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Publisher 2K teased back in April that it was bringing back Telltale’s Tales from the Borderlands series but that this time, it would be developed in-house by Gearbox Software. Then, during Gamescom’s Opening Night Live event, Gearbox officially revealed the sequel, which is less a direct continuation of Telltale’s story and more a spiritual successor to the series, which is evident in its official name: New Tales from the Borderlands.
That new trailer gave us a look at the new protagonists – altruistic scientist Anu, her street-wise brother Octavio, and local business owner Fran – as well as a look at just how Tales from the Borderlands this new entry is this time around. Sure, it’s a new cast and an all-new story in the world of Borderlands, but it’s clear it will play and feel familiar. In speaking with the team, it’s clear that this is Tales from the Borderlands with some added Gearbox edge.
“As someone who worked on the previous Tales, I was acutely aware it was a critical darling,” Gearbox Software director of production James Lopez tells me. “The people who have played it love it. Rather than trying to follow in those footsteps, we try to acknowledge the route those steps took but then try to do something different. Use the formula, use what worked, but do it Gearbox style.”
That’s why this game looks more similar to Borderlands 3 in visual style than the first Tales from the Borderlands, and it’s why it features better, updated animation.
Lopez says Gearbox is partnering with developers from the first game to ensure its spiritual successor remains authentic to the series’ roots. That authenticity and dedication to making New Tales from the Borderlands feel right at home was evident in its first gameplay demo, which debuted at Pax West in September. In it, we see the unlikely trio of Anu, Octavio, and Fran attempting to escape dangers in an underground sewer system riddled with Tediore troops who want nothing more than to take them down. What immediately stood out to me was how Tales from the Borderlands this gameplay was, from the actual moment-to-moment gameplay to the writing.
The jokes are plenty, with some hitting harder than others, depending on your tolerance of Gearbox’s trademark Borderlands humor. And the gameplay is nearly identical to that of Telltale’s first and only foray into this universe, which is to say your primary mode of input comes from selecting dialogue choices and watching how they affect characters and the world around you as well as the overall narrative.
As you’d expect, when it’s time for a dialogue choice, you’ll see options pop up on the screen and a red bar beneath them to indicate how much time you have left to select one. Don’t expect to see a “Fran will remember that” notification pop up after you make your decision, though, because unlike in Telltale’s game, the team has done away with on-screen markers like that. Instead, you’ll have to decipher how that choice affects those around you based on what they do and say following it.
As for why the team opted to drop those notifications, it’s to strengthen the impact of each choice.
“There’s an immediate impact; there’s an immediate joke linked to what choice you made,” Gearbox Studios Quebec producer Frédéric Scheubel says of the demo’s first dialogue choice. “What choice you make…will have its own sequence that will play differently. And some of those choices will have an impact mid-term and even longer term, affecting which ending you’ll see, so pay attention, see how the characters will react. If you diss them, they’ll react to it. We feel that every choice is important, so we moved away from the hints that we had prior in Tales from the Borderlands.”
He continued, “Instead of doing it like ‘this choice is the important choice,’ all choices may be important and may have led you to these circumstances later on.” Beyond diegetic reactions and moments, there are two other ways to grasp how your choices affect the game. In classic Telltale fashion, at the end of each episode, there will be a recap of what you did. There will also be an NPC assassin bot that follows the trio around, acting as a Greek Chorus character for the party.
“If you say something that is particularly harsh to someone, he’ll call you on it,” Lopez says. “He won’t criticize you. He’ll just go, ‘that was pretty harsh.’ There’s a mechanic, too, where he’ll measure the bond level of the group. When you get those moments where he calls this stuff out to you, it is an opportunity to go, ‘do I like this? Do I want to go back and make my bond higher?’”
Lopez says the dialogue choices shown in the Pax West demo are just some of the hundreds in the final game, and all of them will help determine which of the five endings you can get when the credits roll. On the subject of dialogue, Lopez says Anu, Octavio, and Fran have clear archetypes, but players are not required to follow those. It’s your story, after all, and when you veer off the archetypal path of each character, Lopez says you’ll see and hear characters react to that.
One exciting aspect of New Tales from the Borderlands shown during its first gameplay demo was Vaultlanders, one of the game’s many minigames. It begins with you selecting a Borderlands-inspired minifigure, which doubles as a collectible found and earned throughout the story, from a very fighting game-esque character selection screen. The game then thrusts you into a comical, action-figure fight that plays out with button clicks and quick-time events. In this instance, winning the battle earned Octavio the Zane Flynt minifigure, which fans might recognize as one of the playable characters from Borderlands 3, a game that takes place one year before the events of this one.
The rest of the demo plays out as you’d expect – jokes, quick-time events, tough dialogue choices, and plenty of Borderlands peril – and it’s worth watching if you’re excited about what’s in store in New Tales from the Borderlands ahead of its Oct. 21 release.
Does this showing of gameplay have you excited to play New Tales from the Borderlands next month? Let me know in the comments below!