Tales From The Borderlands: Episode Five - The Vault of the Traveler Review
Sony PlayStation 4Also available on Android, Microsoft Xbox 360, PC, Sony PlayStation 3, iPad and Microsoft Xbox One
“So here we are at the finale...or should I say finally, eh?” No, Marcus, don’t say words you don’t mean! Unfortunately the Borderlands weapons dealer is right and after nearly a year of competing in death races, fending off skin-carving bandits and infiltrating highly secured space stations, Tales From The Borderlands has reached it’s inevitable finale. At least, for now. If you haven’t played any of the episodes to date, then consider this to be not only your final spoiler warning but also your final scalding - why haven’t you been keeping up for goodness sake?
The Vault of the Traveler begins with our ladder-climbing, cybernetically enhanced weasel of a hero Rhys, having just unleashed the hidden Handsome Jack program from his brain into the systems of the Hyperion space station. After playing his host like a fiddle since the end of episode one, Jack is determined to live again and even after Rhys manages to escape, the cunning megalomaniac is able to track his every movement using the security personnel that tremble with his every word.
Meanwhile, Fiona and Sasha have been captured by Rhys’ former associate Yvette and a squad of guards. Having retrieved the final piece of the vault key, they must not only escape the space station in one piece, but also figure out a way to outsmart the Pandora crime-boss Vallory so she can’t steal the treasures that await for herself.
Each episode in the series has tried be both inventive and stay true to the Borderlands mythos in its storytelling and set-pieces. Episode five pushing both of these aspects to their absolute limit, in a way that will perhaps alter the Borderlands universe going forward. The plot is both exhilarating and emotional, besting everything else that has happened so far. Set pieces are still as present as ever, but feel a lot more tightly woven into the fabric of the story rather than simply there to give us some obligatory moments of gameplay interspersed between the dialogue.
The opening three acts are quick and fast-paced, primarily concerning themselves with Rhys and Fiona’s escape from Handsome Jack’s space fortress. Game over screens aside, we know that the pair will live to tell the tale, thanks to the overarching narrative structure involving their capture at the hands of a mysterious stranger. However, a bustling cast of supporting characters leads to a number of surprises and gut-wrenching goodbyes before we’ve even made it back to Pandora, leaving us to wonder what could possibly happen next to top an already impressive opening to the final chapter.
The big worry at the end of episode four was that the last decision made, involving the “rebirth” of Handsome Jack would eventually nullify all of the other choices made to date. Thankfully, that does not happen and we’re quickly reminded that the storyline involving Pandora’s most notorious villain is just one arc in an intricate, multifaceted saga that keeps on delivering right up until the very last moment. Not everyone’s fate is ultimately sealed, but that’s okay considering we’re hoping to see more of these characters in future instalments of the Borderlands franchise.
So who is the mysterious stranger holding Fiona and Rhys hostage in the story’s set-up? Obviously, that will remain a mystery for this review, but the reveal is one that comes as a total surprise and one that makes total sense. If you’ve already got some theories, then it’s safe to say it’s a good chance they’ll be wrong. What it does show is that the writers of the game have been working towards this moment, with a clear moral to the story in mind. Working together, people can accomplish almost anything, and it's these bonds of friendship that carry us through life from one adventure to the next. Take from that what you will, but it certainly makes Tales From The Borderlands one of the most emotionally satisfying outings in this genre since The Walking Dead first arrived, and if anything, the characters in this game are much more well-rounded than anything we’ve seen so far from the studio.
Even after almost a decade of this episodically delivered, choice based style of gameplay, Telltale Games still manage to pull off one last surprise with the monumental, extended final act. Interactions with other characters right back since the beginning of episode one will play a large part on how the finale battle pans out and you’ll eventually reach a stage where every life or death decision, every crossed word, and every helping hand you’ve given throughout the adventure will come back to haunt you - either in a good or bad way. It sets up not only one of the most impressive Telltale climaxes ever made, but also one of Borderlands’ most impressive scenes that will demand multiple playthroughs if we’ve to unlock every eventuality.
Bearing in mind that aside from the remastered Borderlands: The Handsome Collection that came out earlier this year, we’ve had a year off from the traditional shoot-em-up action and after finishing this different take on an already vibrant post-apocalyptic universe, it’s easy to understand why. After over five years of bandit-battling, skrag-shooting, vault-hunting gameplay, the ending of Tales From The Borderlands remoulds the landscape of Pandora that will potentially shape the future of the franchise.
One noticeable problem particularly in the last part of the game is that the game cannot keep up with a few of the choices you’ve made along the way. Some characters will momentarily fail to load for a few seconds, even though their dialogue has already started playing. The lip-syncing fails to stay in alignment at times also. It’s can be a little distracting, but given the sheer amount of meta humour and over-the-top action that give us the game’s roarous closing moments, it’s an easy flaw to forgive. Other than that, the graphics, dialogue and sound are as impeccable as ever.
So what’s next for the Borderlands series? A return to the original four-way vault hunting mayhem? A changeable MMO universe modelled after Bungie’s Destiny? Or another episodic adventure created by the fine people at Telltale? If Tales From The Borderlands is anything to go by, I think we’d all settle for more of the latter. It may not have the franchise pulling power of Game of Thrones or Back to the Future, but this is one tale that is certainly worthy of consideration as candidate for best game of the year.