Finally, the story speaks for itself: Tales from the Borderlands worked and worked well, thanks to the mastery of a Telltale Games in a state of grace which today, however, has nothing to do with New Tales of the Borderlands, developed directly by Gearbox Software. The media carousel, however, has resumed whirling from trailer to trailer, attracting new skepticisms to New Tales from the Borderlands, new fears that the freshness, the “fun cringe” that has characterized Borderlands since the beginning of the main saga had run out. To dispel any doubts, it is appropriate to delve into its deepest meanders, its many narrative crossroads and the mentality of three characters that are impossible to hate. Not entirely, at least.
Between mermaid lovers, careless soldiers and Frozen Yogurt
For those worried that to fully enjoy New Tales from the Borderlands it is necessary to know the events of Tales from the Borderlands (to learn more here is the review of Tales from the Borderlands), the chapter of 2015, here is a reassurance: the story is of the all new and the protagonists are specially designed for her. For some, given the open ending of the Telltale game, this news may have been a bitter confirmation, also given the overwhelming personality of the previous protagonists.
However, characters don’t always age as well as the titles they belong to. In this specific case, we are sure to say that it was good to come up with three new, wacky heroes (sometimes anti-heroes) best built to represent irony, comedy and the typical personalities of our day.
Anuradha Dhar, Anu from now on, is a scientist with strong personal and social anxiety; she constantly on the verge of a nervous breakdown she is a fervent pacifist, ironically led by circumstances to often violate her belief in “changing the world without resorting to bloodshed”. She begins her, and ours, adventure as an employee of Atlas: not exactly the best place to carry out her mission, given that the company, like all corporations, produces and sells weapons.
The events start from his point of view, but through an opening with an excellent rhythm we are soon introduced to the other two protagonists as well. The first is Octavio, Octavio Wallace-Dhar, brother of Anu who lives in the ruined city of Promethea and dreams of becoming a “Dirty-30”. That is, one of the thirty most promising entrepreneurs under thirty in the city. To him his bad luck, though, not only is he constantly penniless, but his sense of business leaves a lot to be desired. He is always saved by the broken cap thanks to a shameless fortune and to the many friends and allies that, in an incomprehensible way, he has made in the course of his life. One of which is Fran Miscowicz, last, but not least, of the trio of protagonists that we will control in New Tales from the Borderlands. “Fran Miscowicz is crazy.” reads the official description on the site dedicated to New Tales from the Borderlands: we could not agree more. However, do not think of a naughty and high-spirited madness, because you would be out of the way.
Fran has serious problems managing anger, which becomes dangerous when we consider that she is forced into a levitating chair armed with a freezing beam and what I don’t know any other way than “gigantic hook-spring-fist”. Fran runs Fran’s Frogurt, a Frozen Yogurt shop (don’t call it ice cream, for heaven’s sake) “with the worst reviews in all of Promethea”. The fates and lives of the three desperate, troubled protagonists are tied together when Anu makes an exceptional discovery, and invents a pistol-, er, a device (sorry Anu) capable of teleporting objects and making her as powerful as a “Siren”.
We remind you that the “Sirens” are a category of people endowed, in the universe of Borderlands, with supernatural powers obtained in an inexplicable way. Will the device – which still doesn’t work properly – be enough not to get her fired by Atlas, the evil corporation that demanded new weapons from her with high murderous power? We leave to you the discovery of the implications of the story, which explodes with the invasion of Promethea by a rival corporation (Tediore tells you anything?) And then evolves into a carom of situations apparently unrelated to each other. The trio is overwhelmed by it as if by an avalanche of problems, murders, dirty money and, luckily for us, supporting characters and secondary characters with a very strong personality.
No pistol with your fingers?
Do not take the paragraph title literally: there is the possibility (in the form of a quote to the famous scene of the first chapter) to perform a short “gun-fight with the fingers” also in New Tales from the Borderlands. The real question we intend to answer is: without TellTale Games at the reins of the narrative, how much of that unexpected humor, mature even when young or presumed so is left in New Tales From the Borderlands? In fact, we have already partially answered you in the introduction: very much.
There are those who say that Borderlands 3 has not been able to imprint that funny and humorous personality with the same class of its predecessors (if you want to know more, here is the review of Borderlands 3), much less like Tales from the Borderlands. Yet, Tiny Tina’s Wonderland is full of it, as is New Tales from the Borderlands, demonstrating the good work done in Gearbox to rebuild the “craziest” identity of the series. Not all crossroads are exactly equally valid, of course. There are funnier roads, more successful jokes than others and choices that, in the context of the multiple response typical of the graphic adventure, give more interesting rhythms to the narration.
That said, not every possibility of an answer, when two to four possible choices appear during a scene, leads to a real crossroads. Absolutely, there are many situations where you are struggling between multiple timed choices and, whether they are influential or not in defining a marked crossroads in the plot, they still manage to appear important.
We have often wondered, for example, if you gave “strange” answers, they would have changed history, and by how much. Just as it is not said that killing a character, an action whose gravity soon loses weight in the crazy world of Borderlands, leads the plot to a world totally opposite to the one where the character is left alive. But the doubt that the implications of the gesture may be important remains, highlighting the validity and unpredictability of the narrative plot. The question alone was enough to make us replay and try other options. Remaining on the subject of “importance of the answers”, finally, to allow a deeper understanding of the weight that each choice at stake has had in leading to a narrative crossroads, each face of the adventure is linked to each other by a percentage of affinity. Raising or lowering the percentages in turn increases or decreases an overall vote that represents the efficiency of the team: skateboards. They only serve as a voting unit, as if to say “4 out of 5 skateboards”. You will understand by playing. In fact, we do not have full control, limiting ourselves to observe all the percentages go down or up at the end of the chapter based on multiple answers that are not always clear in this sense.
Sometimes, a dirty word or an offense will raise the understanding more than a thousand love letters. Finally, some responses evidently placed in the grid to artificially stimulate non-sense situations can be liked or detestable (with no middle ground).
Do you play or watch?
New Tales from the Borderlands is visually pleasing, characterized by the inevitable cartoonish cel shading with thick edges and desaturated colors. Even on the technical front it is difficult to criticize it if not for its strong “simplicity”. The lyp synch is great, the animations are natural and intense. The dubbing, too, is really excellent and expressive for all characters, of any order and degree. Always to please the ears, a soundtrack with a recognizable and constant leitmotif intervenes, suitable for every situation presented from time to time.
Abandoning the “technical” and concentrating on the game, then, the three mechanics typical of each graphic adventure have been alternated and distributed with good variety. There are multiple choice questions, on which the continuation of the plot depends, or even just the next scene and the dialogues that characterize it. We then come to the Quick Time Events. Getting one wrong, and in New Tales from the Borderlands it happens, getting one wrong can mean opening the way to a new plot crossroads, or to a different development of a given situation.
Clearly, there are also some “mandatory” QTEs, which if not completed lead to Game Over and force you to restart from the previous autosave. Finally, the moments of “exploration” and investigation are inevitable, which allow us to control one of the three characters in the third person and identify secrets, discover hidden quotes and carry on the plot. Intentionally, they should offer more direct control from the player, so as not to get too used to the automatic cut-scenes.
In New Tales from the Borderlands, however, these situations are the ones we loved the least. We almost got bored in specific (too long) sessions during which we would have much preferred a guided scene with multiple responses, so as not to lose the rhythm. Therefore, New Tales from the Borderlands does not invent anything new in the panorama of graphic adventures, exploiting mechanisms and tested actions implemented with a more than good general quality level. Yet, the new minigame in dowry to the experience deserves a separate note. Although it is anything but essential, in fact, it has entertained us and characterized and colored our runs.
We are talking about the “combat between Vaultlanders”, a QTE during which we are called to choose one of the many figurines based on the characters (Vaultlanders, Mermaids and others) of the historical Borderlands series to make it fight with that of an opponent.
Each figurine is endowed with very simple active or passive abilities – regeneration of life, facilitated stun on the opponent and so on – giving at first glance the impression that we wanted to create an activity with a “strategic” look. Playing and replaying, however, given how the fans of these “battle action figures” are treated in the game dialogues, we understood that it is almost a “mockery”, only falsely complex, albeit beautiful to look at.