You’d be forgiven for not remembering what happened in the first episode of Tales from the Borderlands. Good as it was at establishing a style and introducing all the characters, the first episode came out nearly four months ago, which is a long time even by Telltale standards. Luckily, this is a world that’s fairly easy to slip back into, especially for long-time fans of the franchise, although the second episode doesn’t make nearly as much of an impression
as the first did.
Episode 2 picks up right where the first episode ended and ends about 80 minutes later, making this one of the shorter episodic releases from Telltale I’ve seen. Continuing on Fiona and Rhys’ adventure, a solid, cohesive narrative is emerging, although the framing device of the two protagonists recounting events does tend to lower the stakes somewhat – you know where these characters are eventually headed, but there’s not much reason to ask how they ended up there. But the writing remains largely solid; a few gags fall a bit flat, and there aren’t any huge laughs, but Telltale are doing a great job with visual humour so far. There’s a really gross gag early on that lands pretty well, and in my playthrough the Loader Bot’s continued anger about what I did to it in the first episode is reliably entertaining.
The dialog continues to be a strong point for the main characters (there’s a hilarious revelation about Vaughn’s physique that stands out in particular), although some of the performances aren’t working. Patrick Warburton’s Vasquez, in particular, performs his dialog with seemingly no sense of how it’ll play on screen. It’s hard to know whether Warburton is actually doing a bad job or whether he is being directed and edited poorly, but Vasquez is a character I’m now hating for reasons other than those the writers intended. Handsome Jack, appearing throughout the episode in hologram form, suffers a similar fate.
There’s very little in the way of puzzles or action here, as once again gameplay is mostly based around making choices. There are some sweet scenes and options though, particularly when you meet a gold-hearted hillbilly mechanic. If you end up giving that dude sass, I don’t think we can be friends. Even after so many seasons and episodes of this style of game, making choices remains a compelling central gameplay hook, although the choices themselves are getting less difficult. One thing Telltale’s writers have struggled with more and more is presenting choices that will actually split audiences. When 80% of players are picking one action over another, it means the choice probably isn’t prompting a whole lot of thought. I made one choice in this playthrough that only 10% of people made, and as much as it felt good in the moment it didn’t really impact how the rest of the episode played out, even though it probably should have.
Telltale has done something a little different with the ‘next episode’ preview on this one, which is enough to indicate that it’ll be significant. This is a minor episode, as second episodes in episodic game series often tend to be, but there’s nothing here that hints that the rest of the season won’t be strong.