Like writing a drama with a rocket launcher.
I realize now that I’m three episodes into Tales from the Borderlands, and I’m not really feeling the weight of my earlier decisions. Or maybe I don’t notice them because of the time between each episode. But the last decision I made in Episode 2 definitely made an impact on #3, so much so, that I tried playing it once for each choice. Sadly, although the impact is obvious, there isn’t a ton of narrative change (contrary to the PR email I received with the game code).
But nevermind that! Here, you meet new characters, such as Vallory, dubbed the “Queenpin.” (See what they did there?) She is August’s mom, and she is pissed about that deal that went sour in Episode 1. As a result, she does something rather shocking, drastic, and violent to one of the cast. And I’ll leave it there. You also will meet Gortys, who’s a precious little robot! With its introduction, the team ends up in pursuit of its remaining upgrades, which will supposedly lead them to a vault. Hilarity ensues.
All the real off-the-handle action is relegated to the opening and closing chapters, leaving a significant amount of slower-moving exposition to the bulk of the episode. That’s not to say nothing happens, of course. Athena reunites with the team, and it turns out she’s actually a protagonist. That whole wild chase scene from the last episode was just a misunderstanding. Meanwhile, Rhys has the opportunity to get a little closer to Sasha if the player so chooses. But for those who trusted Handsome Jack, be aware that three’s a crowd.
Athena’s presence turns out to be a high point in the story. She was sent to build Fiona and Sasha up to be ready to be vault hunters, and it feels like an unlikely mix until Fiona and she get to work together to traverse a dangerous Atlas biodome. Athena, though impatient and abrasive, exhibits a nuanced maternal instinct for the quick-talker, and builds her up to defend herself physically when words would fail her. You also get to learn more about the nature of her relationship with her girlfriend, Janey Springs. Of the established characters introduced thus far, she’s the first one who lets us in, however briefly.
Assuming certain conditions, players may encounter a rather sensitive moment between Vaughn and Rhys, where the former reveals his insecurity. Although it’s a heartfelt moment between best friends, it felt strange that it could be entirely missed based on player choices. Sure, plenty of games include the possibility to miss important backstory and other exposition. But in an episode which focuses so much on character relationships, you’d think the writers might stuff the opportunity in elsewhere. This really just maintains my discomfort for the juxtaposition of Borderlands’ off-the-wall source material versus that of Telltale Games in their series.
The final chapter of this part of the tale is a wild set of action scenes, and we get to see two of the original vault hunters make their debut. Be prepared, though, because it won’t be a happy occasion. As per usual, there will be plenty of QTEs to tend with but nothing for too extended a time. In fact, there’s a funny moment where Rhys rolls to the side to dodge a gun, and the shooter mocks the decision-making behind that. It’s nice to see Borderlands’ self-awareness working its way in the awkward story.
This episode finishes with an intense moment of despair for our heroes and a reveal of their next destination in the quest to upgrade Gortys. I do find myself less engaged than the last episode had me feeling. I’m hoping for a better shake-up of action and exposition for the remaining two episodes because leaving a huge chunk of the latter to fill the middle feels contrary to the game’s origins. It’s a weird time to be had.