Wednesday, October 21, 2015

Tales from the Borderlands: Episode 5: The Vault of the Traveler review

Warning - this will contain spoilers for previous episodes of the game and mild ones for the episode.

    It's been a long and hilarious road but, bluntly, I think Tales from the Borderlands may rival The Walking Dead as my favorite Telltale experience. They're at opposite ends of the spectrum when it comes to lightheartedness as well as character death but the games are both amazing in their own special way. Is the game perfect? No, there's some slow parts and there's iffy parts but I was overall satisfied with how the game finally came together. My only complaints are fairly minor and relate to the gameplay more than anything else.

    But we'll get to all of that.

I liked you Jack but, honestly, it's time to move on.
    The premise of Episode 5 is Rhys has either voluntarily agreed to upload Handsome Jack into the Hyperion mainframe or been body-jacked into it. Jack now has resumed control over Hyperion and, surprise, turns out to be an untrustworthy evil psychopath the same as he's always been. I confess, I was disappointed. Surely, Jack, we've been through so much together you could have let me have just a little bit longer as the President of Hyperion? Still, that pizza I ordered was good.

    Oh well.

    Dealing with Handsome Jack and his newfound digital godhood occupies roughly half of the story with the remaining half dealing with our heroes trying to find the Vault of the Traveler. The game goes in unexpected directions like the identity of the bounty-hunter holding our heroes captives being the, literal, LAST PERSON IN THE UNIVERSE I would have expected them to to be. Also, a gigantic robot and monster fight. All of our choices throughout the game matter and I'm pleased to say they do so in a way which comes together in an understandable way.

    There's even a little romance.

Fiona-fu vs. Big Gun! Who will win!
    The scenes between Rhys and Handsome Jack are the emotional highlight of the episode. Watching Rhys become well and truly disillusioned not only with Handsome Jack but his legacy as a whole is heartbreaking. I also love how Jack points out, despite all of Rhys' protestations to the contrary, they're not so different in terms of the people they've killed to get what they want. The final choice as to whether to spare or destroy Jack was surprisingly difficult, probably more so than the villain deserves.

    But even the best villains die.

    See you in hell, Jack.

    The emotional reunion between Fiona, Rhys, and their loved ones actually made me misty-eyed. I really have come to believe all of these weirdos are a family, of sorts. Even if I'm not a Rhys and Sasha shipper, I think these guys will be together for the rest of their possibly short lives. The fact the game fakes you out and plays straight with several characters' fates was delightfully wicked. I never knew who was going to die permanently and was delighted when some turned out to be alive who appeared to be gone forever.

    I didn't expect Tales from the Borderlands to make as many changes to the gameworld canon as they did but the world of Pandora is greatly different after our (anti)heroes' actions. Longtime characters to the franchise are dead, structures have been destroyed, and groups have been annihilated. At least one is reborn too.

Ready to form Voltron!
    About my only complaint with the finale was so much of the final battle was nothing more than a series of quicktime events. I love a good fight scene as much as the next person but too much of the ending was taken up with the big monster fight. Even so, the game had a long-enough epilogue and enough dramatic scenes I can't complain too much. I also think some characters get the short-end of the stick in terms of development with Vallory's role being sadly truncated.

    Fans of the series will enjoy the finale more than those who have come onto the franchise solely through Telltale's entry. There's a lot of continuity with previous games and the wedding plans between two characters won't matter nearly as much to newcomers as they will to someone who has been with a certain character since the original Borderlands game. Some of what I experienced in my playthrough won't carry over to other choices in the game but the fact this is an episode where choice actually matters makes it all the more special.

    Tales from the Borderlands was an experience. A great experience. It had humor, action, drama, and craziness galore. The mystery Vault Hunter also is something people have to save their money in order to hire. It wouldn't be a Borderlands game without them. This was a love-letter to the Borderlands franchise and probably better than Borderlands 2 (which I never thought I'd say). I don't think anything more needs to be said about the adventures of Rhys and Fiona but damn if I wasn't glad to get to know them.



  1. I couldn't disagree more. This episode was the biggest middle finger imaginable. Even if one ignored the incredibly lame railroading of the EP4 end choice. The way they handled Handsome Jack and his subplot was terrible. Instead of letting Rhys's confrontation with him serve as part of the game's climax as it warranted, they instead ended it in the first half of the episode effectivly leaving Rhys as a protagonist with nothing to do as his story and conflict was done. This was made even worse by the fact that Fiona ended up being a weak protagonist (though this failure belongs to the season as a whole) as she had no real central conflict that could help drive the emotional core of the story.The end result? Our two main characters reduced to tagalongs in Loaderbot's quest to bring back Gortys. And this is not even addresing the questionable choice of more or less bringing Handsome Jack back only to kill him again or blowing up Helios given that the BL franchise was setting up the BL2 vault hunters to be the ones to do it.

    Second. The writing for some of the characters was just terrible and they feel like exaggerated versions of the orignal characters. Rhys have scenes where his dorky nature is turned up to eleven despite them taking place in the present where he supposed to be a slightly wiser and tougher person. Sasha goes from occasionally geeking over guns to being obsessed with them even when at death's door. Jack, who we have seen being able to make calculated long terms plans suddenly tries to take over Rhys in the most stupid manner possible in the Rule ending instead of opting for a more subtle and patient approach.

    Third, we spend the last third (or what feels like it) of the game in a prolonged fight with a monster. And the writers completely failing to grasp that what made Tales interesting was experiencing the Borderlands universe from another perspective and fighting a big creature misses that fact by a mile. And in a story where one of the main themes is supposedly greed, should the climax really be about punching a giant monster?

    To say that the season ending was a disappointment is an understatement. Every wrong turn the writers could have taken the story they took and the worst part is that the four previous episodes were so good despite its shortcomings that I was almost ready to claim that TFTBL had surpassed TWD-s1 asTelltale's best work.

    1. You're certainly entitled to your opinion and I definitely think you have reason to feel the way you do. I do, however, have some thoughts on your points:

      1. Handsome Jack was always a sidequest to the larger quest to find a Vault. One might argue the resurrection of Handsome Jack is an inherently more interesting conflict than finding and retrieving a Vault (which is why the 2nd and 3rd games make the Vault-hunting secondary) but that's another issue. Resolving the Handsome Jack issue early is something which was inevitable with so many plots to get out of the way.

      2. The B2 Vault Hunters attacking Helios was foreshadowed in the Tiny Tina DLC, true, but the events which were going to become their assault on Helios were changed to become the Borderlands Pre-Sequel instead. That's why the premise of the game is retaking it from Zarpedon. Given the Pre-Sequel focuses on Lilith tracking down Athena and later focusing on the gathering of Vault Hunters, it seems that plan was abandoned.

      3. No disagreement on a big gigantic robot fight being a poor way to end the series about two con men, HILARIOUS as it may have been to me.

      4. Killing Handsome Jack was a good decision, IMHO, because we've already had three games devoted to his character. While one of the best video game antagonists of all time, it's a bit like the Joker in Batman's Arkham series. There's such a thing as too much of a good thing. He had a good death and a prequel. Bringing him back over and over again just runs the risk of ruining his appeal as a villain.

      Besides, if he was back-back, our Vault Hunters have effectively raised Space Stalin from the dead (albeit with better hair and a wittier sense of humor).

      5. Jack makes ridiculously evil and psychotic decisions because he has no impulse control. The games are full of him avoiding things like patience to go crazy. Besides, it's not the "real" Jack but an AI version of him.

      Your opinion is your opinion and no less valid than mine but I have those thoughts. I do think the protagonist's greed got left behind, though.

  2. 1: While finding the vault may technically have always been the main goal, let's be honest here, Jack's return and his relationship with Rhys was always the primary focus of it. It was the revelation of Jack being "alive" that served as the twist ending of episode 1, it was Rhys' dilemma between trusting Jack or Fiona that was the finale choice of episode 2 and episode 4's climax was Rhys being tempted by Jack to rule Hyperion together with him. Up until episode 5 the vault scheme seemed like a frame which Jack's return was build around. I also don't see why of all the plots Handsome Jack's had to be the first one to go, especially since it had been given the most detail.

    2: And I don't really see why it had to be dropped. In fact I would go so far and say that the raid on Helios could have made for a good prologue that mirrors the intro of TPS, but with you being the invader instead of defender.

    3: At least we agree on something ^^. Though I didn't think it was funny. I pretty much sat stonefaced throughout the entire episode and halfway through I began checking the clock wondering when it would end. The last time I was as bored and disappointed by something this badly was Mass Effect 3's Omega DLC.

    4: Three games? I don't think his character is ever mentioned in BL1 and I don't really consider TFTBLs a full fledged Borderlands game (more like an interlude), so make that 2,5 games. But yes, you are right that there is something as too much of a good thing. But I would say that that had not yet been reached with Jack.

    And yes, if Jack had returned it would have meant that Rhys (and perhaps to an extend Fiona) would be responsible for the monster's return. But so what? Why does every story have end in some generic good-feel way? Tales was the chance to give Borderlands its Frozen Throne ending where a major villain escapes destruction and is soon ready to once more to leave their mark on the galaxy. It would have been the perfect set up for BL3 if no matter what, Handsome Jack's AI returned to Hyperion and managed to take over Rhys' body or perhaps merge with him (Handsome Rhys anyone?). Then regardless of what path was taken, there would be a tragic element to the villain of BL3. Either Jack is using the body of a man who bravely stood up to him despite his former adoration, Or this new Jack was the result of a once decent man who sacrificed it all, even his identity, to reach his ambition of becoming the ruler of Hyperion.

    Sorry for going on a slight rant there, but I hope you can see my point in that Tales had such a great opportunity and it squandered it all in the worst possible manner.

    You're right, Jack can be rather impulsive, but his idea with the skeleton didn't seem like a spur of the moment thing for me which leads me back to Jack being able to be cunning when he wants to.

    1. The set-up for Borderlands 3 seems to have been something taking place on other planets than Pandora by the ending of the Pre-Sequel as well as a galaxy-ending threat unrelated to Jack. They could have made the return of Jack the basis for the game but they don't seem to be going that direction and presumably Gearbox let Telltale know they could destroy the last remnants of Jack's legacy in this game (which they did most thoroughly).

      As a Jack fanboy only slightly less so than Rhys himself, I am disappointed by this choice and hope the Doppleganger shows up as a Vault Hunter option for BL3 but understand. Grudgingly.

      Tales from the Borderlands was always meant to have a light-hearted, amusing, and comedic tone to it--which is actually kind of off-putting in places. I'm the kind of vicious sociopath, for example, who thinks the game would have been better with Loader-Bot, Gortys, and Sasha actually dying for instance and felt annoyed when ALL THREE returned. You can still be comedic and have actual tragedy--that's what the Rules of Supervillainy is all about after all.

      But, I accepted it anyway. Sorry it didn't work for you friend.

      As for Jack and the body-jacking plan, I just assumed Jack knew (or thought he knew) that Rhys was now completely at his mercy. After all, Jack had access to all of his guards and interior defenses. It's just he forgot Rhys knew Hyperion station almost as well as Jack as well as underestimated the lengths Rhys would go to in order to take him down. Jack is kind of blind to the possibilities of betrayal too, or what he perceives as betrayal, even when they're obviously coming.

  3. Now see I saw the whole turn Rhys into Robo-jack as a sign of Jack's possesiveness of those he considers his, during the destruction of Helios he is still very very attached to Rhys, at least in a playthrough that worked with him throughout. I presume that when Jack got uploaded into the Helios network bits and pieces of what happened to Angel began to be read I guess by the AI. One can imagine that this would make him slightly more unhinged. Ultimitaly I felt that the entire scene could probably be fixed in a line or two.Something along the line of " You and me work so well together Kiddo! I know that you'd miss me inside of you Rhysie. We will rule this universe together as I said Kiddo just. . let . . me inside you!" There a show of possiveness mixed with twisted affection and unhinged Jackness.

    The action scene with The Travaler was really fun with a surprising amount of variation and I appreciated that my choices mattered throughout the game. The ending does have me confused though, when Rhys and Fiona open the chest in the Vault, does time skip to them leaving the vault or are they teleported to Sanctuary by the vault guardian from the Pre-Sequel?

    1. I assumed the Vault teleported them somewhere because it's a Vault which is related to teleportation. The Vaults don't contain treasure. They contain monsters, knowledge, and advanced technology. It's only Pandoran myth which has turned them into literal vaults versus Eridian time-capsules and prisons, basically. It's a way of saying Rhys and Fiona's adventures will continue.

    2. That. . actually makes a lot of sense. I hope that this wasn't the last we'll see Rhys and Fiona though. I've grown rather attached to them. Just like I did with Loader bot and Gordys. Here's hoping for either a season 2 of Tales from the Borderlands or seeing Rhys an' Fiona in Borderlands 3.