I've known for a good long while that the protagonist of Tales from the Borderlands was named "Rhys". That didn't make it any less surreal when he got the snot kicked out of him, only for this to pop up:
Yes, this is a Borderlands title, through-and-through. And even if it's made by Telltale, it wouldn't be right to abandon the splashes that makes the series' large cast of characters so memorable. The big difference here is that unlike previous Telltale releases that center around one character (be they Marty McFly, Lee Everett, or Bigby Wolf), in Tales from the Borderlands, there are two. The aforementioned Rhys is a cowardly, arrogant Hyperion employee (with just enough intelligence to get by) whose design evokes recurring antagonist Handsome Jack in many ways. Complementing the Hyperion agent is Fiona, a Pandoran grifter that plays to Borderlands' space-western aesthetics more than any character in the series prior.
If you've seen Rashomon, then you already have a good idea of how Tales From the Borderlands plays out. Opening with Rhys and Fiona held at gunpoint by a masked bandit with a shotgun — a Hyperion Conference Call (couldn't resist) — wanting to know... something. It's not actually explained what this bandit wants, but how else do you set up a good mystery? As it turns out, they're looking for a Vault, the same Vaults the "Vault Hunters" from previous entries in the Borderlands franchise were also searching for. Rhys is looking to purchase a Vault Key alongside his partner Vaughn (voiced by Chris Hardwick, natch) to show up his boss. Fiona is looking to sell a fake Vault Key to an idiot from Hyperion and…you get the idea. Thing is, Rhys and Fiona aren't Vault Hunters. In fact, they barely know how to get into a fight–much less survive one.
Perhaps that's what makes the "action sequences" of Tales from the Borderlands so interesting; rather than directly participating like Lee or Bigby would, Rhys and Fiona prefer to stay on the sidelines, such as in an early scene wherein Rhys calls in a Hyperion Loader Bot to combat some bandits. The scene plays out like you'd expect, with the Loader stomping (literally, in one case) the bandits into the dust. But then it concludes on a note that reminded me of two things: this is a Telltale Game, and this is also a Borderlands game.
Telltale has received much in the way of mockery for their "character will remember X" methods of storytelling. A lot of the time nothing actually results from those reminders, with at worst nothing happening, and at most a character reminding me that I said or did something. There's a lot toying around with "Telltale formula", even when the developer is sticking to its guns. The metaphorical ones, of course; there are only fourteen guns in the entire episode, contrary to about an hour of any other Borderlands game wherein I'd see hundreds. Point being, when life gives you Borderlands, make Borderlands-ade. And that's exactly what Telltale did.
I wouldn't hesitate to call Tales from the Borderlands a miracle. Easily one of my favorite franchises given to a developer whose specialty is episodic storytelling. It's a very special pairing that, while not feeling "perfect", does its job well enough to warrant a good two hours of fun. By the time the credits were rolling, I wasn't "on the edge of my seat", so to speak, but there were enough teased cameos and upcoming events that made the little Vault Hunter inside me squeal just a little bit. Oh, and remember, as much as I'd like him to be a badass, Rhys is this:
Get it together, man. You've got four more episodes!
Rhys Egner is a writer for Front Towards Gamer from Seattle. He likes comics, hates crowds, and loves gaming of all kinds.