at each like they are wielded by disgruntled toddlers, cheered on by an announcer who sounds ripped straight from Killer Instinct. Octavio outmatches his opponent, winning safe passage, and the figurine that was just defeated.
The team arrives at a group of soldiers carrying the vault key. We decide to stick to the shadows and see how the scene plays out. This proves to be the right choice, as the soldiers unwittingly unleashed a trio of unnamed monsters, who cut the soldiers down with ruthless efficiency.
Based on my time with New Tales from the Borderlands, it’s evident that this is meant to carry on the tradition of its predecessor, rather than reinvent it entirely. That’s not a bad thing; the humor the series is known for is ever-present, and the adventure with this ragtag cast of characters could be a lot of fun. Ultimately, it will be up to the story and performances to determine if this is a worthwhile spiritual successor.
New Tales from the Borderlands will consist of five chapters, all five will be released together as one package on October 21 for Xbox, PlayStation, PC, and Nintendo Switch.