Genre: Interactive adventure/sci-fi
Synopsis: Rhys is trying to make his way up the corporate ladder in Hyperion, which is hard when his boss has it out for him. But if he intercepts a vault key–which can open up a cache of riches–it’ll propel his career to the top. Of course, said vault key is on Pandora, a run down slum of a planet that’ll be a challenge to brave. And things become even more complicated when he runs afoul of a con artist, Fiona.
Fiona would love to get out of Pandora, but she needs resources to do it. Robbing a Hyperion lackey might just be enough to accomplish her goals–and everyone knows those guys are terrible, so it wouldn’t even be that wrong, would it?
And so Rhys and Fiona are set up on a collision course, with riches and both of their futures on the line. Will they be able to get their hands on a vault? Or will they kill each other first?
Series: Stands alone. Set in the world of the Borderlands franchise.
Verdict: Great humorous adventure story.
This was so much fun, and absolutely hilarious. It took a while for me to get into it, but once I did, it didn’t let go. It’s a comedic adventure story where the player alternates between two characters. One is Rhys, a lackey working for the evil corporation, Hyperion. The other is Fiona, a con artist who tries to take advantage of him. These two, along with their colleagues, are thrown into a chaotic adventure to find a cache of treasures, all the while dodging enemies who want it as badly as they do.
We open up with Rhys’ side of the story, and here is where it took me a little while to appreciate what the story does. Rhys is working for the big bad corporation, where condescension is an art form and corruption is how you get ahead. It isn’t just that everyone’s an asshole. It’s that they’re all taught to be assholes, in ways that are amusingly obvious. This is genuinely funny, but it made it hard for me to connect to the narrative at first. It made it hard to find a way to get behind Rhys the character, who we’re ultimately supposed to be.
Later on, I found a rhythm with how to play his character in a way that I actually ended up enjoying. To me, he was earnestly following the playbook for the ideal he was taught to believe in. There’s a certain model Hyperion strives for, and he joins the rest of his colleagues in following that model. He never sees another way to be, but he also doesn’t have that cutthroat instinct. So I chose to interpret his acting like a total jerk as grandstanding, which actually made it a lot more fun–and allowed me to pick the most ridiculous dialogue choices that I would otherwise never be able to. (The game also makes this much easier by being self-aware of how not cool Hyperion’s idea of normal is.)
Whenever it came down to real world consequences–like if he actually had to hurt people to follow that model–I’d have him be a lot more uncertain. Especially if he could see the reality of the damage he might cause, instead of only understanding it as an idea. When he’s all talk, he’s having fun with it and getting into the showmanship. When people are getting hurt or he’s expected to betray his friends, suddenly he’s not that into it anymore.
I also ended up appreciating how utterly without shame Rhys is. He does not care if he looks like a wimp–sometimes I get the impression that being a bit of a wimp is part of that model he’s trying to follow, of that stereotypical corporate bad guy. Which would explain why he’s not self-conscious about it at all. And that’s a good part of what allows the game to be so funny. Rhys could be flailing around while dodging a bad guy, surviving through sheer luck while looking as incompetent as possible. If he’d been embarrassed about it, then the game would’ve invited us to laugh at him. But he plays it cool, completely unphased by it, and instead we’re laughing with him.
Playing Fiona was more straightforward. She’s a grifter, driven by a strong bond with her family. She lies and steals and cheats, but because she’s living in the slums and trying to build a better life for her sister, it’s simple to see where she’s coming from. Then there’s the bit of fun to be had with her slowly discovering that she can be more than just a con artist, that she’s got it in her to really commit to adventuring.
I played her as putting her family first, but not completely ruthless. She’ll have no problem playing crime bosses or gangsters, but when she’s dealing with those honest people trying to earn their living, she’ll hesitate. Then she’ll weigh how desperate her circumstances are versus what she’d cost them.
Rhys and Fiona’s characters are dependent both on the framework of the narrative and how the player chooses to interpret them, which is an interesting combination. Tales of the Borderlands is heavily story-driven, which means that the protagonists’ personalities must stand on their own. But in giving players the ability to direct Rhys and Fiona’s actions–though not the flair with which they’ll enact those actions–we get to choose an important aspect of who they are.
This is a staple of Telltale’s games, of course, but what made Tales of the Borderlands unique is that it didn’t go for easy character archetypes for the audience to get behind. In the end, that risk made for a richer experience. I’ve obviously had to search within myself a little to find a way to be Rhys in particular, and that brought me deeper into the story.
Overall, I really fell into this world. Despite my initial reservations, I even fell into playing as these characters. Between an unforgettable style, great sense of humor, and quirky supporting cast, Tales from the Borderlands is another amazing Telltale experience. The story is so much fun, and I absolutely loved it.