Tales From the Borderlands, Episode Two: Atlas Mugged Review (PC)
When last we left our heroes Rhys and Fiona, they'd uncovered a secret bunker in a bandit hideout rife with Atlas technologies. Unfortunately for the group, they weren't alone. At least after all the trouble our quartet of characters had gotten into, they'd finally had a lead on the potential fortune they'd been hunting for, right? Kinda? No? These poor, poor protagonists.
Light spoilers for Tales From the Borderlands to follow.
In "Atlas Mugged" our not-so-fearless leads find themselves with their prospects actually looking up. At least for a few minutes anyway. Deep inside the hidden bunker, Fiona and Rhys discover a map of some kind, but have no clear way to decipher it. While Fiona, Sasha and Vaughn attempt to uncover any hints elsewhere in the bunker, Rhys has his own problems to deal with in the form of Handsome Jack. Somehow, someway, Handsome Jack imprinted a virtual version of himself in Rhys' mechanical components. It'd probably be easier to deal with if anyone but Rhys could see the nefarious villain, but the Holo-Jack only appears for Rhys and only when there's some sort of trauma happening. It's not a hallucination though, as Jack appears to be able to do more than just be a nagging voice in Rhys' ear.
After searching around the immediate area, the group manages to piece together the next location they'll have to visit in hopes of finding whatever great, mysterious treasure awaits. However, nothing ever goes precisely as planned, and on the way towards the new destination, the group comes under attack from Hyperion's orbital station. It's here that the two groups (Rhys and Vaughn, Fiona and Sasha) are split up once more, leaving it up to us to try and reunite the weary adventurers. Each set of characters has their own problems spring up that they must take care of, but the real meat of "Atlas Mugged" lies in the wonderful character moments we get to experience during this moment of division.
Fiona and Sasha have been through their fair share of trauma and hardships, but in this episode, we have a chance to bond with the grifting sisters over their latest misfortunes. After being split from Rhys and Vaughn, the women return home to get the caravan fixed up and collect some gear from a safehouse. You get to learn more about their relationship, and set the tone for how the two will grieve over the loss of their mentor and father figure, Felix. Even if his sudden and inevitable betrayal in the previous episode was a little obvious, the reasoning behind it may not have been. Telltale is no stranger to writing characters that are dealing with loss, and while it's a different tone here in Tales From the Borderlands, the sentiment is the same.
Across the desert, Rhys and Vaughn have to worry about making it to safety alive before the wildlife of the world catches up to them. It isn't long until a familiar threat emerges though, as Vasquez has managed to track the duo down in the middle of nowhere. Fortunately for Rhys, he's got the advantage of having Handsome Jack on his side... for as much of an advantage as that is, anyway. The former Hyperion employees are able to escape Vasquez's clutches briefly, but not before some seeds of distrust are sewn. It's up to you to decide just how the new twist will affect the relationship between Rhys and Vaughn, and whether or not you'll be bro-ing down on the way to the fabled treasure that awaits.
There are plenty of twists and turns still looming, and when the group is finally reunited, Fiona and Rhys will have their patience tested, as well as their faith in one another. The burn is slow, but it's one that's worthwhile as you'll form a stronger bond with these characters over the course of just a few hours than you would with many leads in other longer games. It's a testament to the writing that such things are possible. There will still be some hitches with the gameplay, as has become the norm with Telltale's increasingly aging engine, but none of these small troubles impact the overall experience much.
As mentioned in our review of the first episode, Telltale has done an admirable job making us care about a game and universe that we weren't all that invested in before. It's because of this sharp writing that this episode is so strong. With such little room to work with episode to episode, the writing could have fallen incredibly flat. "Atlas Mugged" has a few action segments, but it relies so heavily on character interaction and conversation, that any misstep could have led to a complete disaster. Fortunately, that's not the case, and the compact characterization delivers in big ways.
If "Zer0 Sum" was about introducing us to this world and these characters, "Atlas Mugged" is about getting us invested. The character moments are wonderful, and the few surprises along the way will make longtime fans happy without alienating newcomers. It's a terrifically smart and fun adventure, and the stakes feel very real, even when we're not exactly sure just what the maguffin is or does. Things are just getting interesting for our characters though, and we can't wait to find out what happens next.
This review is based on a download code of Tales From the Borderlands, Episode Two: Atlas Mugged provided by the publisher for PC.