Tales from the Borderlands Episode 2 Review 1

Tales from the Borderlands Episode Two – “Atlas Mugged” Review

This review contains spoilers for previous episodes of Tales from the Borderlands.
Release Date: March 17 Developer/Publisher: Telltale Games Available For: PC, Xbox 360, Xbox One, PS3, PS4, PS Vita, Android, iOS

I wouldn’t have guessed it, but after another episode in Pandora I may never want to leave. Telltale Games’s latest take on the Borderlands franchise is one of it’s best ever. The pacing is quicker, the action is snappier, the dialogue is even funnier and there’s still no sign of Claptrap (which for me, is a good thing).

“Atlas Mugged” picks up immediately after the conclusion of the first episode. Rhys, Vaughn, Fiona and Sasha have just discovered the mysterious “Gortys Project.” In pursuit of them, are the Hyperion Corporation, led by the villainous Vasquez.

The quartet are chased and forced to split up. They must race to the town of Old Haven and uncover the secrets of the project. Of course, nothing goes according to plan and the group has to improvise. Choices are made along the way and in typical Telltale Games fashion, it will end with you demanding to know what will happen next.

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The highlight of the episode is a masterfully-staged chase scene. It displays a tremendous cinematic flourish that few games ever achieve.

Not as much time is devoted to setting the scene as the first episode. As a result, “Atlas Mugged” is able to hit the ground running at a breakneck pace and doesn’t let up until the credits roll. When you’re not fighting off bounty hunters or dodging moonshots, you’re spending time getting to know the characters. In the two hours that it’ll take to complete this episode, not a single scene is wasted . The writing brings the perfect balance of brains, brawn and charm.

I spent less time in “Atlas Mugged” looking for the switch or item that would move the story forward. Whatever speed this episode moves at, I feel as though I’m in control. I don’t know what will happen next, but I’m genuinely invested. There’s wasn’t a single moment where I was taken out of the story. Every scene builds on the previous one and falls nicely into the next.

The voice cast in this episode is stellar with Dameon Clarke returning as a holographic version of Handsome Jack. Naturally, Jack steals every scene he’s in and many of the funniest moments are a result of his quips. In spite of his limited ability to shape the narrative, whenever he shows up the scene jumps to life.

The banter between characters makes for most of the humor, though every opportunity to exploit the unreliable narration is taken. Not much progress is made in the flash-forward scenes, which still have Rhys and Fiona held at gunpoint by a mysterious stranger. I imagine this plot thread will be held close to the writer’s chest until the finale.

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While, the first episode focused on establishing the characters’ personalities and motivations, “Atlas Mugged” begins to develop and deconstruct it’s characters. We learn a lot about Vaughn and Sasha in this episode and other characters develop in unexpected ways. Everything we learn plays into the central theme of both episodes. Pandora is a cruel and lawless place and most of villains are victims of Pandora’s cruel nature.

With each passing moment on Pandora, Telltale Games are showing the multiple facets of this world. A scene in the beginning (which I won’t spoil), has Fiona participating in some of the darkest humor I’ve seen in a video game. Another scene has Fiona and Sasha cleaning out their home, talking about a choice made in the previous episode. It’s a wonderful moment between sisters that reminded me that these characters are actual people. After all the gunplay, explosions and humor, the characters are still, just trying to get by.

In my review of the first episode, I mentioned that Rhys and Fiona aren’t immediately appealing as protagonists, this still holds true to a certain extent. However it’s becoming clear to me that this is the wrong way to look at these characters.

Tales from the Borderlands features something resembling an ensemble cast. The relationships between Rhys & Vaughn and Fiona & Sasha are integral parts of their characters. After playing the second episode, it’s clear to me that this is a  story is about four people, from two different perspectives. As group, these four characters share phenomenal chemistry.

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There is however, a small issue that popped up in this episode. Telltale Games are known for presenting the players with tough choices and at no point in this episode (or the previous one) was I faced with a difficult decision. Whenever I play this kind of game, I try to roleplay and get inside the character’s minds. Were it not for this passion, I wouldn’t be at all curious as to how my decisions in this episode will play out in the future.

I find myself doubting whether anything would change if Tales from the Borderlands was not driven by player choice. The voice acting, writing, storytelling are good enough on their own to merit this episode’s recommendation. If you’re looking for something closer to a traditional adventure game, you may not find it here.

Having only played the first Borderlands, “Atlas Mugged’ makes me feel as though I’ve been missing out on a great series. I feel the need catch up on everything that I missed. The mark of a good adaptation is how it makes someone feel about the source material. If I were to judge “Atlas Mugged” solely under this criteria, I would say that it’s a resounding success.