When I play a Borderlands game I don’t expect deep characters, meaningful conversations or choices that actually matter. No, I expect to shoot various things in the face with various big guns. Tales from the Borderlands still features guns and shooting, though it’s usually other people shooting them at you, but also has plenty of the other stuff I mentioned; there’s just less of it than we’re used to from a Telltale Games’ title. As a result, the first episode of the new series, so adequately titled Zer0 Sum, feels a bit schizophrenic. It’s hard to tell whether it wants to be a Borderlands game or one of Telltale’s epic and emotional narratives. Thankfully, it ends up being a little bit of both.

You play as Rhys, a Hyperion company man that’s currently being dragged through the dirt by an unknown and heavily armed individual. This mysterious person wants but one thing – for Rhys to tell him, in his own words, what happened to a vault key that used to be in his possession. So Rhys starts telling the story, being very careful to indeed use his own words. It is then we meet the second protagonist of the series – Fiona, a con-artist born and raised on Pandora. She also has a story to tell, but it is slightly different than what we’ve heard so far. That’s the essence of Tales from the Borderlands – it’s a story told by two different people, with different motives and points of view. The story changes depending on who tells it and what the player chooses to do and say. It basically means that you’re never actually clear on what really happened, and you need to decide for yourself who to believe.

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And it’s really hard to believe a word both of them are saying. The two protagonist are immediately labelled as self-serving, despicable individuals who rarely care about anything other than their own agenda. At least that’s the initial impression. As the story progresses and you make more and more choices, be it in dialog or action sequences, you also start to mold the two into deep, complicated characters. While unlikable at first, it gets difficult not to emphasize with them, mainly because it is you who are responsible for their newfound personalities. Alternating between Rhys and Fiona lets you see the story from their perspective and experience the same events from two different angles, thus ultimately creating two very different characters. So if you’re one of those gamers who really like to immerse themselves in their character, you’ll appreciate this amount of control over their development.

You also have greater control over the story than ever before. As always, the overall plot reaches the same fixed points no matter what you do, but what changes is what you experience in between. Thanks to the familiar dialog and choice systems, there are many chances for you to shape the story as you see fit, whether it’s by choosing what information to share with your mysterious capture, or how to react to the many dangers and curve balls Pandora throws your way. Again, it won’t drastically change the story, but it does give a satisfying feeling of control and let different players experience the plot in different ways.

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Zer0 Sum is much more lighthearted than we’re used to for a Telltale game. You won’t find a lot of heavy, emotional moments in this episode. As a matter of fact, Tales from the Borderlands brings back the humor we saw in Telltale’s older titles, like Strong Bad, Sam & Max or Tales of Monkey Island. Considering the source material, humor is definitely the way to go: Borderlands never took itself too seriously, with its over the top characters and the sometime ridiculous situations they tend to get themselves in. Things are no different in Zer0 Sum, and you’ll find plenty of that Borderlands psychotic charm. So far, the fan-service is more appreciated than annoying, but you do get the feeling the game is trying a little too hard to connect with the fans and be funny.

But humor isn’t the only thing Borderland is known for; there’s also that special brand of action, with lots of explosions and midgets. I’m glad to say Tales from the Borderlands nails this aspect down perfectly. Though a little slow to start, by the end of the episode you’ve already faced off against a rather large variety of unpleasant creatures and people. This is where this new series shine the most – the action is just as exaggerated as in any Borderlands title, and fits well within the overall plot. Telltale did a great work at capturing the spirit of the franchise without sacrificing any of it’s traditional gameplay elements (well, so far there aren’t that many guns, but we’re just getting started).

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Zer0 Sum sets the tone for the entire series to come, and so far it looks to be very promising. Borderlands fans will find plenty of silly humor and uncompromising action, while those looking for Telltale’s iconic blend of narrative, QTEs and moral choices won’t be disappointed. True, the episode does take its time to get going, but once it does it never slows down, not even to wipe the skag guts off its boots.


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