It’s an utterly tasteless moment indicative of so many problems with the writing in Gearbox Software’s New Tales From the Borderlands, a game trying to be “edgy” for the sake of it. There are some good narrative ideas hidden between the tactless punchlines and dumb robots, but the entire experience is let down by hamfisted writing, uninteresting characters, and a neverending barrage of jokes that make you wince more than laugh.
New Tales From the Borderlands takes place on the planet of Pandora, roughly one year after the events of Borderlands 3. It’s a narrative adventure game built in the same vein as the first Tales From the Borderlands and Telltale’s other games. The story is the main focus here, and there’s even less interactivity than you might find in some of the older Telltale games.
You assume control of three different “losers.” There’s the altruistic scientist Anu who struggles to produce results for her bosses, her streetwise brother Octavio who’s a thief dreaming of fame without the common sense to make it happen, and the overly angry Fran who owns a frozen yogurt store and sits in a hoverchair. The trio is forced together when the corporation Tediore invades Pandora, and as each tries to fulfill their disparate goals they start to lean on each other for survival. It’s a good setup, but there’s a definite lack of direction for nearly half the game, where it’s not clear what the character’s ultimate goal really is.
It goes without saying that each of these characters has a strong personality, but New Tales From the Borderlands doesn’t give us any opportunities to sympathize or even start to like these characters until much later in the game. Almost every plot point involves the utter stupidity of these protagonists.
At one point, Octavio blows a bunch of prize money the party just won by being duped into buying a building they already own. That’d be fine as a gag, but Octavio doesn’t learn or grow from it. Instead, he falls for countless other scams. There’s an overarching theme of found family in New Tales From the Borderlands, and while the characters do learn to appreciate each other, there’s not a huge sense that they’re actually growing as individuals. Cringeworthy writing often distracts from whatever intimacy that these dimwits develop, even if they do have some measure of charm.
Dialogue in New Tales From the Borderlands often sounds like a Boomers trying to emulate what Gen Z sounds like, and it’s filled with odd cultural references and slang. When Anu asks Fram about a camera in the frogurt shop, she says it’s for her “OnlyFrans.” These sorts of pop culture references generally feel forced and not relevant to the story whatsoever, so much so that you might want to genuinely slap yourself on the forehead. So much of the humor feels exploitative, despite the diversity within the core cast of characters. Take, for instance, the random joke about an effeminate man’s balls dropping.
New Tales From the Borderlands also has a nasty habit of introducing supporting characters for an important scene only to then get sidelined for far too long. The one exception to this is the surprisingly posh assassin robot LOU13, who works as a kind of sidekick to the main group. LOU13 is by far the highlight of the entire game, as he’s a genuinely likable character in the midst of an existential crisis over his programming as a violent robot yearning for more meaning.
A Bad Joke
Of course, the way the story plays out can change drastically based on your choices, and that’s where New Tales From the Borderland's best ideas emerge. During the story, you flip-flop between each character, and the way you answer as one character can sometimes change how you need to respond as another. Synergy between the team is a big focus, and at the end of each chapter, you get a grade on the overall teamwork and the gang’s bond. Having to swap between characters and get them to work together is interesting mechanically, but again the lackluster writing lessens the impact of the overall system.
Apart from dialogue choices and plenty of quick-time events, New Tales From the Borderlands has a handful of mini-games and the occasional exploration system. Mini-games are generally very quick affairs that have you doing timed button presses, but every minigame includes an option to skip if you want, a nice option to have. The biggest mini-game comes with a collectible figurine game called Vaultlanders, which has you facing off against an NPC in a pseudo-fighting game.
Again it’s very simple, only requiring button presses, but adds some nice flavor to the overall experience. The exploration sequences are also usually very quick, only letting you move around one room and interact with a few items. There is a currency system, but the only thing money is used for is alternate items and cosmetics.
The biggest positive I can speak of for New Tales From the Borderlands is the presentation. The art style still looks fantastic, and character animations and faces look surprisingly detailed despite the cartoony style. At the same time, the voice cast really gives it their all, which could have really turned the story into something special if it had better writing.
The Borderlands series seems like it’s stuck in a rut right now. Borderlands 3 had great shooting and mechanics, but an abysmal story and dialogue. New Tales From the Borderlands suffers from those same issues, but the big problem is the focus on a lackluster narrative. For every rare good joke or exciting moment, there are hours of insufferable gags that make you cringe and wince.
New Tales From the Borderlands will be released on October 21, 2022, for PS4, PS5, Xbox One, Xbox Series X|S, and PC. Inverse reviewed the game on PC.
INVERSE VIDEO GAME REVIEW ETHOS: Every Inverse video game review answers two questions: Is this game worth your time? Are you getting what you pay for? We have no tolerance for endless fetch quests, clunky mechanics, or bugs that dilute the experience. We care deeply about a game’s design, world-building, character arcs, and storytelling come together. Inverse will never punch down, but we aren’t afraid to punch up. We love magic and science-fiction in equal measure, and as much as we love experiencing rich stories and worlds through games, we won’t ignore the real-world context in which those games are made.