It’s been quite the journey (and year) for Telltale Games’ continuing commitment to the episodic game genre, though it hasn’t been without highs and lows. Even within Tales from the Borderlands exists some of the more glaring weak points from all their series, but it also housed the strongest. The culmination of fifth episode The Vault of the Traveler brings the strange and often wonderful first season of Tales From The Borderlands to a close, cementing it as the best Telltale product of all, outside of The Walking Dead’s groundbreaking first season.
After the emotionally reeling cliffhanger of Episode 4: Escape Plan Bravo, the Vault of the Traveler wastes no time in a high-octane bum rush to the finish line. The stakes get critical as Fiona, Rhys, and company have to come to terms with the destruction they’ve caused. After a series filled with so many hilarious moments, I was amazed at how impactful these emotional moments truly were. I spent a good portion of time thinking back on the decisions I’d made throughout the previous episodes and considering if I’d made the right decisions. Telltale has always been at its strongest when the stories deal with shades of gray, and Tales nails that bullseye better than any other series to date.
It’s this unique ability to offer humor, emotion, depth, and carnage in a single story that really makes Tales from the Borderlands succeed. My own connection to the characters made me try to justify the killing of so many, and when Jack pointed out that I was doing just that, I couldn’t deny it – Telltale does a solid job of showing that it’s all about perspective.
There’s a surprising thematic depth to the last episode, where the characters begin to question their destructive quest for power and money and how it has affected those around them. Borderlands already has some history in showing a more relatable side to its bad guys, and Telltale pulls off the same trick here to even greater effect, which is really not what you’d expect of a broad comedy based on a first person shooter.
If there’s one problem I have with The Vault of the Traveler, it’s that it tries to cram so much into its duration that I was often left hoping for a breather to take a moment and mentally catch up. Yeah, there’s almost too much good stuff here! Storylines with Valerie, Handsome Jack, the Vault, and the mysterious stranger in the framing device are all wrapped up, which is great, but it certainly feels a bit exhausting at times. This bullet train rarely slows down, and it really demanded my full attention in order to piece together exactly what was happening and why.
Hindsight is almost always 20/20, and with that in mind I should have put more faith in Telltale Games to do Gearbox’s flagship series the quality it deserves. Episode 3: Catch A Ride might have shaken my trust a bit, but no season is perfect, and I can only hope this is the first of several seasons to come – Borderlands 3 be damned.