New Tales from the Borderlands preview: Misfits and mayhem return
Gearbox brings back the laughs and soul in this latest Tales adventure.
Nearly eight years since Tales from the Borderlands first released, fans are finally returning to the beloved episodic adventure. While Telltale is no longer at the helm and New Tales from the Borderlands isn't a direct sequel, Gearbox Studio Quebec promises the same type of heart and humor that drew players to the original.
Ahead of its release on Oct. 21, Gearbox invited Windows Central to view a demo and speak with a few of the developers about what players can expect this time around. Despite some mysteries remaining, it's clear that New Tales from the Borderlands is in good hands.
Taking place around a year after the events of Borderlands 3, Promethea is in a state of reconstruction. Hoping to take advantage of the situation and make a play for power, Tediore steals a Vault Key from Atlas and invades the planet, intent on finding the Vault's untold riches below the surface in its sewers. Anu, Octavio, and Fran, our three playable characters and "lovable losers," as Gearbox puts it, get caught up in this whirlwind and work together to beat Tediore to the Vault.
Working for Atlas as a researcher, Anu ventures down planetside to help Octavio, her adoptive brother, because she's worried about the Tediore invasion. Fran, owner of a local Frogurt shop and Octavio's boss, decides to go along with them to get revenge on Susan Coldwell, Tediore's CEO, whom she blames for the destruction of her shop.
Like Fran, the siblings each have their own motives for going after the Vault, whether it be hoping to make the galaxy a better place without weapons in Anu's case, or Octavio's desire for riches and fame — he has to get on Forge's "Super Successful Dirty Thirty," after all.
Part of the allure of the original was the relationship between Rhys and Fiona, who acted as unreliable narrators and played off of each other well. This kept players invested in finding out the truth of the events that occurred. Gearbox Software director of production James Lopez tells me that while Tales was about the unreliable narrators and "two people who are constantly screwing each other over," underneath it all "it's a story about people who are living on the margins." This is what New Tales from the Borderlands brings back.
"[The original Tales] really kind of flipped the script from the typical Borderlands game because in your standard Borderlands game, you are always in control, and you can solve every problem in front of you," Lopez says. "So what's it like when you're one of the people who is just kind of caught in the mix. Vault Hunters are kind of like natural disasters, and everyone has to deal with the fallout from it and there's something really compelling in there. So even if they're not grifters, we like that idea of telling stories involving people who are not incredibly capable and cannot just solve everything with a melee button or shooting a gun ... and we find that really compelling."
Lopez says that it also morphs into a story about family and relying on one another when you can't rely on anyone else. The relationship dynamic between all three of them will continually evolve over the course of the game in new and interesting ways.
Like its predecessor, it features similar gameplay with quick time events, dialogue choices, and interactive exploration. Thankfully, Gearbox Studio Quebec producer Frédéric Scheubel tells me that the game will include accessibility options to tweak the quick time events to make them easier for people, allowing players to adjust the response time and button prompts.
The demo I saw followed Fran, Octavio, and Anu delving into the sewers to follow Tediore soldiers to the Vault. At one point Fran gets gunned down, prompting a game over screen (with Marcus narrating that it'd be hilarious if the game just ended like that, wouldn't it?).
Eventually making it past that segment, the trio unsuccessfully attempts to sneak past another Tediore soldier. Instead of getting shot at, this kicks off a Vaultlander minigame. Octavio and the superfan soldier whip out a couple of Vaultlander figures and battle to see who has the best skills. This minigame is largely optional, though the one in my demo was required to progress the story and introduce players to the mechanics. It essentially entails watching these little plastic figurines stiffly attack each other as if being swung in a real tabletop game, whittling away at their health.
Players can collect various Vaultlander figures throughout the game, and while they'll all play the same for the most part, there will be small differences in their finishing moves.
Though players can fail quick time events and be greeted with that "game over" screen, there are other times where failing a QTE will actually unlock a different path. "For example, sometime later [after the demo], Fran can get shot or not," Scheubel says. "And if she gets shot in the shoulder, you'll have to dress her wound or something like that later on in the first chapter of the story. So we want to keep the players on their toes, some of them you can succeed or you have to succeed, but some of them you can fail. And you'll have a different segment of the story inside there."
Gearbox is emphasizing player choice even harder this time around as well. Scheubel says that they wanted each choice to have an immediate impact as well as medium- and long-range impacts that may come into effect in later episodes. New Tales from the Borderlands will feature five different endings, and he says that he's still finding new jokes even after working on the game for two and a half years.
Spanning across five episodes, Lopez says that there are around 12 hours of cinematic content, though your mileage may vary in terms of how long your playthrough will be because of your decisions.
Instead of a staggered release like the original Tales, all five episodes will be released at once. I was curious how Gearbox decided to go about its storytelling because the time between episodes allowed the community to grow as they swapped new ideas and theories on what would happen next, much like a television show. Lopez believes that the way gamers consume content has changed over the years, thus making this "bingeable" experience more familiar to them.
"We feel like the way that gamers consume content has changed quite a bit since then," he tells me. "Obviously, Netflix existed back then, but binge culture has really grown since then. What we decided is that we wanted people to consume this game at whatever pace they want to. We didn't want to sort of force people to wait if they didn't want to. It just made the most sense for us to release it all at once. And if people want to take their time, by all means, and if people want to binge it over a weekend, they totally do that too."
He continues, "As far as the community discussions, that's a very interesting point, and one that we talked about. The way that we're hoping that we can kind of address that is less about the theory crafting part, but more about having differences in playthroughs that are worth discussing."
It hasn't lost that signature humor, either. Without spoiling anything, Scheubel says that the humor is one of his favorite parts about the game, and players will encounter several moments that will be talked about within the community, much like the finger gun scene from the original. And don't worry, those iconic opening scenes complemented by a killer soundtrack are back.
Near the end of the demo I witnessed a conversation that I found particularly funny involving a cute little pet Ratch named Juniper. I, too, would follow her to hell and back, Fran. And that's not to mention another scene where Tediore soldiers try shoving a Vault Key into some unsuspecting rocks, and just about push their comrade into the Vault where monsters surely await. He ends up impaled on a rock shortly after. As is the Borderlands way.
From the nearly-20-minute demo and my time speaking with Lopez and Scheubel, I have high hopes for New Tales from the Borderlands to join the ranks of the best Xbox games. Gearbox seems to know what made the original Tales from the Borderlands so special, melding a ton of humor and heart into what hopefully turns out to be unforgettable adventure.
New Tales from the Borderlands launches on Oct. 21, 2022, for Xbox Series X|S, Xbox One, PS5, PS4, Nintendo Switch, and PC.
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Jennifer Locke has been playing video games nearly her entire life, and is very happy Xbox is growing a stronger first-party portfolio. You can find her obsessing over Star Wars and other geeky things on Twitter @JenLocke95.