Tales from the Borderlands – Episode One: Zer0 Sum Review

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Posted December 8, 2014 by Eduardo Gueiros in Video Games

Tales from the Borderlands Episode One: Zer0 Sum

Developed by: Telltale Games

Published by: Telltale Games

Available on: Xbox One (reviewed), PS4, PC, PlayStation 3, Xbox 360

Release Date: November 25, 2014 (PS4, PC, PlayStation 3), November 26 (Xbox One, Xbox 360)

 

Episode 1: Zer0 Sum is the first installment of Tales from the Borderlands, an episodic series by Telltale Games based on the universe created by Gearbox from the Borderlands franchise. This introductory chapter offers an amazing insight into the elements of the vast world Telltale will explore, and introduces new and unique characters that will be appealing to fans of the franchise and newcomers alike.

Telltale’s success with The Walking Dead and The Wolf Among Us has shown that the studio is capable of leveraging their captivating storytelling and compelling characters to successfully adapt content to a new style of video game. However, Borderlands has such a distinct style of dialogue and so many unique characters, that I was a little worried that my cautious optimism would be met with disappointment. One episode in, however, and I am sold on the series, and am already anxious to see where the characters will go next.

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In this series, you split your time between two characters: Rhys (voiced by Troy Baker), a budding Hyperion employee who hopes to move up the company despite his distaste for most of his coworkers; and Fiona (voiced by Laura Bailey), a native of Pandora who was born into a life of crime and raised by a con-man who taught her everything she needed to survive on the chaotic planet. In this introductory episode, they each take turns in recounting the events that led up to their encounter, occasionally correcting each other in short and sweet bickering scenes.

The two characters you control have vastly different personalities that are effectively explored. The complexities each character brings add to the intrigue of dealing with two sets of motivations, as you are able to learn more about the true nature. Rhys has aspirations in Hyperion because it’s all he’s ever known, but he’s not inherently evil. Fiona, on the other hand, is a fighter who has survived on Pandora with her sister doing what was necessary. Both characters are likeable for different reasons, and help provide additional substance to the already expansive Borderlands universe.

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Supplementary characters do more than just provide conflict within the plot, as they are complex and engaging. Highlights include Vasquez (voiced by Patrick Warburton), a ruthlessly power-hungry Hyperion executive who is a stereotypical douchebag that is the catalyst for the start of the narrative; and a cameo by Zer0, a playable character in Borderlands 2 who is an assassin that combines sniping and sword skills to deadly effect. The game excels in immediately making these adjacent characters likeable or unlikeable, and consequently quickly forces you to make tough decisions regarding their fate. This accentuates the character development aspect of the game, since you are put in the driver’s seat as to how your characters will develop, as well as how their relationships will evolve. Rhys and Fiona have stereotypes associated with them, but their individual morality and personality are unexplored initially, giving you the opportunity to craft an entire persona in a way that other Telltale games haven’t done before.

In terms of the narrative elements of the game, Telltale really knocks it out of the park. The studio is able to effectively harness the full comedic prowess of the Borderlands franchise, while also creating a complex web of motivations and obstacles that intertwine characters’ paths and ambitions. Witty and sarcastic remark flow with ease, while the traditional over-the-top name card introductions are on full display (as seen above). Additionally, the game does well in terms how much action the characters are thrown into. While I was initially restless during these sequences since I am used to the first-person shooter experience of Borderlands, I quickly came to appreciate the effort put into adapting the action elements of the universe. You don’t have much control over the outcome of these sequences, which was disappointing, but they are entertaining nonetheless. Needless to say, Zer0’s badassery was on full display as he sliced his way through countless Psychos and Bandits. However, hopefully you will be able to make choices rather than simply react to button prompts in future episodes.

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My one concern moving forward, and something I spotted briefly in the first episode, is the potential difficulty in combining the necessary humor of a Borderlands game with the emotionally straining decisions Telltale has become famous for. I worry that the comedy will undercut the tough moral choices we have to make, since the tone of this game differs significantly from what we’ve seen in The Wolf Among Us and The Walking Dead. While in those two series I was left questioning my decisions and feeling guilty for my choices, I found myself oddly nonchalant about the way I chose to develop my characters in this initial chapter. I hope this changes moving forward, and I have faith that it will as character relationships are nourished, but this is a factor that stood out.

Zer0 Sum leaves a lot plot points unanswered because of the way the narrative unfolds, since we see Rhys and Fiona as captives retelling their stories to a masked figure, but have no idea how their paths led them there. The characters are enjoyable, the plot is interesting, and the story can move forward in multiple ways. As a Borderlands fan, I am intrigued to see unexplored characters traverse the dangers of Pandora, but newcomers will undoubtedly find excitement in discovering this hilariously brutal world. I can’t wait to see what Pandora will bring for Rhys and Fiona, and am eager to decide on how they handle obstacles.


About the Author

Eduardo Gueiros