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New Tales From the Borderlands review: another successful spin-off story

By Aaron Potter. Posted

A lot of spin-off media these days wants to hammer you over the head with nothing but the familiar, be that themes, characters, or story arcs. Star Wars has been particularly guilty of this as of late… However, back in 2015 Gearbox Software and Telltale Games teamed up to do the exact opposite, treating Borderlands fans to something that was less ‘shooty-shooty bang-bang’ and a lot more story-driven. The result was a genuinely poignant journey centred on a charming cast, willing to take risks within an established Sci-Fi universe players previously thought they knew. The question is now, by taking development duties fully in-house, can Gearbox pull it off again?

I think the fact that New Tales from the Borderlands isn’t pitched as a “season 2” is very telling; the “New” moniker carries a lot of intent. Because while it would have been easy to dredge up Rhys, Fiona, and – heaven forbid – Scooter for another zany escapade, this spiritual successor of sorts instead gives us a fresh batch of roguish characters to fall in love with – and fall in love with them I did. Over the course of five distinct episodes – this time released all in one go – we get to guide Anu (an anxious weapons designer), Octavio (a taco-loving street punk), and Fran (a humble frogurt shop owner with temper issues) on an adventure brimming with the series’ usual capitalistic satire, informing their decisions and actions throughout to subtly influence where the story ends up.

So far, so expected. Within this established Telltale framework, though, Gearbox has found plenty of room to play, smoothing off the old template’s rougher edges in the UI and presentation departments to produce an engaging tale that is equal parts unexpected, clever, and yes, even funny. A good case of a joke that caused me to audibly chuckle on more than one occasion relates to LOUI3, New Tales from the Borderlands’ resident robot sidekick who can only assassinate a target should they speak their own name. What could have easily been a one-and-done gag in fact stretches across multiple episodes, and creatively pops up time and again with a slightly altered comedic angle that also helps propel the story.

I wouldn’t say that Anu, Octavio, or Fran are as instantly likeable as either Rhys, Fiona, or Vaughn, but that quickly changes from episode 2 onwards when the lead trio is finally able to bounce off of one another. That’s when trying to keep the three’s relationship somewhat amicable plays into the very decisions one can make, and there were plenty of times I was left wondering how much better things could have played out had I chosen to, say, face a Tediore ambush head on rather than run away. Much like before, New Tales from the Borderlands doesn’t let you drastically change the overall narrative outcome. Rather it’s the emotional changes within the characters themselves that can constantly evolve and adapt – for better or worse.

Admittedly, New Tales from the Borderlands is less innovative when it comes to gameplay, sticking to the usual graphic adventure mix of dialogue choices, quick-time events, and minigames. Some of these are more successful than others, but the absolute standout is an in-universe miniatures game called Vaultlanders. Much more than just arbitrary collectibles for you to seek out, at certain points in the story you’ll engage in Vaultlander battles between you and other characters. Each figure is based on a classic Borderlands hero, and all come with unique attack and defence stats as well as a special ability. Is Vaultlanders especially smart or in-depth? No. But it’s a great way to pay tribute to fan-favourite characters and offer respite.

There’s probably not enough “new” in New Tales from the Borderlands as there could have been, but why fix a formula if it isn’t broke? By anchoring this tale around another fresh set of loveable misfits, offering up creative – if sometimes juvenile – gags, and keeping the stakes surprisingly intimate compared to this universe’s more bombastic stories, Gearbox has mostly retained the first season’s magic. It’s an inventive continuation of the series that’s sure to have ramifications on any hypothetical Borderlands 4, and I hope it isn’t too long before we revisit these characters again.

Highlight

At the end of each episode you can see how well the bonds between characters have built up based on your dialogue selections. This is a far more elegant way of handling it compared to what happens in-game, where LOUI3 will superfluously give the trio a rating out of ten skateboards (for some reason).

Verdict

Gearbox Software comfortably picks up the Telltale reins and traps lightning in a bottle again, weaving another witty Borderlands story headed up by memorable characters.

81%

Genre graphic adventure | Format PC (tested) / PS5 / PS4 / XB S/X / XBO / Switch | Developer Gearbox Software | Publisher 2K Games | Price £39.99 | Release October 21st, 2022 | Social @GearboxOfficial

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