Tales From the Borderlands – Episode 1: Zer0 Sum Review

Developer: Telltale Games, Gearbox Software

Release Date: November 25th, 2014

Available On: PC, PlayStation 3, PlayStation 4, Xbox One

Reviewer’s Note: I played the PlayStation 4 version of this game. There may be differences between versions.

When Tales From the Borderlands was first announced there was a general feeling of confusion. Borderlands was always known for being a little light on story and mostly providing a loot-filled first person shooting experience. Telltale, on the other hand, is known for making story heavy games that are light on the gameplay. Yet by the end of Tales From the Borderlands I had no doubt in my mind that Telltale knew exactly what they were doing and I wanted nothing but more of the Borderland’s universe.

Zer0 Sum introduces you to and puts you in the roles of two different people. Rhys is a Hyperion employee who’s trying his best to get promoted at work, while Fiona is a con artist who’s looking to make a quick buck wherever possible. Neither of them are really your typical Borderlands characters as both of them have no experience in combat or any kind of magical or super technological abilities. Instead they get through situations using words, improvisation, and sheer dumb luck. Both of them have different friends, enemies, and objectives. Both of them also need a briefcase that is currently carrying 10 million dollars, for different reasons of course.

Fallout called, they want their armor back

Fallout called, they want their armor back

Rhys and Fiona’s interactions with the world around them and your choices on what they do play a large part in making the story so good. Each character is entertaining in new and unique ways, and I found myself excited to see more while dreading what their overall fates may be. New characters like Hyperion accountant Varughn or criminal August play serious yet sometimes funny roles well and add really add to building the world around you. On the more insane spectrum we got Bossanova who is a dubstep loving bandit leader who talks through a giant speaker in his chest. He’s something that keeps up with the more hilarious themes of the Borderlands universe. It’s also nice to see Borderlands alumni Zer0, Tector, and Shade (the latter of which you may only recognize if you went through Borderland 2’s DLC) play central roles in the story.

Both Rhys and Fiona also have special abilities, though neither really matter much. Fiona’s is easily the more useless of the two: she can collect and spend money. That’s something that sounds like it should be useful, but your ability to use this is basically limited to being able to select a special mask for a later event (which does nothing but serve as a cosmetic difference) and at one point being able to bribe a guy (which is ultimately useless as you can do the same thing without the money). Maybe we’ll be seeing more out of money in later episodes though. Rhys, on the other hand, has a Nano-Eye that can analyze things. You’ll use it to solve one “puzzle”, but otherwise it’s only really good for giving you some flavor text on things. If you’re looking for said flavor text then yes the Nano-Eye is awesome. Outside of that it is ultimately not good for anything else. Like Fiona’s ability to spend money, I can only really hope that it sees some significant use in future episodes.

Loader Bot would be more fun if he didn't find memes so funny.

Loader Bot would be more fun if he didn’t find memes so funny.

As usual for Telltale games, combat is basically a series of quick time events. Thankfully it seems they improved everything since their last two series ended. The time you have to insert commands has been made longer, and there’s no more glitches that made The Wolf Among Us and The Walking Dead Season 2 such a pain to get through. At no point did the game slow down during action sequences or refuse to register the commands I’d input. Everything worked exactly as expected and if Telltale can keep this up for the rest of the series then it may be the best series they’ve released as far as action scenes go. That said, the game could use a little clean up outside of the action sequences. I had a few instances where lines had the last word or two cut off, the game tends to stutter if you pause mid-line, and at one point Rhys said two lines at once. It’s nothing game ruining, but it just needs a little more polish.

I left the first episode of Tales From the Borderlands extremely impressed. It successfully combines humor and drama and gives you characters you can both laugh at and care about. Furthermore it fleshes out Borderlands’ setting in ways the games never managed to do, and it is easily the best action stuff that Telltale has ever made. The uselessness of the special abilities is a minor setback, but when everything else about Zer0 Sum is so well done then I think I can live with that. Here’s hoping that Tales From the Borderlands is the next best thing from Telltale.

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