Let me be honest up front, I can’t think of a single thing I didn’t like about Tales From The Borderlands Episode 1: Zer0 Sum. Telltales premiere of Tales from the Borderlands is not only their best introductory episode ever, but one of their best episodes to date. If it were possible to nominate a single episode for Game of the Year you can bet Zer0 Sum would be up there. Slick, funny, action packed and brimming with a satisfying coolness Zer0 Sum is a lighthearted caper that recaptures Borderlands comedic styling perfectly, but this time in the form of an adventure game. You’ll only ever directly fire one bullet. A welcome break from the downbeat seriousness seen in previous Telltale series The Walking Dead and The Wolf Among Us Tales From The Borderlands is a radical departure from their typical mold, and one I can’t recommend enough.
Events pick up some time after the conclusion of Gearbox’s Borderlands 2 where players once again return to the desolate bandit infested wasteland planet of Pandora. Have no fear if this is your first visit to Pandora though, Tales From The Borderlands doesn’t demand intimate previous knowledge of the series and fills in newcomers quickly. Given the keys to the kingdom Telltale is free to craft their own original tale without leaning heavily on plot devices from other installments. With little in the way of returning characters Tales From The Borderlands is perfect for newbies. Returning players will enjoy a couple of cameos but newcomers should enjoy themselves just as much; they’ll know in no time Hyperion is a company filled with slick haired jackasses, ATLAS is a competing rival and vault keys are worth a frag ton of dollar.
Pandora is the Wild West. Inhabited seemingly entirely by blood thirsty bandits, conniving con-men, the hopelessly and violently insane; as well as any morally dubious character you can dream up. Circulating stories of vaults containing vast wealth though are enough to lure foolhardy, ignorant or cocky fols to the old mining colonies surface, whether they be lonesome vault hunters or fools working for questionable mega-corporations. Borderlands has always done a great job of viewing Pandora through a zany colourful lens, somehow finding barrels of humour examining the miserable conditions of the world – Tales From The Borderlands is no different. If anything the dialogue driven adventure does a better job of extracting the funnies than those that came before it – even without a Claptrap.
Speaking of foolhardy cooperate stooges, you’ll be playing as Rhys. A worker on Hyperion’s awesome H-shaped space station “Helios” Rhys has been working super hard for a promotion doing his best to kiss up to his boss for years; it looks like he’s finally won. Naturally that doesn’t quite happen, and Rhys is propelled into an adventure to Pandora’s surface. His goal is simple enough: secure a valuable trinket for the company, return a hero and secure the job he so obviously deserves. Simple. But that’s only one half of the story.
Tales From The Borderlands introduces a unique plot device, during their time on Pandora players take on the role of two distinctly different heroes experiencing the story from both Their perspectives. Fiona, a Pandora born con-woman, is the this stories unlikely second hero. Determined to make some big money to escape her life of poverty Fiona crosses path with Rhys after the touches down on Pandora. After a business deal goes south the two are forced to work together. The two now trapped recount the tale as they remember it to their masked captor – though they don’t always agree with how events unfolded. These “discrepancies” in memory regularly paint the stories teller in a much more positive light than they perhaps deserve. The other member of the duo will be sure to tell the other they “remember” events incorrectly – with often hilarious revelations.
The starring duo are both intensely likable and by the end of the chapter I had fallen in love with both. As I write this I can’t wait to see how their story unfolds. At this moment in time Rhys is the more likable by character by a hairs breadth. Utterly hopeless but intensely likable the witless suit seems to have attended the Zapp Brannigan school of heroics strutting around with an undeserved ego. Picking his mindless cockish retorts feels marvelous. On the other hand Fiona actually has it together. Street smart and intelligent she has the upper hand over the hapless Rhys. The duo’s chemistry is fantastic, watching the two bicker between themselves is utterly hilarious. Supported by an impressively strong supporting cast their isn’t a single weak character in the whole of the episode.
The double acts differences are more than just narrative, each has their own unique abilities in the field too. Rhys is cybernetically enhanced, as a result he’s able to scan environmental objects of interest to gather unique intel. Well, it’s mostly just for humour, but it’s damn funny, one piece of scanned information in particular made me laugh aloud longer than it should of. On the other hand Fiona is able to loot the crates you’ll be so familiar with from the Bordlerlands games in the pursuit of cash. As the tale progresses Fiona will be given the choice to spend her amassed money, or continue to save. There’s no real clue as to whether saving or spending is the right option so your on your own. The differences between the two helps keep things fresh, by the time I was getting bogged down by scanning Fiona would jump in to give me a break.
Fans of a good adventure game puzzle may well be let down by Tales apparent lack. They are literally no puzzles in this first episode. Frankly though I enjoyed that. With tight conversation trees and a few action packed scenes in between the episode never felt hindered by the lack of puzzle, in fact it kept the pace rather snappy. I’m happy to have less puzzles for more jokes. Tales From The Borderlands had me laugh out loud every couple minutes during my time with it and there was a permanent grin papered across my stupid face from the start to finish of the two hour run time.
If you can’t tell yet I loved Tales From The Borderlands. Shrugging of the somber tones of Telltales previous outings it happily parades around with its far more lighthearted approach to story telling. Instead of basing decisions on gut wrenching “who lives, who dies?” choices it asks players to players to pick between funnier silly choices. There’s no stress here, no lingering feelings of guilt, just a plain two hours of instantly quotable jokes. Funniest game I’ve played in a while? You bet. Perfect for newcomers and fans alike Tales from The Borderlands sends players back to Pandora in the spirit of the series previous games, but let’s them see it with brand new eyes, in brand new ways. This is one of Telltale’s finest episodes ever, and it’s just the beginning. Tales From The Borderlands is off to a roaring start.