A Near-Perfect Sendoff to Telltale’s Finest Adventure Yet
Telltale Games’ Pandoran epic has been one hell of a wild ride since it made its debut in the bandit-filled planet’s dusty wastelands nearly a year ago. Now, the fifth and final episode of Tales From The Borderlands is upon us, and with it, the studio’s master scribes deliver a satisfying conclusion to Rhys’ and his merry gang of miscreant’s sensational heist story. Telltale has shown their knack for ending things on a high note in previous releases such as The Walking Dead and The Wolf Among Us, and The Vault of the Traveler stays true to this trend, delivering a masterful blend of poignant moments and sensational action that simultaneously resolves the season’s wild tale while perfectly setting the stage for another chapter down the road.
While Tales From The Borderlands Episode 4: Escape Plan Bravo felt like a wasted opportunity due to its uneven pacing and lack of a real narrative payoff, The Vault of the Traveler hits the ground running and doesn’t break its stride until the credits roll. The chapter begins back on Hyperion’s massive space station Helios after Rhys has decided whether or not to side with Handsome Jack at the conclusion of the previous chapter. From here, the shit quickly hits the fan as Rhys, Fiona, Sasha and the rest of the gang of wannabe crooks fight for their life to survive the machinations of the games egomaniacal holographic antagonist. Rhys’ interactions with Jack during the first half of the chapter prove to be some of the most impactful of the series, largely due to Telltale’s phenomenal writing, and the consistently stellar voice performances of Troy Baker and Daemon Clarke.
The Vault of the Traveler also answers many of the season’s looming questions in spectacular fashion. The Stranger, the shotgun-toting masked man who kidnapped Rhys and Fiona, is finally unmasked during the start of the second half of the chapter, whose true identity proved to be one of the biggest surprises in the episode. Also, we finally find out where Rhys’ pint-sized companion Vaughn disappeared to.
One of The Vault of the Traveler‘s highlights comes towards the close of the chapter when you’re forced to assemble to strike teams to eradicate a towering Vault Guardian. It’s here that the choices you’ve made going all the way back to the season’s debut chapter come into play, determining just who you can recruit for what looks to be a suicide mission fitting for the finale of a Mass Effect game. Decisions, like warning Felix about the bomb in the money case in “Zer0 Sum“, and whether or not to cover for Athena during the chase sequence in Hollow Point impact who you’ll be able to bring along for the most explosive moments of the chapter, and you’ll likely want to replay the series multiple times to experience each of the possible scenarios, which partially unfold in a hilarious, Power Rangers-inspired mech battle inside the heart of Gortys, who has been turned into a titanic robot since receiving the Beacon.
Developer Telltale Games’ writers deserve to be commended for the incredible work they did in allowing the game’s large cast of characters to come into their own in Tales from the Borderlands‘ closing chapter. Gortys and Loader Bot, in particular, transcend their respective roles as a lovable, comedic duo and become genuinely intriguing characters who impact the story in truly meaningful ways. Their interactions are genuinely moving, and Telltale’s masterful writing provides this pair of metallic mates with just as much soul as the rest of their human compatriots. Vallory’s flunkies Kroger and Finch even manage to steal the show at times, adding a welcome layer of depth to this Tarantino-esque duo of bungling baddies.
The only real fault with The Vault of the Traveler is just how much unfolds over the span of the episode’s roughly two-hour affair. With how little was resolved in “Escape Plan Zero”, the finale moves at a breakneck pace racing to the final showdown with Pandoran crime lord Vallory and at the same closing the book on Handsome Jack’s plot on world domination, all while tying up all of the story’s loose ends in the process. To their credit, Telltale largely does a masterful job of wrapping up the season’s pressing issues, but the chapter unfolds at such a furious pace that it’s easy to lose track of what’s going on as the episode wildly races to its conclusion. I found myself wishing this finale was another hour or so longer just to give me time to let more decisive moments set in before moving on to the next major plot point.
Another issue worth noting revolves around Telltale’s aging Telltale Tool engine. While I’ve noted in previous reviews of the season that the consistent framerate dips really impacted our enjoyment of some of the more frantic QTEs, it can get really bad during the final moments of The Vault of the Traveler, eventually bogging down the action so bad that the on-screen audio is no longer in sync with the events unfolding on-screen. While I can only speak of the Xbox One version of the game we were provided for our review, we really hope that Telltale takes steps in the future to better optimize future entries in the series, or better yet, retire the Telltale Tool engine for a more capable framework for future releases.
Despite these nagging issues, The Vault of the Traveler is a roller coaster ride that does a great job of cementing Tales from the Borderlands as Telltale Games’ finest outing yet. Telltale’s ability to craft a meaningful story has never been more apparent than it has with this season, and seeing the culmination of your interactions with characters in previous chapters come to a head in this journey’s ultimate episode is incredibly satisfying. From start to finish, The Vault of the Traveler is a powerful and poignant sendoff to Rhys and company, that leaves the door wide open for future seasons. Simply put, Tales From The Borderlands raises the bar for episodic gaming, and it’s an adventure fans of the genre can’t afford to miss.
Final Verdict: 4.5 / 5
Available on: PC (Reviewed), Mac, iOS, Xbox One, Xbox 360, Playstation 4, Playstation 3, Vita; Publisher: Telltale Games; Developer: Telltale Games; Players: 1 ; Released: October 20, 2015; Genre: Adventure; MSRP: $4.99
Note: This review was based on Xbox One retail code provided by the game’s publisher, Telltale Games.