Note: Spoilers for the first episode of Tales from the Borderlands follow, but it’s nothing you won’t have guessed if you’ve seen absolutely any of the promotional stuff for this series.
The second instalment of an episodic game is one of the most important – the first episode sells the series to you, but it’s the second that lets you know what you’ve bought. The first episode of Tales from the Borderlands was stuffed with ridiculous action and top-notch humour, and Telltale have made the wise decision not to try to top that straight away. Episode two, Atlas Mugged, is a much quieter affair than the explosive opening of the series, taking time between the action for character development and tension. If you’re expecting a repeat of the first episode, you’re bound to be a little disappointed, but Atlas Mugged proves that Tales from the Borderlands isn’t just a theme-park ride of non-stop action.
Not that Atlas Mugged isn’t funny – the writing is still just as good as it was the first time around and the voice cast is still fantastic – but it takes the time to give our main cast some character development that doesn’t just revolve around a joke every other line. While the first episode separated the protagonists from their sidekicks, those are the relationships focused on here. Rhys and Vaughn’s friendship is tested while sisters Fiona and Sasha deal with the fallout from the last episode in some of the more low-key sequences in the game. Fiona’s plot gets very personal and the interaction between the sisters feels very genuine, even in all the madness of the Borderlands universe, so it’s on the guys to provide most of the humour in the episode as they struggle to adapt to life on Pandora, made even more difficult now that Rhys is haunted by the technological ghost of Borderlands 2 antagonist, Handsome Jack.
It would be easy to criticise Borderlands’s reliance on Jack as a character, but he was great in Borderlands 2 and he’s great here. Stuck inside Rhys’s head and unable to interact with the real world, he’s unable to fill the supervillain role that he had before, and is instead reduced to petty villainy and the perpetual taunting of Rhys. It’s a fun use of the character, the dynamic between him and Rhys is fun, and he doesn’t completely dominate the plot.
There aren’t many major decisions this time round, no big life-or-death moments – the focus is on character relationships and the main characters’ group dynamics. With only a few big action sequences – which are still pretty big and ridiculous – Atlas Mugged lets its strong characterisation shine. Though it’s a fairly linear episode, it’s responsive enough to player input that your playthrough feels unique. Switching between Rhys and Fiona mostly works really well and their personalities still feel shaped by the player, although occasionally when they share a scene it can seem a little like control of the characters has been taken away.
Atlas Mugged probably isn’t going to be anyone’s favourite episode of the series – it’s not going to be the funniest, or the most action-packed, or the most dramatic – but it is completely necessary. It’s there to slow down a bit after the first episode and to establish tensions that are bound to explode later on. With the way that things are going, it looks like Telltale might just have written both my favourite Telltale game and my favourite Borderlands game. We’ll see.
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