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New Tales From The Borderlands

Platform(s): Nintendo Switch, PC, PlayStation 4, PlayStation 5, Xbox One, Xbox Series X
Genre: Adventure
Publisher: 2K Games
Developer: Gearbox Software
Release Date: Oct. 21, 2022

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PS5 Review - 'New Tales from the Borderlands'

by Andreas Salmen on Dec. 9, 2022 @ 2:00 a.m. PST

New Tales From The Borderlands is a standalone, choice-based interactive narrative adventure set in the Borderlands universe.

Buy New Tales from the Borderlands

Tales from the Borderlands still ranks as one of my favorite Telltale games. The unlikely collaboration between the since-reborn development studio and Gearbox's Borderlands IP turned out to be far better than it had any right to be. The wacky tale of protagonists Rhys and Fiona, told in Telltale's signature episodic style, was a breath of fresh air. Likable characters and witty dialogues made the moment-to-moment action and story engaging and also provided a new lens to enjoy the world of Borderlands. Eight years later, New Tales from the Borderlands tries to do the same thing by establishing a bunch of characters stumbling from one unfortunate encounter to another in the Borderlands world. Unfortunately, it doesn't really come together this time.

The marketing efforts for New Tales from the Borderlands were rather muted. Apart from its surprise announcement, there was a dearth of news about the title leading up to its release. All we knew was that it was a new tale about three new protagonists in a Borderlands setting and it was entirely developed by Gearbox, including some writers who had worked on the original. In hindsight, it's evident why Gearbox didn't make as much of a deal out of this release. While New Tales from the Borderlands has its moments, it fails more often than it succeeds — and it often fails when it counts.

Instead of two characters, NTFTB lets us control three: Anu, a scientist and pacifist employed by Hyperion; her good-for-nothing, fame-starved brother Octavio; and Froyurt business owner Fran. The game spends quite some time introducing each character, and while the early introductions are mostly fun little segments, the game makes one thing very clear: It's relentless in its attempts to be funny in every single situation. It is the "you miss all the shots you don't take" angle of comedic writing. The game will go to extraordinary lengths to be goofy, strange, witty, or all three at the same time. This often results in a barrage of weak one-liners, uninteresting running gags, and sex-related quips. There are funny moments, but the game is trying so hard to become actively annoying that it feels forced at the best of times.

I also felt that all three protagonists were varying degrees of annoying. None of them is relatable, and all of them overact or make unrelatable decisions to prolong the story in jarring ways. They all behave like two-dimensional characters with a handful of brain cells between them, so they are unable to make rational decisions. At one point, Octavio bankrupts the entire group by making an unfathomably stupid decision (that we cannot influence). The moment felt entirely unnecessary and poorly written, and it highlights the inability of the characters to change in substantial ways.

Anu deals with panic attacks and aims to make the world a better place, Octavio is trying to get his name on the top 30 entrepreneurs list, and Fran wants to run her Froyo shop in peace. There is some character development, but it's hard to care when the characters seem to be caricatures that are trying to be funny all the time.

NTFTB is all over the place in trying to be both funny and strange. There are some hilarious moments, and the side characters — talking gun Brok and friendly assassination bot Lou13 — provide some actual comic relief. The title loses sight of what's important: likable characters that players want to be invested in, a story that makes sense, and curated humor and dialogue.

The five episodes take about 10 hours to complete, but some moments feel stretched out, further impacting the flow of the adventure. There were several moments when the story came to a halt while it dwelled on pointless or uninteresting interactions between the protagonists. Some of this may come down to personal preference, and you may be able to connect with the story and characters whereas I did not, but after finishing the game once, I didn't feel the urge to jump back in; that isn't a great sign for a choice-based game. It also doesn't help that this is a standalone adventure with little to no overlap with the previous title. There are some casual references, but otherwise, this game has nothing to do with the original Tales adventure. That surely won't feel great to everyone, and I think Gearbox left a slate of established characters on the table that fans would've loved to see return in some capacity.

In terms of gameplay, NTFTB doesn't innovate a lot. The episodic game formula is what many would call a "walking simulator." Most sections are little more than interactive cut scenes with simple QTEs and dialogue options. The game occasionally lets you off the leash to explore small, confined spaces, but apart from some minor collectibles and additional dialogue, the sections are very restrictive. Dialogue choices matter, and there are a few sections where the player's choices define how the scene looks and plays out. Other times, smaller choices that felt insignificant ended up changing a later scene. I enjoyed this, but the overall variety of endings is still quite limited.

One minor change is the occasional (skippable) minigame that feels pointless because they don't amount to more than a few timely button presses. There's a Vaultlanders minigame where you can challenge a specific character in each episode to fight against your Vaultlanders selection that you've collected through the game. I don't think I've taken any damage in these optional collectible face-offs. It's definitely no Gwent, and it barely passes as a QTE, either. All that NTFTB can fall back on are the characters and the choice-driven story, which, as I've described, left something to be desired.

That's a shame, since NTFTB looks rather good compared to other Telltale games. Facial animations and main character models look great throughout, even though their bodies are regularly over-animated. Every word is over-accentuated with flailing arms and jumping. If NTFTB had stopped at the facial animations and toned down the body movement, the acting would be much more consistent and believable. That said, the voice acting is on point and well-executed across the story with some great casting choices. Environments are sharp and detailed, with a lot of nods to the Borderlands franchise that fans will appreciate. That quality isn't as consistently adhered to as I'd have liked, with character models of no-name characters and crowds often looking like they were churned out by a random character generator.

On the other hand, music and sound are adequate. Tales From the Borderlands had a much stronger soundtrack, but the musical execution in NTFTB is solid work. It's not a technical home run, but it's a big technical step forward compared to the previous entry. The DualSense controller is supported, but the rumble implementation is simple and doesn't feel overly nuanced or tailored to the system. Otherwise, the PS5 version looks good and ran well throughout our review period without any noticeable bugs or issues.

New Tales from the Borderlands tries to go all-out but ends up with unlikable characters, mind-boggling story twists, and forced comedic writing. Even some interesting decisions and entertaining side characters cannot save what is otherwise an uninteresting romp through the world of Borderlands. If anything, NTFTB confirms that the original was indeed a perfect storm that isn't easily replicated. Fans of the franchise may end up enjoying the adventure, but I'd advise waiting for a sale before embarking on this strange adventure.

Score: 6.0/10

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