Tales from the Borderlands, Episode 2: Atlas Mugged

Eric Swain

Yeah, the manic murder fantasy playground of Borderlands gets more subtle moments of humanity than the grand tragedy of Telltale's catalog, The Walking Dead.

Tales from the Borderlands, Episode 2: Atlas Mugged

Publisher: Telltale Game
Players: 1
Price: $24.99
Platform: PC
ESRB Rating: Mature
Developer: Telltale Games
Release Date: 2015-03-17

Many years ago, I frequented this writing forum. I remember one thread that got enormous. It was a debate concerning which was more important to a story: characters or plot. The debate was one of those pedantic things that can go on endlessly in circles, but with the right people taking part, such discussion can truly be edifying. Such questions begin with the basics. Without characters, you don't have anyone to do the things in the plot. Yet, without plot, the characters just stand there not being interesting, regardless of how charmingly they have been written, and so on and so forth.

I bring this up because it seems very pertinent to the Borderlands series as a whole. Sure, it has characters, some of which the fanbase dearly loves (I have no idea why) -- one of which makes his presence known in this episode -- but all these characters typically do is just stand around not doing anything. They just stare at you until you decide on one of them to take up the quest with and then actually get on with things. The characters have no real backstory and can, thus, mostly be ignored as characters. Likewise on the other front, there's a hell of a lot of plot in these games and complicated shit gets lumped on top of complicated shit, yet the player characters are presented as having only the most minimal of personality, a personality that really only seems to expand once they've become an NPC in another Borderlands game.

If the world of Borderlands and its characters are to be developed, then, yeah, making an adventure game based on the series was the right move. No question about it. Action games are all about tone and impression making, codified by simple iconography. Complex plot doesn't tend to work out so well in straight up action games. Adventure games, however, are all about the details. They require the player to pay attention to figure out where to go and what to do next.

This is a rather longwinded way of saying that Tales from the Borderlands continues to be good. I thought to myself upon finishing episode two that Tales might actually shape up to be my favorite out of Telltale's catalog. And I don't just mean their recent work. Of course, we're still only two episodes in, so we will see how that pans out. At the same time, I'm thinking to myself, “I'm having a tough time articulating why.” Hence, my stalling for the first three paragraphs.

Tales from the Borderlands continues to be irreverently funny. It makes me laugh out loud, which is more than I can say for most "funny" games. The characters are entertaining, as are the situations that they find themselves in. The choices aren't all life and death and instead are much more comfortably human. As much as everyone gushes over Clementine and Lee and Kenny and the smattering of other characters each player happens to like from The Walking Dead games, the choices that those characters make tend to get a little one note after a while. One could justify this or that decision with philosophical rhetoric, but after a while, choices in that series come down to two variables: who do you like and who do you think will help you? By comparison to the end of The Walking Dead Season Two, I am relating much more to the characters in Tales, Rhys and Vaughn as bros, Fiona and Sasha as sisters. Yeah, the manic murder fantasy playground gets more subtle moments of humanity than the grand tragedy of Telltale's catalog. We live in a topsy turvy world. The Walking Dead handles the big stuff and handles it well, but sometimes more artful truth can come from the small decision of what to do with a gift meant for your sister.

Dammit, still 200 words short. Um...

Oh yes, the style of the game's humor has changed. While I do miss the manic slapstick from the first episode, the climatic racetrack sequence being a particular highlight of joyous glee, "Atlas Mugged" does a nice job of replacing it with something equally as good. Okay, “replacing” may be too strong a word. Shifting emphasis? Yeah, that works. There was a bit of a comedy of errors in episode one, but such an approach is the primary way that episode two drives its humor.

You gear up for this dramatic standoff out of a spaghetti western or a heist film and then one thing goes wrong and just derails the whole proceedings, then the game holds onto this awkward situation as the characters kind of stare at one another not entirely sure how to proceed.

The game also still includes action sequences, but they aren't as prolonged or as bombastic as in the previous episode. However, a heavier emphasis on the competence of the various "heroes" and bad guys being brought into focus is a nice recipe for laughs when executed just right.

So, yeah, everyone's getting screwed by everyone else. Or trying at least. Or maybe not, depends on how you decide to role-play things. So, maybe not everybody. Most people are getting screwed over by most everyone else with the possibility of that being upgraded to everybody trying to screw everyone else over unless... You know what? Loader Bot help me escape this sentence.


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