Tales From the Borderlands 'Zero Sum' impressions - our (fish) story begins

Tales From the Borderlands releases its first episode on Tuesday. So how is it looking? Shacknews has some detailed impressions for the first episode.

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When an entity as large as Hyperion loses its leader, it doesn't magically go away. Contrary to an old axiom, cutting off the head of a snake doesn't always kill it. If anything, the snake will slither on with a whole new head, though its eventual form takes some time to determine.

This is how Tales From the Borderlands begins its first episode, titled "Zero Sum." This is Telltale's first stab at the beloved Gearbox franchise and while there isn't any direct gunplay to be found, the first episode does indicate that it will be as faithful to the Borderlands series as any fan could want.

The events of Borderlands 2 have come and gone, meaning Handsome Jack is dead. However, Hyperion remains and there's now a huge vacuum of power left in Jack's absence. This is where co-protagonist Rhys comes in. Like everyone else at Hyperion, Rhys is looking to plow his way to the top of the company food chain before his path is suddenly stopped by a cutthroat named Vasquez. The opening suddenly sets the stage for the grand story, which involves Rhys and hacker buddy Vaughn on the hunt to intercept a Vault Key before Vasquez can get his hands on it. This leads to the other half of the story, which involves a Pandora-born con woman named Fiona, whose story also revolves this Vault Key. Alongside her sister Sasha and her father figure Felix, Fiona tells her own distinct tale that eventually intercepts Rhys' own outing, leading to somewhat of an uneasy alliance.

If the signature Borderlands art style wasn't enough to indicate that this is different than the average Telltale game, the overall tone should hammer that point home. Unlike The Walking Dead and The Wolf Among Us, Tales From the Borderlands is a decidedly lighter tale. Many of the dialogue options carry that humorous flare that the Borderlands series has become known for, whether it's through Rhys' quick-witted responses or through some well-timed sight gags. There are some dark moments in the first episode, but there are more laughs to be had than in previous Telltale efforts.

Some of those laughs are had by the very premise. Rhys and Fiona, by their nature as a corporate smooth-talker and a quick-thinking swindler respectively, are born liars. There are several instances where players will make a decision for one character, only to see an over-the-top sequence play out, followed by the other character promptly calling them out on their hogwash. My only complaint here is that I only wish these sequences all played out like the first time it's seen, in which the second character would be asked for the real story and have the next scene determined by a dialogue choice.

While Rhys and Fiona don't have the big guns that one is accustomed to in Borderlands, they do have abilities that they can utilize throughout the story. Rhys has a cybernetic eye implant that allows him to analyze pieces of the scenery to get fun facts and trivia, though it can also be used to advance the story in certain instances. Meanwhile, Fiona uses her thieving nature to find cash. Since loot is king in Borderlands, cash can factor into decisions. For example, Fiona starts her story by bumping into a bouncer that won't let her into a Pandora bar. While she can try and make up a lie to try and get in, a dialogue choice will also allow her to bribe the bouncer with cash, should she have enough on her. Cash-based decisions didn't factor in too much to the overall story, but it's a neat idea to look out for in future episodes to see how much Telltale expands on it. Another idea to look out for is the Hyperion-supplied Loader Bot, which is deployed during the story with a player-chosen arsenal that appears to affect how subsequent scenes play out and which quick-time prompts appear.

Aside from Rhys and Fiona, Tales From the Borderlands has sown the seeds for a strong supporting cast. Vaughn and Sasha both show good chemistry with their respective partners. Meanwhile, Vasquez displays a pleasantly unexpected turn for voice actor Patrick Warburton, revealing a surprisingly strong effort as a sinister villain. Future episodes will also spotlight a mysterious Vault Hunter named Zer0, who seems to be searching for a mysterious object that Rhys and Fiona soon stumble upon over the course of the story.

Tales From the Borderlands is off to a very good start, as Telltale seems to fully grasp the warped humor that comprises Borderlands lore. Mechanics like Rhys' eye and Fiona's loot are interesting on the surface, but there isn't too much done with them during the first episode. Hopefully, these ideas will expand further, as will the use of the Loader Bot. As for everything else, it's a Telltale game with a Borderlands skin, meaning it's solid narrative-based gameplay that's seeped in a darkly twisted tone.


These impressions are based on a Steam key provided by the publisher. Tales From the Borderlands is coming soon to PC, Mac Xbox One, PlayStation 4, Xbox 360, PlayStation 3, iOS, and Android as a downloadable title. The game is rated M.

Senior Editor

Ozzie has been playing video games since picking up his first NES controller at age 5. He has been into games ever since, only briefly stepping away during his college years. But he was pulled back in after spending years in QA circles for both THQ and Activision, mostly spending time helping to push forward the Guitar Hero series at its peak. Ozzie has become a big fan of platformers, puzzle games, shooters, and RPGs, just to name a few genres, but he’s also a huge sucker for anything with a good, compelling narrative behind it. Because what are video games if you can't enjoy a good story with a fresh Cherry Coke?

From The Chatty
  • reply
    November 24, 2014 11:59 PM

    Ozzie Mejia posted a new article, Tales From the Borderlands 'Zero Sum' impressions - our (fish) story begins

    • reply
      November 25, 2014 4:22 AM

      I don't know if I just haven't been paying attention or what but I had no idea this was coming out today (I assume). Crazy.

      Like the way this one sounds and I dig the Borderlands universe but I don't know if I really want to jump into this one just yet. I found Wolf Among Us to be incredible and just want more of that. TWD S2 was a pretty big let down for me. Maybe I will just wait this one out until all episodes are done.

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        November 25, 2014 5:52 AM

        I fucking love me some Telltale but man I am so behind now and it's imposing to get back into it!!!

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          November 25, 2014 6:12 AM

          If you didn't yet I highly suggest Wolf Among Us over all else! I really loved it. Felt like a great follow up to Walking Dead season 1 (since season 2 was a let down).

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            November 25, 2014 6:13 AM

            But I want to read Fables first :(

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              November 25, 2014 6:15 AM

              I haven't read them either yet, but the game feels like a good introduction to the characters at least. I don't know how close their attitudes and such parallel to their graphic novel counterparts though.

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              November 25, 2014 7:58 AM

              READ FABLES!!!!!

              you don't need to have read it to enjoy the game. But you will appreciate the game more.

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              November 25, 2014 11:29 AM

              DO BOTH!

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              November 26, 2014 10:03 AM

              The Wolf Among Us is a prequel, so you should be fine starting there.

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