It’s been about 7 years since Telltale’s Tales From The Borderlands came out and about 4 years since that same company closed down. Now, in 2022, and despite a Telltale revival (of sorts), Gearbox Studios took it upon themselves to release a spiritual successor to the original title. In a smart move for a developer that has never made an adventure game before, they partnered up with some people who worked on the first Tales and enlisted a doctor of interactive fiction as head writer.
Yet, even though this sounds excellent on paper, New Tales From The Borderlands falls way short of its predecessor, which was a critical darling praised for its unexpected emotional depth and humorous writing. I, too, loved it when I first played it in 2017, despite not caring much for anything Borderlands-related before or ever since. Indeed, the main draw for me was that Tales was a Telltale game rather than a Gearbox project.
This being said, even though the adventure game formula pioneered by Telltale is very much adhered to here, for better and, mostly, for worse, New Tales From The Borderlands is decisively a Gearbox game.
To start with the positives, New Tales From The Borderlands is built on Unreal Engine, an engine which the Gearbox team is very familiar with. In my experience, this meant that I ran into absolutely no performance issues or glitches to speak of, which is unlike my time with absolutely every Telltale game. Presentation-wise, too, the game is gorgeous and aptly captures the hand-drawn aesthetic style which fans of the series know and love.
“New Tales From The Borderlands is more of a safe play that doesn’t really move the needle for anyone.”
I also like how New Tales furthers the story of the Borderlands universe: it may be a spin-off game in the sense that it plays differently to the core Borderlands entries, yes, but that does not prevent it from picking up some already established narrative threads and playing around with a number of familiar characters. In other words, if, unlike me, you’re invested in this world and know quite a bit about the lore, you might just want to play this for the ways in which it expands and brings new life to the franchise.
As for my qualms with New Tales From The Borderlands, I must admit from the get-go that I was a bit disappointed that this is more of a reboot than a Tales From The Borderlands Season 2. Even though I understand the circumstances: new beginning, different studio and vision, etc., it is very apparent to me that this new game is based on the mission statement and goodwill of its predecessor.
New Tales From The Borderlands tries really hard to be a Telltale game made the Gearbox way, but what it unfortunately succeeds at the most is in reminding people that it is nowhere as full of heart as what it tries to replicate. If Tales From The Borderlands was a big risk that paid off dividends, New Tales From The Borderlands is more of a safe play that doesn’t really move the needle for anyone.
“…for better and, mostly, for worse, New Tales From The Borderlands is decisively a Gearbox game.”
In any case, there is potential for something greater here. Even though it fails in its execution, I respect the kind of story that New Tales From The Borderlands is trying to tell. Beyond the jokes that really don’t land as much as they should, moving past the fact that multiple characters do not get a resolution and are inexplicably sidelined, there is heart to this game, and I was, at least in some key moments, genuinely moved by this narrative centred around found family and empathy.
There is soul here, and you can tell that New Tales From The Borderlands was a labour of love from the developers—I just wish that this felt like a game that they desperately wanted to make, rather than one that made financial sense for them to be working on.
Having gone through the full 5 chapters of the story, or about 12 hours of gameplay, on PlayStation 5, I don’t think I can safely recommend New Tales From The Borderlands to anyone but the most hardcore fans. For anyone else wanting a great adventure game set in the universe, do yourself a favor and pick up the original Tales instead.