STAFF REVIEW of New Tales from the Borderlands (Xbox One)

Thursday, November 17, 2022.
by Brent Roberts

New Tales from the Borderlands Box art When you limit player interaction within your game you are taking one of the biggest gambles in gaming. This is because you are essentially selling an interactive story that is laid out in cinematic cutscenes. This type of technology has been around for decades, but Telltale managed to develop it to near perfection. With previous releases such as Batman, Game of Thrones, The Walking Dead and more, Telltale delivered a narrative that captivated gamers and provided an incredible depth to their storylines by often developing multiple endings which end up creating the modern day version of 'Choose Your Own Adventure' books, but in digital form. Recently however, things have shifted in the gaming industry. While Telltale has done Borderlands before, The New Tales from the Borderlands game is done by Gearbox themselves. With a whole new author at the helm of this project, how will Gearbox fare?

Well, that depends actually on what your values are. Let's get back to that in a minute. The primary focus of any of these games in the genre has to be on the story. The narrative needs to captivate you, draw you in, create emotional bonds with the characters, look to have you make an emotional investment into the game, things of that sort. Telltale Games in the past have been renowned for their stories, character development and a deep player connection to the story. In the New Tales from the Borderlands game though, you'll find very, very little, to none of that at all. In fact, Gearbox has dropped the ball so badly on the story that there is a playthrough that I had where the ending quite literally made no sense and didn't tie in at all to the previous scene. Imagine going through Empire Strikes Back, and when Vader asks Luke to join him he's like "Yeah, sounds fun. Why not?". It literally would make no sense, and that is the type of ending that should never happen in any medium, yet it unfortunately occurs here.

That's disappointing, and you can see why this is the cause. See, in the past, Telltale games have been story focused and used the medium of the subject to form their stories, no matter what the cost. Gearbox however has taken a far 'woke' stance on their story which utterly destroys it entirely. The character development is incredibly weak, and some of the supporting cast, like Stapleface, actually detract from the story due to the execution of the character. This story seems more about enforcing an agenda than trying to make sure there's a quality story to tell, and that's the biggest heartbreak of all. I want to make a connection with characters that don't follow stereotypical tropes and that are poorly executed. Anu, for example, is one continual anxiety attack mixed with poor writing. Her character becomes more of a nuisance than anything and it follows the typical 'come to terms' with their own self story path.

There are some moments of humor in the story which come from an ongoing gag where a Tediore guard continually challenges you to a game of Vaultlanders, an entertaining minigame that parodies Skylanders by making these figures such as Handsome Jack, Brick, Mordacai and others and you go through QuickTime Events (QTE) to dodge and land attacks. There was an issue though in which the computer never dodged the attacks, so it literally became mash the 'A' button, press either Left, Right or Down, and then repeat until the match is over. Plus, not all Vaultlanders are equal in strength and defense, so once you found one that hit hard, it made no point to ever switch characters, which in turn made the rest of the figures pointless. This provided some moments of humor amongst the story but were few and far between. Despite their best efforts though, Gearbox's story isn't even close to how Telltale would present their narrative. This is because even though the story does have disconnecting moments, the biggest weakness is the character development.

There is an initial 'core' of 4 characters: Octavtio, Anu, Francine and LOU13 "Louie". Gearbox tries to introduce us to these characters through their environment, however never fully develops them into any character you could care about. I touched on Stapleface earlier, but one of the most pointless characters has to be Brock. Think of this character as a literal Tediore rifle with little legs and an AI processor which speaks and has emotional outbursts of narcissism. Yes, all this from a rifle. Now while the angle was unique, it was poorly developed, and by the end you really didn't care.

Speaking of pointless things, I have to mention the money and skins. This is quite literally worthless. New skins don't impact the story in ways and are 100% cosmetic, but they cost money you find in game. So if skins are like this, what about equipment? Sadly, that too is in the same category. If that is the only thing you can do with the money... why does it exist again? They could have easily done the skins through character choices or something like that, but nope.

Like I said before, New Tales from the Borderlands is absolutely heartbreaking to play and experience. I went in with a hope and optimistic belief of a good quality, story based Borderlands experience. Sadly what I got in return was a 'woke' story devoid of character development, emotional investment or any drive to really connect to a player through the Borderlands environment. As of this writing though, I'm trying to decide which is the greatest loss, that it was released, or the game that could have been that never will be. If you're looking for a quality story experience then go with the Telltale games instead. When you limit the player interactions and focus on the story, you take a big risk, and sadly this is a risk that didn't pay off for Gearbox and certainly didn't pay off for fans of the Borderland experience.

Please drop the 'woke' from your stories and pay more attention to how Telltale developed stories, characters, etc.

Overall: 6.0 / 10
Gameplay: 5.0 / 10
Visuals: 8.0 / 10
Sound: 6.0 / 10


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