Tales from the Borderlands Episode 5 completes a season of high jinks in fine style, tying loose ends up with explosions rather than knots.
Tales from the Borderlands draws to a close – for now – with Episode 5, capping one of the best series Telltale has produced to date.
It’s hard to talk about the episode without diving into spoiler territory, but there’s one sequence which is unlike anything I’ve seen in a Telltale game before, and which deserves a special mention. In the latter half of the episode, Fiona has to put together a team, and who you can bring on board depends on your choices over the course of the season.
There are a huge number of possibilities over the scenes that follow as a result of this moment, and even if none of them really “matter”, for the first time I really want to see more of them, just because they’re cool, and I care what happens.
During the selection scene tooltips will tell you why a character is or isn’t available, giving you a peek behind the curtains at the large number of subplots converging on this one event. It foregrounds the consequences of your choices to date, and presents you with a new one you can immediately see the point of, rather than fronting an ominous “they will remember that” message.
In the end, all the choices you make up to this point and the new one of picking a team are both inconsequential; I’m almost certain there’s no way to faff things up so badly that you can’t get a team together and go on to finish the episode. Telltale’s games succeed because they make you feel like what you’re doing matters, while you trot happily along a mostly linear path.
A lot of people are affronted by this, but I personally love that the moment to moment experience I have is unique to me and that playthrough, even if the big picture remains broadly the same. The crew selection sequence is a great example of this, because it makes you very aware that there are real contingencies out there. There are a huge number of possibilities over the scenes that follow as a result of this moment, and even if none of them really “matter”, for the first time I really want to see more of them, just because they’re cool, and I care what happens.
That’s the secret, of course; Telltale makes you want to explore its worlds, stories and especially its characters. Coming to see the good in the hearts of a con-artist and a scheming corporate lickspittle is kind of the point of the whole season, I think, as the bickering pair develop a working relationship. At their best and worst, both Rhys and Fiona are entertaining at the very least – and the large cast of characters means there are plenty of different perspectives and interplays to relate to.
Naturally, because this is Telltale, the payoff of all this character bonding is distressing emotional scenes. The humour continues even through the most melodramatic moments, even if you don’t make deflecting dialogue choices, but there’s definitely an opportunity for a good healthy sobbing session if you fancy it. A character even points out that the episode has been an emotional rollercoaster.
As if having feelings weren’t enough, some of the things you’ll do in this episode are just super, super cool. The consequences of the end of Episode 4 are spectacular. There’s a definite element of badassery when you reach the final confrontation. I don’t want to spoil any of these, but it’s a great ride.
Having arrived at the end of the season, I still think Tales from the Borderlands is some of the best work Telltale has ever done – although Episode 5 is perhaps not the best example of that.
Throughout the season to date we’ve enjoyed being reminded that the Telltale crew found its feet with comedy; its apparently endless capacity for fun combines with the oddball Borderlands universe in a fruitful sweetheart arrangement. There’s been plenty of witty dialogue, plenty of choices which somehow all feel in-character, some great action sequences, high stakes drama and blooming emotional investment, eventually paying out in the universal currency of tears.
The humour continues even through the most melodramatic moments, even if you don’t make deflecting dialogue choices, but there’s definitely an opportunity for a good healthy sobbing session if you fancy it.
All of that is present in Episode 5 for sure, but what’s missing is the near-perfect pacing of previous arcs. There’s a lot to pack into this finale: bringing all the loose threads together, moving out of the frame narrative and onto a continuous timeline, giving the player options while moving forward, stuffing every single major character in one way or another, providing closure, leading into what looks a heck of a lot like a second season…
It’s a lot of balls to juggle, and Episode 5 drops a few of them, lapsing into lengthy exposition sequences and drawn-out reveals in which characters flail about discovering information in the least efficient way possible. It’s especially wearing if you’ve paid close enough attention to know the answers before Fiona and Rhys arrive at them.
I can forgive this one lapse in a series that has otherwise been among the finest examples of episodic games; I would much rather Telltale front such an ambitious and intriguing plot and have it go a bit soft at the end than run a tight but boring ship.
Regardless of those rare occasions in which I wished our brave heroes would get on with it, Episode 5 paid off for me, spectacularly. Telltale is going from strength to strength, with Tales from the Borderlands, Game of Thrones and most recently Minecraft: Story Mode showing the developer only getting better at the episodic formula it debuted in its earliest years. Sign me up for Season 2.
Tales from the Borderlands: Episode 5 launches on Mac, PC today, with Android, iOS, PlayStation 3, PS4, Xbox 360 and Xbox One to follow this week.