E3 2014: Tales From The Borderlands’ Two-Headed Narrative
Like Janus, the two-faced Greek god of beginnings and ends, Tales from the Borderlands seems to always be going in two different directions. There are two different protagonists, Rhys (“Company man. Also you.”) and Fiona (“Grifter. Also you, too.”). There are two different stories that clash intermittently, leaving the player to decide which is right and which isn’t. There are two different developmental philosophies, the rock-solid storytelling of Telltale Games and the over-the-top zaniness of Gearbox Software, that come to light at different parts of the game.
Despite the dual personalities, Tales from the Borderlands is shaping up to be Telltale’s best idea yet. Some had worried that this marriage would end in a messy divorce, but instead it looks like it could be a match made in Heaven. I listen to Rhys tell his side of how he came to possess a prized Vault Key, which starts up in the giant flying H that is the Hyperion Corporation’s headquarters. With Handsome Jack dead, things are in major disarray, and a new boss named Hugo Vasquez (“Big corporate jerk face,” voiced by Patrick Warburton) has risen to the top the food chain. Hugo and Rhys don’t see eye-to-eye, as I quickly realize during their terse meeting in Hugo’s office. Hugo gets a call that distracts him, and I get to see one of the new Borderlands touches to the Telltale formula: Rhys has a cyber eye that he activates to scan the area for clues. The computer screen reveals a deal for a Vault Key down on the surface of Pandora, and Rhys makes the decision to buy it himself.
With the help of Vaughn (“Your best friend,” voiced by Chris Hardwick) and Yvette (“Your other friend.”), Rhys makes his way to the planet’s surface and show off the game’s new Loot system. As Loot is a big part of Borderlands, it will also be a big part of Telltale’s interpretation, though exactly how it will come into play remains to be revealed. Before long Rhys and Vaughn run into an ambush by bandits led by Rudiger (“He has a greasy face.”). In the ensuing battle we see another new Borderlands twist: Rhys customizes a loader bot via a holographic screen, which is then summoned into battle. The player will control who the bot targets in the classic Telltale style, even being able to select multiple targets for missile barrages. When the bot is damaged too severely, the player gets the choice to make it evacuate for repairs or self-destruct; in this demo, our loader bot self-destructed with honor, taking some bandits with it.
Finally we meet August (“The guy with the key,” voiced by Nolan North), who immediately becomes suspicious that Hugo wasn’t the one picking up the key. After some back-and-forth, August ultimately decides the deal doesn’t feel right and tries to leave, but Rhys ruthlessly pulls out August’s heart and takes the Key and August’s girlfriend for his own…
… until Fiona snaps up back to reality with, “That’s not how it went down!” This was one of those moments where you’re not sure if what was explained is what really happened, and it makes for a lot of moments you’ll never see coming. Fiona then begins to explain what really happened, saying that “the Vault Hunter” showed up to take the key. We then go back to the previous scene, we see Fiona hiding in the shadows watching, we see Zer0 from Borderlands 2 interrupt Rhys and August’s argument by cutting himself a door, and the demo quickly ends.
The entire room shouts, “Damn!” that the demo ended so fast, but not a single one of us is disappointed. We’ve seen a Telltale/Gearbox hybrid that lets both companies’ signature styles shine through in one fantastic narrative. We chuckled at Borderlands’ trademark humor (If Rhys convinces August to show the key first, we see, “You made August show his first.”), and we contemplated tough decisions in the trademark Telltale style. We leave the room wanting more, hopeful that the eventual release of Tales from the Borderlands will surprise and engage as much as this brief demo has.
Most of all, we get excited for a future where more games try the Tales format for themselves. We knew movies, TV shows and comics worked for Telltale before, but Tales from the Borderlands could blaze the video game trail for the rest of the industry. If this demo is any indication, Telltale will have a whole industry of source material at its fingertips.
Tales from the Borderlands will be available on Xbox 360, PlayStation 3 and PC this summer.