Tales from the Borderlands: Episode Five – The Vault of the Traveler
Publisher: Telltale Games
Developer: Telltale Games
Genre: Interactive Drama
Release Date: 10/20/2015
(Note: As with all episodic games, certain parts of this review will be carried over from my review of the first episode. Those copied bits will be italicized. Feel free to skip them if you wish.)
It’s been a hell of a season. While TftB hasn’t done much to shed the idea of Telltale’s games being a technical mess, the story and characters has done a great deal into establishing faith that slogging through the game will be worth it. Each episode has been a joy to play through, and this final entry is no exception. Let’s get down to it!
When we last left our heroes, they were stuck on Hyperion. Under the thumb of Vallory, they were forced to track down the last part Gortys needs to summon a vault. Things were going swimmingly, until the girls were put up at gunpoint and Handsome Jack finally made his move.
This final episode wastes no time. Issues and plot lines start getting resolved one right after the other, with very few breaks in the action. We get to see what Jack’s plan is, we get to decide Yvette’s fate, we get to see what happens when the vault is opened, and we even get to see what some our choices have wrought. The episode moves quickly, despite being the longest in the series. It all boils down to a chaotic final section that ups the ante while providing a decent payoff for your decisions. Let’s just say that you can’t craft the perfect team without having made some allies around the way.
As far the story goes, it’s a resounding success. While there are some threads that are open ended, the important points get resolved, and they get resolved in a satisfying manner. On top of that, there’s still plenty of time for some last bits of character growth. While things are, predictably, left open for a sequel, there wouldn’t be much of a problem if this ended up being it. All of the humor, charm, and fun is present and accounted for. What more can you ask?
Visually, the game works great. The cell-shaded art style of Borderlands lends itself well to the Telltale look. You could even be forgiven for thinking you were just watching a cutscene from one of the FPS games. That being said, the animations are a bit stiff, and there’s an issue with words not syncing up with lips. The game also has the typical TT technical issues. It will pause frequently to load up variations of speech, words will be cut off, and sometimes the sound will go on without the video. These problems are constant, but the fantastic art style makes up for it.
The audio department is where the game really shines though. Featuring the voices of Troy Baker, Laura Bailey, Chris Hardwick, and Patrick Warburton, the cast is truly top notch. Add in the crazed rants of the psychos, the ethereal effects of Zero’s abilities, and the rocking soundtrack, and it’s a recipe for success. The only problem I had was sometimes the voices got drowned out by the music. Still, I can honestly say this is one of the best sounding games I’ve played all year.
Speaking of “game”, let’s talk about how this thing works.
When it comes to mechanics, the game is lacking. For the most part, you’re a spectator. When you do get to chime in, you have two primary methods. During conversations, you’ll be presented with four different options. You can pick any of them or remain silent, but you only have a brief window to choose. The conversations will differ slightly based on your choices, but the overall plot is largely unaffected. During action sequences, you’ll have to rotate the analog stick or press buttons as they pop onto the screen. Failing these doesn’t always lead to death, but death can happen. It will just send you back a few seconds though. It’s kind of like a two hour quick time event.
There are some big choices to be made. These pop up during big moments in the story, and pause the game to let you carefully choose how you wish to proceed. When this happens, there are only a couple of choices. For example, Fiona carries a small pistol with just one bullet. A couple of these big choices ask you whether or not you want to use that bullet. Again, these choices don’t seem to affect the story at large, but do allow you to roleplay a bit.
Occasionally, you’ll be allowed to move around and explore a bit. Don’t get too excited though; when this happens, you have maybe a hallway you can walk down or something. When playing as Rhys, you can press L1 to use his cybernetic eye. This allows you to scan various items for flavor text. When using Fiona, she can keep track of her bank account. There are points in the story when you can spend money to equip different accessories. It’s not much, but it is nice.
As usual with any Telltale game, part of the fun in making your big choices is comparing these choices with others. The game keeps track of what you did, and at the end of the episode, you can see how many people went the same way you did. It’s certainly interesting, but at this point it would be great to get even more complex. I wouldn’t mind seeing how many people took the exact same path as me.
Let’s talk about a few last things before wrapping up. For starters, this episode runs terribly on the PS3. As fun as the story can be, it can be all too easy to be disheartened while the came constantly pauses for up to five seconds at a time in order to save or load. the action sequences are bogged down beyond belief, and I wouldn’t blame anyone for finding the game unplayable at times.
As far as exploration and interaction goes, this episode offers the least. It’s pretty much a straight run, stopping only on the rarest occasions. There also doesn’t appear to be any place to earn or spend whatever cash you might have on new goodies. This is disappointing, as exploring the world and using Rhys’ eye to examine items is one of the season’s highlights. While this is longest episode, it arguably gives you the least to do.
Short Attention Span Summary
In the end, Tales from the Borderlands succeeds thanks to it’s great story and interesting cast of characters. Smart decisions involving player choice and actions sequences go a long way as well. The downside is a game that stutters and pauses at all times. It’s worth slogging through, but sooner or later Telltale is going to have to figure out how to get their games to run worth a damn. If Life is Strange and Until Dawn can do it, surely the leading publisher in the genre can do it as well. Until then, this is a great way to end this season off.