New Tales From The Borderlands Review: Lightning doesn’t strike twice

louie in new tales from the borderlands2K Games

2K and Gearbox are back with New Tales From The Borderlands, the next narrative-driven adventure in the series, but storytelling mishaps and forced humor ensure that New Tales From The Borderlands doesn’t quite deliver.

New Tales From The Borderlands (or ‘New Tales’ as we’re going to refer to it) was a sequel that few saw coming, given that it’s been eight years since the last one, and we’ve already had Tiny Tina’s Wonderlands this year too.

The onus was placed upon the shoulders of Gearbox, instead of Telltale Games, to craft a brand new adventure from start to finish that focused less on the franchise’s iconic gunplay and more on its ability to assemble a coherent and entertaining story.

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This is achieved in parts. On one hand, New Tales has some memorable characters and fascinating scenarios, but these bright moments are held back by inconsistencies in the writing and an attempt to be the funniest entity in the Borderlands.

New Tales From The Borderlands: Key details

  • Developer: Gearbox Software
  • Price: $39.99 USD / £34.99 GBP
  • Release Date: October 21, 2022
  • Platforms: PlayStation 4, PlayStation 5, Xbox Series X|S, Xbox One, and PC

New Tales From The Borderlands trailer

New Tales From The Borderlands can’t recapture the magic

It may feel blasphemous to say, considering it wasn’t Gearbox that made it, but Telltale’s original story was probably the most well-rounded and consistent plot in any Borderlands game. Rhys and Fiona forged an unlikely on-screen partnership that fans loved and the game’s essence was overflowing with emotion and belly-roaring humor.

Whereas New Tales starts all over again — as its title clearly states. This time around, we focus on three main characters: Anu, Octavio, Fran, and their assassination bot companion LOU13.

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Anu is a brilliant but emotionally broken scientist, Octavio is her adopted brother that skipped the line the day they were handing out brains, and Fran is an unpredictable, horny, frogurt aficionado in a mechanized hoverchair that Octavio works for.

Gearbox do a good job of making each character feel unique, although not always for the better. Anu is the star of the show by a country mile and her twitchy, jittery demeanor complements her genius well.

Fran and Octavio are decidedly more divisive as the former goes from being open about her degree one second to having a constant infatuation with giving everyone “mouth-to-mouth” regardless of the circumstances.

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Octavio can be equal parts endearing and annoying as his character bounces from one extreme to another. The chemistry between everyone is there, it just feels like Gearbox tries too hard to force it whereas the first game allowed these characters to be realized naturally.

main characters from new tales form the borderlands2K Games
While not as impactful, New Tales From The Borderlands features a trio of strong, distinct personalities.

A fun but frustrating foray

New Tales’ story starts out really strong and establishes its premise very well. A Tediore invasion kickstarts the action and brings our plucky heroes together. After some backstory with each character, we’re onto the game’s central plot – a magic healing gun.

Anu, Octavio, and Fran discover a new element that can basically heal any injury no matter how severe and the imminent conflict caused by it is both juicy and intriguing.

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It’s all set up quite neatly and fluidly, to be honest, and the story as a whole is quite good, it’s just that the long (and I do mean long) road to get its conclusion isn’t always pleasurable.

As with a few Borderlands entries, the desire to cram as many zany and out-there jokes in to keep it feeling edgy and likable comes at a price. Don’t get it twisted, there are plenty of japes spliced throughout the script, it’s just that there are far too many of them — many of which don’t land.

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Lines of dialogue will fall completely flat with an uncomfortable silence being left to allow that line to settle. The tone of the game feels very self-indulgent at times as scenes go on for what feels like an eternity without anything actually happening.

The action can drag on for minutes at a time and we’ve barely advanced the plot even a single iota. The game’s five chapters do mostly feel like a tale of two halves with the first section running along quite smoothly.

fran sitting in hoverchair in new tales from the borderlands2K Games
Fran is prone to the occasional bout of madness.

But then it loses its way, and Chapter 4 is one of the most baffling two hours of gameplay I’ve played in recent memory, especially so late in the story, and left me feeling, dare I say, a bit bored?

It doesn’t help that the game is rife with tacked-on QTEs that you’d do well to fail if you tried, weird repetitive hacking mini-games, and Vaultlanders — a button-mashing beat ’em up mini-game that starts out fun but I felt lukewarm towards by the end as it didn’t evolve.

I feel like these components were inserted to pad out the journey, but they ultimately end up hurting the game more than helping it.

A touch of class

One of the game’s absolute strongest points has to be its cast and performances as they do their best to bring the material to life — with Anu, again, stepping forward to absorb the adulation of the crowd.

It’s hard to fault anyone in New Tales, even the Tediore guards who are given some throwaway characterization that I appreciated. That’s sometimes where Gearbox’s adventure excels as, like the games, its side content and characters can sometimes be more enticing than the main game — if not more!

characters from new tales from the borderlands in a cut-scene2K Games
Could we see any of the game’s characters return in future, mainline entries?

Stapleface, a Psycho that Anu inadvertently saves, gets very little screen time but shows a new side to the crazed killers that we haven’t seen before, and Brock, a talking Tediore gun, pops up everywhere and has some rather heavy emotional baggage that you find yourself carrying at times.

It’s just a shame then that when any character has a serious moment in the game, it’s usually undermined by a less-than-serious gag literally just before it – including character deaths.

Verdict – 6/10

As a huge fan of the original, I went into New Tales From The Borderlands wanting to have my mind blown and regaled with a story for the ages.

Gearbox delivered this in some parts as they harnessed the crazy energy of the Borderlands universe to offer up exciting new characters and a coherent story. But the overeagerness to deliver a laugh a minute and the ludonarrative dissonance of its mini-games and QTEs take away from the game in droves.

If we do get a third game, then I’d love to see Gearbox move away from all this and focus on delivering a heavy, gut-punching narrative sprinkled with that insane Borderlands energy we love so much.

Reviewed on PlayStation 5