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Thursday, 22 October 2015

Tales from the Borderlands E5: The Vault of the Traveler.

Tales from the Borderlands
Episode 5
The Vault of the Traveler.

You know, after Life is Strange's total wiping away of almost all of your choices, it is nice to see that Telltale Games is at least trying to improve upon their track record with choice and have your decisions build to something resembling actual meaningfulness. They've failed, but the effort is there, and I do, at least, respect that somewhat.

In this final episode of the much-loved Telltale Games series, Rhys and Fiona must escape from Handsome Jack, who now has control of Hyperion and wants to install a robot skeleton inside Rhys. Reaching the ground, Rhys has a final showdown with Jack, and Fiona is forced into an untenable choice - before, months later, the masked figure reveals his true identity, and calls on the two to assist him in one last task: Summoning the Vault of the Traveler, and defeating the monster that guards it.

This episode really hits the ground running, throwing the cast immediately into escaping Handsome Jack, who is now Hyperion itself, and in the process destroying the space station. Continuing on from killing off recurring mechanic character Scooter in the last episode, this move - basically destroying the main villains - really hammers in that Tales from the Borderlands isn't a side-game: It's an actual, proper part of the main Borderlands series, which is nice to be able to say.


The game never really relaxes after that, either. Almost as soon as one action sequence is done - and the entire escape sequence happens before the credits and takes up maybe twenty minutes tops - we're thrown into others, with a heavy emphasis on the personal impact of each scene. Special mention goes to Rhys tearing out his own cybernetics (which, you'll recall, includes his eye - I couldn't watch) to rid himself of Jack.

Vallory's death was a lot less striking than Jack's (although while Vallory can't be saved, it is possible to let Jack live, trapped in an eye without anyone to talk to), with her basically just showing up for five minutes in order to get killed by the Traveler. That said, her death is really not the focus of the scene - it's instead more about Fiona being forced into a heartwrenchingly unpleasant decision.

That's really only half of the episode, though, and the second half picks up a few months later, with the masked man revealing that he wants to rebuild Gortys, summon the Vault, and defeat the monster that guards it - and that's where the choices you've made start to come in. Out of about six or seven characters, you have to pick three who will join your team, and which ones are available depends on the choices you've made throughout the game. It doesn't really change the final outcome of the battle no matter who you have, which is a little disappointing to me, but it does change what the battle is actually like.

That's a lot of Jacks.

The battle, incidentally, is awesome. It involves Giant Robot Gortys with five of your squad members (Rhys, Loader Bot, and whichever three you picked) piloting her in Super Sentai team fashion, giving her access to all of their abilities. It's a delightfully over the top, fun scene, and in a way the perfect way to finish off the game.

Arguably, this final episode does enjoy more than a bit of cop-outry, as no less than four seemingly dead characters return from the grave. One is acceptable, two is starting to push it, three is not great, and four is - well, four should be pretty damn bad, but if I'm being honest, I didn't mind that much. It fit with Tales' light, perky tone, and I didn't feel like I was being emotionally manipulated or cheated out of an emotional moment. 

(Incidentally, did anyone notice that post-timeskip Rhys is actually about seventy percent better looking than regular flavour Rhys? Maybe it's the black outfit. Maybe it's the yellow eye. Maybe it's the tattoos. Who knows.)


The story is very much left open for a second series, but at the same time, it doesn't necessarily need one. The characters have gotten what they wanted, everyone is safe, and while the game ends on a slightly weird note - Rhys and Fiona open the box in the centre of the Vault and then are gone in a flash of light - it's not clear whether that's meant to be literal or a case of artistic license, just showing that they opened the box, took what was in it, and then left. Arguably, that's intentional, allowing Telltale to return to this series with an easy plot hook if they want to, or to leave it and do other things instead (and with Minecraft: Story Mode having just started, The Walking Dead Season 3 looming on the horizon, and Game of Thrones set to end next year, they certainly have plenty to keep them busy).

I do hope they return to this story, though. Flawed as it is, I do think it's easily the best series that Telltale Games has put out, and the wackiness of the whole thing gives them an excellent medium to refine their craft. Also, you know, I need to know if Rhys and Sasha end up getting together. I need to know that, guys. I need to. 

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