Let’s start by adressing the elephant in the room. It’s been a pretty long time since my last post. Too long. In my defense, I’m a full time university student now, living by myself in a different country. So much has changed in my life so quickly that sometimes I’m simply overwhelmed by the sheer ammount of responsibilities and…
Yeah, you werent buying that for a second. Truth be told, I don’t have a good reason for not writing for so long. I wanted to go through the Oscar winners and the ceremony (short version – predictable winners, incredibly boring ceremony), but I kept pushing it back so much that I gave up on it in the end. Then the days started adding up and Braelstrom was just left to gather internet dust.
Starting from this week, I’ll be implenting a new schedule that I intend to fully commit to in order to prevent this kind of stagnation. Braelstrom will have regular blog posts in every Wednesday and Saturday and occassionally additional posts throughout the week if I feel like something is worth writing about. Additionally, I’ve created an official Facebook page for Braelstrom, which you can check out for news and updates, as well as new posts.
With that out of the way, let’s talk about Tales from the Borderlands.
“Atlas Mugged”, the second episode of Telltale’s Borderlands episodic series, picks up exactly where the first one left off, after making fun of the long delay between episodes (ironically revelant to my own little situation). Our gang of misfits is hot on the trail of a Vault, the location of which is hidden somewhere within the facilities of the now defunct ATLAS corporation. Finding the Vault and the potential mountains of loot inside is pretty much all characters have going for them at this point, what with bounty hunters, bandits and the Hyperion corporation breathing down their necks. There’s also the digital ghost of Handsome Jack, who is piggybacking a ride on Rhys’s electronics.
A lot of what made “Zer0 Sum” work as well as it did is still present in “Atlas Mugged”. The writing is still sharp and clever, carefully maintaining just the right ammount of self-awareness, with several well-timed jabs at narrative and gameplay tropes. The unreliable narrator gags and humorous choices (Shovel Vasquez or Dig Your Own Grave?) are still fun and fresh, and thankfully not overused. Most of the jokes land and are frequently laugh-out-loud funny, and those that don’t are far enough from each other to keep things going at a smooth pace.
What makes “Atlas Mugged” stand out is how the characters react to the events from the first episode, or, to be more precise, how you have them react. Whether it’s Fiona and Sasha reeling from a very personal betrayal, or Rhys coming to grips with the presence of Handsome Jack, the episode does a great job at seamlessly weaving comedy and drama together, making the main cast all the more interesting to follow and interact with. That being said, some new developments felt a bit jarring. The fact that Rhys was obsessed with Handsome Jack, which was revealed to us in this episode, feels kind of like it came out of nowhere. Looking back at “Zer0 Sum”, there were definitely hints at that, but I wished it was more explicitly stated. As it stands, it just felt at odds with the kind of character I was building for Rhys. It was particularly awkward when I had Rhys say that Jack is “too dangerous” to be brought back to Hyperion. It’s a line that fits with the character I played in episode 1, but seems jarring after just finding out that Rhys is supposedly a massive fan of Jack. It came across as a bad retcon, and I wished it was something they introduced earlier on in the story.
On a more positive note, Handsome Jack himself is certainly a major highlight of the episode, and interacting with him led to some of the funniest bits in the whole thing. Plus, his presence and a cameo from Scooter help create a more tangible link with the Borderlands universe. As someone who has only played the first game halfway through, I appreciate that the various characters and references to the larger universe are very smoothly and effortleslly introduced. I never felt like I didn’t know what was going on or who someone was simply because I haven’t been playing the other games.
On the gameplay side of things, Telltale is sticking to the tried-and-true method of mixing branching dialogue cutscenes with small bits of exploration and QTE action bits. I am curious as to what collecting various kinds of items will ammount to in future episodes, as my inventory of random junk grew substantially in “Atlas Mugged”, with little of it being put to good use. The QTEs are spread evenly across the episode, so they never really overstay their welcome. As for the technical side, there are still occassional graphic bugs, which, while noticeable, thankfully are nowhere near bad enough to break immersion.
“Atlas Mugged” is a bit on the short side, clocking in at about 90 minutes or so and the cliffhanger it left things on felt slightly underwhelming, but otherwise it’s a solid second entry for Tales of the Borderlands.
P.S. Bonus points for the opening title sequence, set to Shawn Lee’s Ping Pong Orchestra’ Kiss the Sky. A great sequence and a wondeful track.