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New Tales from the Borderlands Struggles to Meet High Expectations

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New Tales from the Borderlands Review

Developer: Gearbox Software | Publisher: 2K Games | Genre: Adventure
Platforms: Windows, Xbox One, Xbox Series S/X, PS4, PS5, Nintendo Switch
Reviewed on: PS5

Developing a follow-up to Telltale Games’ 2014 magnum opus Tales from the Borderlands was always going to be a mammoth task. The legacy of the original still stands strong eight years later, it being not only one of the best stories Telltale Games ever told but also one of the best Borderlands stories ever written, featuring a hilarious and charming cast of loveable goofballs going on an adventure that changes all of their lives forever. The biggest strength of New Tales from the Borderlands is that there are occasional glimpses of this excellence buried within an otherwise unfortunately dull adventure that takes too long to get off the ground.

The new cast of characters, featuring refreshingly few returning Borderlands faces, ranges from merely serviceable to genuinely captivating, though its strongest cast members are criminally underutilised during the course of the story. While it is a graphically impressive tale with a smooth performance, the music is nowhere near as memorable as the original and the plot fumbles around in a directionless mess well into its fourth chapter before things finally start to come together. The humour is occasionally hilarious but a few too many jokes fall flat. If it wasn’t for a fairly strong ending with a neat emotional resolution, it would be hard to recommend New Tales from the Borderlands at all.

Skateboard Kicks, Vaultlander Tricks

New TftB: Vaultlanders gameplay
Image: 2K Games

The core gameplay loop of New Tales from the Borderlands is quite familiar to those who have played narrative-driven choice-based adventure games before, be it from Telltale Games or other developers. Much of the game consists of cutscenes with occasional dialogue choices that affect the relationships between the three main characters, culminating in different endings depending on how well everyone got along throughout the course of the story. This mechanic — known as the Skateboard metre in-game — is intentionally vague and represents the team bond level as a whole. Additionally, three friendship metres are used to represent individual bonds between the trio of protagonists, and to get the best ending a minimum requirement for all of these metres must be met. It’s a little better than the binary endings of some narrative adventures, such as the original Life is Strange, but it’s often hard to tell exactly what will raise (or indeed lower) these friendship metres.

In-between cutscenes, there are certain areas which allow free roaming. Objects can be inspected or picked up, and there is usually an optional objective to complete or collectible to discover. These segments tend to be quite short, with a focus on talking to characters and using abilities unique to each protagonist to discover new information and progress the story. A simple hacking minigame is used sparingly, as is a scanner that can reveal more information about each nearby character. There isn’t much complexity on display during free roam segments, often boiling down to looking at each object and exhausting dialogue options before moving on. More complex puzzle solving would go a long way to making these segments more compelling, but they remain a neat way to break up lengthy story segments. There are some surprises, such as a recurring joke character who wants to play a minigame with you and appears in the strangest places, but aside from that there isn’t much else to comment on.

Speaking of minigames, New Tales from the Borderlands tries to add more variety by including Vaultlanders, a figurine-based fighting game with collectible characters with different attack and defence stats. Strangely, the first Vaultlander figurine is one of the strongest, perhaps as a way to ensure no players get stuck in the first Vaultlanders battle, but these battles are so trivially easy that it’s difficult to tell what the intention is here. In a Vaultlanders battle, players choose their preferred fighter before engaging in a back-and-forth battle of dodging and attacking. Dodges are tied to quick-time events while attacking is as simple as mashing the X button when the opponent has finished their attacks. It’s so bafflingly straightforward and has such little room for any kind of strategy that it feels like a huge waste of potential. There are 16 figurines to collect, and the act of collecting them is in itself more satisfying than the battles, culminating in a bizarre minigame with no enjoyment outside of its flashy presentation.

Before moving on, a brief comment on presentation and performance. New Tales from the Borderlands excels in terms of graphical fidelity and performance, with no issues whatsoever with maintaining a smooth frame rate on PlayStation 5. Moreover, the cel-shaded art style has frankly never looked better in any Borderlands game. This is perhaps the only aspect in which New Tales from the Borderlands outdoes its predecessor, as the original game has some janky animations which are noticeable to this day. Gearbox has outdone themselves in terms of overall presentation, though it’s worth noting that the introduction sequences and accompanying music are terribly disappointing when the bar was set so high with Tales from the Borderlands’ hilarious and memorable dynamic intro sequences.

The Goof, The Rad and The Angry

New Tales from the Borderlands: Octavio introduction screen
Image: 2K Games

The cast of New Tales from the Borderlands is perhaps the very definition of a mixed bag. There are three protagonists, each of which managing to remain compelling enough throughout the course of the story while at times feeling slightly underdeveloped. Anu, the anxious Atlas scientist trying to impress CEO Rhys Strongfork with her new invention, is the most interesting and nuanced of the trio, maintaining a chaotic charisma that doesn’t wear off. Her brother Octavio, living on the streets of Promethea in a life of petty crime, is much more hit-and-miss with his humour and can be frustrating in some scenes as the writing relies a little too heavily on him making poor decisions. Fran, the final main character and owner of a dying frozen yoghurt shop under threat by local disputes, feels a little disconnected from the other two but is nonetheless a core part of the team and can hold her own in a variety of situations. Her struggles with anger issues are generally handled well, and the positive representation of having a physically disabled protagonist is more than welcome.

Where New Tales from the Borderlands really shines, however, is in its cast of side characters and companions, many of whom being more compelling and memorable than the main cast despite comparatively little screen time. L0U13, the assassination robot struggling to find purpose in life outside of his programming, is by far the most consistently entertaining character and benefits from one of the strongest character arcs in the game. Similarly, Stapleface, a born-again member of the Psycho faction, exhibits greater personality and personal nuance in barely a handful of scenes than many other characters can in the entire runtime of the story. Badass Superfan, the Tediore soldier and Vaultlanders fanatic who wants nothing more than to battle our heroes with figurines, is also a highlight every time he unexpectedly crops up. It is such an immense shame that this strong cast of side characters is underutilised, as a much wider use of these unique personalities would have added a lot of flavour to an at times fairly dull plot.

Herein lies one of the major issues with New Tales from the Borderlands: there are many good ideas, but very few of them realise their full potential. One of the main characters has an anxiety disorder, but this largely amounts to sometimes being able to pick a dialogue option to have a panic attack during a tense scene, or it being commented upon if players ignore this option consistently enough. Likewise, Fran’s history of anger issues is one of the most interesting character stories, but it doesn’t get explored enough nor utilised in any kind of meaningful way. It simply amounts to players having a choice to get angry in certain moments, or choose to remain calm instead. The consequences of player choice are often non-existent in the moment, only having the effect of raising or lowering the team bonding level for the wider goal of reaching a good ending by the final episode. There is a lot on the surface, but far too much is going on for there to be any kind of in-depth character development.

A Tediore-ous Tale

New Tales from the Borderlands: Dialogue options with L0U13
Image: 2K Games

Finally we come to the main story of New Tales from the Borderlands, which is by far one of the most perplexing and bewildering aspects of the experience. Tediore, one of the many weapons manufacturing corporations in the world of the Borderlands, is seeking to invade the planet of Promethea for its own benefit, with devastating consequences for those living on Promethea’s now-ravaged streets. There are five episodes, just like the original Tales from the Borderlands, but this time all five episodes are available at launch. This is a good thing, because each episode of New Tales from the Borderlands could certainly not stand on its own merits. There are very few exciting plot twists or cliffhangers, and the overall plot is incoherent until well into Episode 4, after which the story finally begins to come together in an admittedly satisfying way.

While Episode 1 does an admirable job of introducing each of the three main characters as well as a strong cast of side characters, this falls apart quickly. Most of the side cast are bafflingly shafted to one side or simply there to give extra flavour to certain scenes, while the stories of the main trio feel disjointed and at times heading in completely different directions. When their paths finally converge and the plot kicks off properly in Episode 2, what follows feels more like a bizarre set of coincidences than a real adventure. Certain story events serve to actively dampen the dramatic stakes rather than increase the tension, and a few too many plot points centre around the main trio being stupid enough to fall into obvious traps or otherwise lack any sense of caution. Octavio is supposed to be the loveable goofball character, literally referred to as a “himbo” by villain Susan Coldwell, but his actions veer too heavily into the realm of simply being moronic.

There are glimpses of greatness weaved into this tapestry of chaos. Episode 3 is a fun detour, as the protagonists seek to win money on a game show to fund their business plans, and this is a genuinely entertaining segment. Likewise, every scene with L0U13 is nothing short of excellent, and his tagging along with the main trio is more than welcome, to the point where ideally he should have been one of the main characters in the first place. The core gimmick item that fuels most of the plot is quite fascinating, and the finale gives some much-needed character development for all three protagonists. Despite all of this, however, there’s a general lack of cohesion and a few too many missed opportunities for New Tales from the Borderlands to be truly satisfying and live up to the legacy of its predecessor. These characters deserve more depth than they are given, as there is a solid foundation but it remains largely wasted potential.

New Tales from the Borderlands Fumbles Around in Mediocrity

New TftB: Dialogue with Anu and Phuong in the background
Image: 2K Games

The latest narrative installment of the long-running Borderlands franchise certainly could be worse, but unfortunately fails to achieve the heights of its predecessor at any given moment. Tales from the Borderlands not only delivered a wacky adventure filled with hilarity and charm, but also shook the wider world of the Borderlands, having huge ramifications for future stories set in its world. New Tales from the Borderlands sets up wider implications in its finale, but is positively anticlimactic in comparison. By the time things start to get interesting, the game is already over.

What remains is a mediocre narrative adventure about a group of friends who stumble their way through Promethea with as much knowledge of what is going on as anyone who is playing. It’s worth playing for diehard fans of the Borderlands franchise who want to experience new stories set in this world, but can be safely skipped otherwise. If you’re looking for an exceptional Borderlands narrative with charismatic characters and choices that have short and long term consequences, the original Tales from the Borderlands from Telltale Games is much more worth your time.

James is a university graduate based in England whose main hobbies are history, languages, and of course video games. His favourite games are Hollow Knight, Horizon Zero Dawn, and anything made by Atlus or FromSoftware, and you can usually find him on Twitter @sacGOONER63 drooling over these games and many more. You can also read his weekly ramblings about games at if you so wish.