Game Info:

Tales from the Borderlands Episode 1: Zer0 Sum
Developed By: Telltale Games
Published By: Telltale Games
Released: November 25, 2014
Available On: PC, Mac, PS3, PS4, Xbox 360, Xbox One
Genre: Graphic Adventure
ESRB Rating: M for Mature: Violence, Blood and Gore, Suggestive Themes, Strong Language
Number of Players: 1 offline
Price: $24.99 new

Thanks to Telltale for sending this game for us to review!

The world of Pandora is not the most welcoming. Vaults litter the landscape, and those who wish to open them and uncover wonders untold must compete with bandits, as well as the harsh wildlife of Pandora just to survive. But there are also those who want to get to the Vaults before you do. And not all of the locals are friendly.

This is the setting for the Borderlands games, a franchise started with 2009's Borderlands. Borderlands offered a rather thrilling experience: First-Person shooter mechanics paired with the action-roleplaying and loot gathering usually found in a game like Diablo. It worked quite well, and one and half successful sequels were released (Borderlands: The Pre-Sequel is more of an interquel than a proper sequel). The shoot-and-loot system paired with a drop-in, drop-out co-op system made the game an absolute blast.

But this Tales from the Borderlands is different. This game was made by Telltale, best known for The Walking Dead and The Wolf Among Us games. These games aren't about action and shooting, but about story and the characters. And they worked really well. I must admit, I was skeptical of Telltale's ability to turn a raucous shooter into a thoughtful adventure game. But you know what? Telltale surprised me.

tales from the borderlands

Strong Points: Strong story and characters, uses the Borderlands series trademark humor.
Weak Points: Graphical hiccups, some of the fun of the Borderlands games has been subsumed by the narrative-driven nature of the game.
Moral Warnings: Lots of shooting and blood, and some gore. Cursing is fairly common, and some female clothing is a little revealing.

The story takes place after the end of Borderlands 2. Without saying too much, in Borderlands 2, a company called Hyperion is in control of Pandora. Their leader, Handsome Jack, is ostensibly the villain of the story. Some plot points of Borderlands 2 will be spoiled in this game, so watch your step if you want to experience that game's story all the way through. 

In a bit of a departure for a Borderlands game, you don't play as a Vault Hunter, nor do you shoot things from a first-person perspective. Instead, you control two characters with radically different backstories. Rhys is an employee of Hyperion. He wants nothing more than to rise through the ranks of Hyperion, and get a good, well-paying job. Fiona is a con artist, who lives a life of crime with her “family,” an elder con artist named Felix and another young woman named Sasha. Her character is driven partly by greed, partly by a sense of loyalty.  

Our story starts in medias res (in the middle of things), with Rhys being captured and dragged off by a mysterious figure. The figure asks him some questions, and these questions are how the story is relayed. It's a somewhat common narrative technique, but it is nice to see it applied in games this way. Rhys works for Hyperion, and is on the verge of getting a promotion, when his self-described “Nemesis” Hugo Vasquez ends up giving him a janitor job instead. I won't go into too much more detail, but the story is actually fairly compelling compared to the fairly simple narratives the Borderlands series has had in the past. 

This game captures lots of the quintessential elements of Borderlands gameplay while still remaining true to the Telltale model. The action sequences are appropriately hilarious and thrilling, while the franchise's off-kilter humor is a present force to give you a good laugh. While the entire game isn't out at this time, this definitely has all the right elements of a great entry in the Borderlands franchise.

tales from the borderlands
Score Breakdown:
Higher is better
(10/10 is perfect)

Game Score - 88%
Gameplay - 18/20
Graphics - 8/10
Sound - 9/10
Stability - 5/5
Controls - 4/5

Morality Score - 68%
Violence - 4/10
Language - 5/10
Sexual Content - 8/10
Occult/Supernatural - 10/10
Cultural/Moral/Ethical - 7/10

Like other Telltale Tool games, this one is not free from graphical issues. While the cell-shaded graphics like those seen in The Walking Dead and The Wolf Among Us are a fantastic match for the already-cell-shaded Borderlands games, Telltale games usually have some tearing. When a character picks up a weapon, for instance, the gun appears to be in two places at once very briefly. These aren't terribly distracting, but they do exist. Otherwise, the art style is a match made in heaven. 

The audio in this game is fantastic. The score works well, capturing the feel of Borderlands. But the best part is easily the voice work. Rhys is voiced by Troy Baker, who might be best known for voicing Booker DeWitt in Bioshock Infinite. Veteran voice actors Laura Bailey and Nolan North also voice the second playable character Fiona and a black market fence named August, respectively. But my favorite has to be Patrick Warburton as Hugo Vasquez. Warburton is perhaps best known for his roles as Kronk in The Emperor's New Groove and Brock Samson in The Venture Bros. His suave, yet intimidating voice style makes him a perfect foil for Rhys. 

This game is, just like the Borderlands series, a little rough around the edges if you want a clean game. If you are comfortable with the content in the other Borderlands games, you can rest easy knowing that this game is very similar, and in some ways even cleaner. Fiona and a few other female characters have slightly revealing clothing, especially around the chest and midriff. There is a bit of Innuendo at the end involving a voice communication from Mad Moxxi, a character from the other games. Blood is fairly free-flowing, and violence is a frequent occurrence. There is also some gore, such as gutting a Skag (a monster from Pandora that is common in the games) and seeing its guts come out. There is a good amount of language, including frequent uses of cr*p, h*ll, *ss, d*mn. Among less-common words are a cut-off s-word, a use of b**tard, and one usage of d**k and the c-word in reference to male genitalia. You also get a certain amount of moral and ethical choice, so you can be “good” or “bad” when prompted. 

If you are a fan of the Borderlands games, then this provides an excellent look at the lore through the masterful storytelling of Telltale. If you've never played a Borderlands game before, this is still an excellent game, but it will be quite confusing. I definitely recommend that those who enjoyed Borderlands 1 and 2 check it out. You're in for one wild, hilarious ride.

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Christ Centered Gamer looks at video games from two view points. We analyze games on a secular level which will break down a game based on its graphics, sound, stability and overall gaming experience. If you’re concerned about the family friendliness of a game, we have a separate moral score which looks at violence, language, sexual content, occult references and other ethical issues.

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