Windows Central Verdict
New Tales from the Borderlands is a solid narrative adventure game, but it fails to live up to the standards set by the original. Even though it has great gameplay systems and presentation, the story's disjointed structure, lack of adequate character development, and spotty comedic writing left me feeling disappointed.
Excellent setting and theming
Anu and Octavio are strong protagonists
L0U13 is awesome
Puzzles and minigames are fun
Great presentation and stability
Several accessibility options
Fran feels woefully out of place
Not enough character development
Humor is sometimes hit-or-miss
Some plotholes and inconsistencies
No colorblind mode
Why you can trust Windows Central
Even now, nearly a full decade later, 2014's Tales from the Borderlands stands tall as one of the best choice-based narrative adventure games released. Created by Telltale Games in collaboration with Gearbox Software, the title's immaculate character writing, hilarious comedy, and enthralling plot quickly made it a fan-favorite experience from its debut. Today, the spinoff is widely considered to be a beloved classic, with Gearbox including some of its characters across mainline Borderlands games.
Recognizing the demand for a follow-up, Gearbox has embarked on New Tales from the Borderlands, revealing it to the world earlier this year with an October 21 release.
But does Gearbox truly have what it takes to create a worthy successor to Tales from the Borderlands, which ended up becoming one of the best Xbox games of all time? Unfortunately, after playing it through for review, I'm left feeling dissatisfied. While the developer made a valiant effort to replicate the magic of the original, complete with a great story foundation, solid gameplay, and top-notch production value, numerous significant issues with the game's writing ultimately hold it back from greatness.
Disclaimer: This review was made possible by a review code provided by 2K. The company did not see the contents of the review before publishing.
New Tales from the Borderlands review: Story and characters
Disclaimer: This review does not contain direct plot spoilers for the story of New Tales from the Borderlands beyond what's referenced in official marketing materials. Characters and character themes are briefly discussed, however.
New Tales from the Borderlands takes place on the war-torn metropolis world of Promethea, and is set roughly one year after the events of Borderlands 3 in which the weapons manufacturing company Maliwan invaded the planet. Though the Atlas corporation — led by Rhys Strongfork, one of the two protagonists from the original Tales from the Borderlands — was able to fend Maliwan off with the help of four Vault Hunters, the war left it severely weakened. New Tales from the Borderlands begins with another organization, Tediore, taking advantage of this by launching an invasion of its own, aiming to steal Atlas' Vault Key and use it to unlock a treasure-filled alien Vault hidden deep under Promethea's surface.
In the chaos, you take control of three different characters: Dr. Anuradha "Anu" Dhar, an altruistic but overbearing and socially awkward chief engineer working for Atlas; her rebellious brother Octavio Dhar, a confident, street-smart smooth talker that grew up on the streets of Promethea; and Francine "Fran" Miscowicz, a hot-tempered and perverse frozen yogurt shop owner with a high-tech hoverchair and fierce anger issues (she's also Octavio's boss). These personalities get roped into the deteriorating situation on Promethea, and it's up to you and your choice-making abilities to help them work through their grievances, address intrapersonal issues, and ultimately, coalesce as a team.
|October 21, 2022
|Xbox Series X|S, Xbox One, PS5, PS4, Nintendo Switch, PC (Steam, Epic Games Store)
It's a great setting and concept for a story, especially since Borderlands often puts players into the shoes of all-powerful mercenaries instead of regular people. Unfortunately, though, I can't help but feel let down with Gearbox's execution due to a variety of notable problems.
Anu's good-natured yet naïve pursuit to make things better for everyone around her clashes with Octavio's desire to be independent and make his own decisions, resulting in several excellent instances of relatable and compelling drama. However, the narrative often doesn't focus on that dynamic or give it time before jumping to the next beat, resulting in a rushed and disjointed delivery. There are also a few holes and inconsistencies with the plot; most are minor, but one, in particular, bothered me, and I think other players will be frustrated by it, too.
Fran also feels woefully out of place in this tale, to the point where I think the game would have been better off if she was cut and more screen time was afforded to Anu and Octavio. She received even less character development than the other protagonists did, and her quest to better control her temper poorly ties into the wider narrative. And while Borderlands is famously known for being raunchy and explicit, Fran's perverted sexual comments towards other characters take things to an uncomfortable new level. They're supposed to be funny, but more often than not, I found myself grimacing.
The rest of the game's humor is better, though it's still hit-or-miss overall. While I'd rank it well above the abysmal comedy of Borderlands 3, it's not on the same level as Borderlands 2, the recent Tiny Tina's Wonderlands, or the original Tales from the Borderlands. Those games had me chuckling every five minutes with how creative and clever their jokes were, and while New Tales from the Borderlands has some of that magic, there's also a fair amount of awkward gags and eye roll-inducing "lol so random" comedy, too.
Ironically, the biggest star of the story is a side character: Octavio's best friend L0U13, a dapper and well-mannered assassination robot with a strong desire to pursue a stand-up career and make people laugh. At times L0U13 can be prosaic and interprets things too literally because of his nature as a robot, but he's also capable of being remarkably clever and frequently delivers some of Borderlands' best dry humor. L0U13's arc also compliments the conflict between Anu and Octavio, making him more thematically relevant to the story than most of the other side characters that merely exist to add a bit of flavor to the adventure. Overall, I can't overstate how much I love this character (please make a collectible statue of him, Gearbox, because I'll buy it in a heartbeat).
Writing and character development is crucial for games like these, but that's exactly where New Tales from the Borderlands falls short. There was amazing potential for a fantastic story here, but because of all the aforementioned issues with the script, the narrative is frustratingly average. It's not bad, but compared to the original Tales from the Borderlands, it leaves a lot to be desired.
New Tales from the Borderlands review: Gameplay and customization
New Tales from the Borderlands plays extremely similar to the first game, with most of the gameplay revolving around making dialogue choices that often have a significant impact on the story. Sprinkled between these choices are various puzzles and minigames that players have to finish in order to progress, typically walking around and examining an environment, scanning objects for helpful information, and hacking electronics. In action scenes, players will also be tasked with completing input-based quick-time events to perform actions, evade danger, and more.
Gearbox didn't exactly reinvent the wheel here — this style of gameplay has been standard for the genre for over a decade — but it didn't need to, either. Telltale-style narrative adventure games rightfully let the story, setting, and characters take center stage, allowing players to interact with the game world and its inhabitants via straightforward and approachable mechanics. The puzzles and minigames are simple, but they're also good fun, and they're spread out well enough that they don't get repetitive or boring.
One particular minigame, Vaultlanders, is as cute as it is hilarious. In it, you have to defeat your opponent in "plasticine combat," dueling them Beyblade style with action figures themed after famous Borderlands Vault Hunters and various other characters. Throughout the story, you'll have multiple opportunities to collect new Vaultlanders and add them to your collection, which encourages thorough exploration and gives you something to do on the side.
You also have the option to customize Anu, Octavio, and Fran with skins that can be purchased at the Quick Change stations found in most areas, with more skins becoming available as you get deeper into the story. The money necessary in order to buy them can be found in the various boxes, containers, and chests located in explorable areas, and certain story choices can help you get funds, too.
New Tales from the Borderlands review: Presentation and performance
Borderlands' graphic novel-style visuals have always been one of the most appealing things about the series, and is New Tales from the Borderlands, they look better than ever. Each character model and location is packed with stylized detail, and despite its urban environments, the futuristic metropolis world of Promethea has plenty of vibrant and varied color. Gearbox also used full performance capture — a Borderlands first — for body and facial animations, resulting in the characters of New Tales from the Borderlands appearing more lifelike than those from past games.
Audio-wise, the game has great voice acting across the board that enhances the best parts of the narrative and makes its worst moments more tolerable. The score is quite good, too, though it's not quite as memorable as the soundtrack from the 2014 original.
In terms of performance, New Tales from the Borderlands ran perfectly fine on my PC with no frame drops, stutters, or screen tearing to speak of. As always, your mileage may very depending on your specs and platform (my PC is equipped with a i5-12600K, an RTX 3070, and 32GB of RAM), but in my experience there were no performance issues.
New Tales from the Borderlands review: Accessibility and approachability
I'm happy to report that New Tales from the Borderlands is quite accessible and approachable overall, as many valuable and important settings are available to tweak and toggle. Players have the option to customize the language, size, and background of their subtitles extensively, and can fully remap their keyboard and mouse controls, too. Numerous assist options have been included as well, including settings that give you the ability to adjust the difficulty of quick time events, change the inputs needed to complete them, remove their timers, and disable them entirely. You can also remove timers from dialogue choices, make interaction menus open automatically, and give interactable objects and characters a high contrast outline.
Something I'm disappointed by, though, is the lack of a colorblind mode or colorblind filters. While the high contrast outline setting will make it easier for visually impaired players to identify interactable elements, there's ultimately more that Gearbox could have done here. Perhaps the developers can add colorblind-specific options in a future update.
New Tales from the Borderlands review: Should you play it?
While there's certainly a lot to like about New Tales from the Borderlands, I'm ultimately left feeling incredibly frustrated by its narrative shortcomings. Even though the story does have an excellent foundation and several great high points, its pacing issues, lack of focus, and sporadic character development all weigh it down. The potential here was huge, but only a fraction of it was reached.
The presentation is awesome and L0U13 is possibly my second favorite Borderlands character after Gaige, and I'm happy to see the introduction of several options for accessibility and approachability, too. At the end of the day, though, New Tales from the Borderlands awkwardly missteps where it needed to confidently stride. And because of that, it's difficult to recommend, especially for fans expecting something as exceptional as Telltale's original. Unless you're a diehard Borderlands fan, I'd wait for a sale.
New Tales from the Borderlands launches on October 21, 2022 on Xbox Series X|S, Xbox One, PS5, PS4, Nintendo Switch, and PC via Steam and the Epic Games Store. It costs $40 and is available to purchase now.