Before you read any further, you need to answer this key question – do you find Borderlands funny? If you don’t, then New Tales from the Borderlands isn’t going to do anything for you. Even though the story focuses on very different characters from those that fans of the series are likely used to, it’s still very much a Borderlands game, filled with crass humour, violence, talking guns and all.
If, like me, you are a fan of the very specific (read – annoying) brand of humour that Borderlands provides, then New Tales from the Borderlands will be right up your alley, and might even end up surprising you with how heartfelt and character-driven it is. Well, compared to all the looting and shooting of the main series, anyway.
New Tales from the Borderlands stars three ‘nobodies’ as they get wrapped up in a war against Tediore (that’s right, Tediore is finally doing something) thanks to a mysterious crystal with healing properties. The trio includes Anu, an anxious scientist looking to find a more peaceful approach to Pandora’s problems, Fran, a frogurt shop owner trying to get over her anger issues, and Octavio, Anu’s ‘streetwise’ adopted younger brother, who is basically the Borderlands equivalent of Jesse Pinkman – that is to say, a wannabe.
These three characters, their relationships with one another, and their place in the world as nobodies is the core of New Tales from the Borderlands, a pretty big change considering the mainline series stars larger-than-life heroes that are out to kill as much as possible. This smaller scale works in New Tales’ favour here and delivers some of the most likeable and relatable characters in the series so far, each with interesting character arcs and actual personalities beyond loud noises and loving guns.
There are admittedly annoying moments, like Octavio occasionally being much more stupid than he’s shown to be in other scenes, and Fran’s overt horniness getting a tad too much, but these are outweighed by the moments of growth they have and their connections with one another. It's hard to pick a favourite out of the three thanks to a fantastic final chapter that makes them all feel much like layered characters, but Octavio's quest for fame and constant need for approval hit home for me. Borderlands should focus on the ‘nobodies’ more often, because they’re a damn sight more interesting than the regular fodder and make Pandora feel like something more than a massive shooting gallery.
This also extends to the fantastic supporting cast, like the British murderbot LOU13, who slowly learns what it means to be human, and Stapleface, a Psycho who decides she wants to be something more. Special mention has to go to the Tediore soldiers, though, who are so incompetent, and bumbling that I now want a game where you just shoot the shit with them. Anyone expecting any cameos from other Borderlands characters is going to be sorely disappointed, however, as it’s pretty much just Rhys with any screen time here.
Is it actually funny, though? Well, that depends entirely on if you already find Borderlands funny as I mentioned at the start. It’s not quite as brash and loud, but it certainly is just as stupid and regularly undercuts serious moments with characters saying or doing things they shouldn’t be. I found myself chuckling pretty much throughout the whole game, with some proper belly laughs chucked in for good measure. Borderlands’ brand of humour isn’t the type you want to admit to laughing at but fuck it, I laughed a lot here and would consider it one of the funnier games of 2022.
That was helped by the fact that I opted to go for the worst choices most of the time, like making Octavio piss himself in a gunfight or having Anu have a panic attack in the middle of a big pitch. I was impressed at how dialogue choices I’d made earlier in the game were referenced a little later, too. Even silence gets some notable reactions, despite always feeling like a cop-out choice. It’s a shame that there isn’t more room for the story to change around and is one of the few areas where Telltale's influence is missed, but I was happy to see so much of the dialogue actually be up to the player.
It does feel like Gearbox is leaning on the dialogue a lot, however, as New Tales from the Borderlands is incredibly light on actual gameplay. Adventure games tend to be pretty light on doing anything other than walking around and interacting with stuff, but I could count the times I was able to do so on two hands.
There are rarely any moments to walk around and explore the environment, and you’re instead left to watch long cutscenes, barely even taking part in anything except selecting what to say and occasionally pressing a few buttons. Combine this with the fact that you can’t skip dialogue, fast readers be damned I guess, and there are long stretches of time in New Tales where you’ll be doing nothing but sitting and watching.
It’s a shame too because the little gameplay sections that are here manage to capture the Borderlands tone perfectly. You’re mostly still just scanning things and talking to people, but your science goggles will always have a sarcastic answer for you, and the minigames include scientifically slapping gadgets, deleting pop-ups to hack people, and the occasional weird little Vaultlanders fighting game with statues.
New Tales from the Borderlands is the first time that I’ve felt invested in the series since Borderlands 2. It’s a much smaller-scale adventure that sometimes feels more like a movie than it does a game, but its heartfelt cast of characters, (somewhat) smarter humour, and tighter focus make this a tale well worth listening to.
New Tales from the Borderlands is available on PS4, PS5, Xbox One, Xbox Series, and PC. We tested the PC version for this review. Review code was provided by the publisher.
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