New Tales from the Borderlands keeps the best and cuts the worst of the Telltale formula

New Tales from the Borderlands
(Image credit: Gearbox)

In the early hours of New Tales from the Borderlands, two members of the army invading your home planet reach the end of their time in the spotlight in two very different, but very 'Borderlands' ways. One is immediately, gorily gibbed in his attempt to discover a Vault door, while the other theatrically bows out after you defeat them in 'combat' between two plastic figurines. The classic Borderlands sense of humour is ever-present, but it's far more understated here than in the FPS, allowing the delightful oddities of the series' world to shine through alongside the stories of some of its quieter characters.

Between story beats, character dialogue, and barks from the series' dizzying array of cannon fodder, those shooters feature a uniquely constant background chatter,  but New Tales from the Borderlands wants you to really invest in conversations. During my demo, director of production James Lopez highlights an expansive new dialogue system that can immediately change the flow of a conversation. Dialogue choices pop up while other characters are talking, allowing for what feels like a genuine back-and-forth – New Tales features "hundreds" of options, and Gearbox says it's still mapping them out in their entirety.

While all of those choices might eventually lead to one of five different endings, Gearbox doesn't want any one decision to feel more impactful than another. To achieve that, it's done away with the message that 'a character will remember that'. The iconic refrain was repeated throughout Telltale's narrative catalogue, and remains possibly the most enduring part of its legacy. Lopez explains that its removal was part of a desire not to "put a spotlight on [one] decision as being more important than the others. We've approached this with the philosophy that every input is a choice, and every choice has a consequence."

When Lopez claims that every input is a choice, they mean it. Dialogue offers one way to affect the narrative, but so do Quick Time Events, and your success or failure has the capacity to shape the story. Some QTEs are story-critical, so if messing up results in a characters' death, you won't be able to continue. Others, however, might only result in an injury, so if an incorrect input leads to a stray bullet-wound for example, you'll have to deal with the narrative consequences of that later on. While the developers are putting a great weight of player choice on QTEs in New Tales from the Borderlands, they're also acknowledging the accessibility issues they can pose. To help with that, players can give themselves more time or a greater margin for error, but can also dial up the challenge by requiring an even faster response.

New Tales from the borderlands

(Image credit: Gearbox)

Telltale me how you really feel

Having decided not to borrow from Telltale's approach to narrative consequence, Gearbox is exploring new ways to ensure that your choices are felt as keenly as possible. One decision asks you to choose between sneaking quietly around a guard or creeping up behind him and permanently turning out the lights. Choose in favour of one of your allies and while the other might not say it out loud, their disappointment will be written all over their face, the result of a significant investment in new facial and motion tracking software and a good deal of faith placed in the improvisational skills of Gearbox's cast. 

New Tales from the Borderlands makes no secret of the influence of the original game. In fact, several OG Tales alumni have returned to the series with the new title. But far from lurking in the shadow of Telltale's legacy, New Tales from the Borderlands makes it clear that this is more of a baton-pass than a whole new era. An evolving world and improved technology means that some of the more awkward aspects of the Telltale formula have been ironed out, but Lopez makes clear that Gearbox has learned a lot from its Tales predecessors: "They understood how to tell a good story and how to structure a story, and that was some really important guidance that we took to heart."

Are we about to see a new frontrunner in our list of the best Borderlands games?

Ali Jones
News Editor

I'm GamesRadar's news editor, working with the team to deliver breaking news from across the industry. I started my journalistic career while getting my degree in English Literature at the University of Warwick, where I also worked as Games Editor on the student newspaper, The Boar. Since then, I've run the news sections at PCGamesN and Kotaku UK, and also regularly contributed to PC Gamer. As you might be able to tell, PC is my platform of choice, so you can regularly find me playing League of Legends or Steam's latest indie hit.