Tales from the Borderlands Ep. 2: Atlas Mugged Review – Cool Story, Bro (PS4)
In our review for the pilot episode of Tales from the Borderlands, we noted that Telltale was really onto something, successfully being our tour guide through a moderately less ‘guns blazing’ Pandora, though one that is still as dangerous and hilariously dark as the world we find in Gearbox’s own games. As we continue further into the story, it is important to remember that we are judging only a small portion of a whole. Episode 2 is neither a beginning nor an end, and serves to give us another chapter to the stories being told by Rhys and Fiona. Grab your spork and let’s scoop out this review.
If you’ve finished the first episode (and let’s be serious, if you haven’t, why are you even reading this review?) then you’re aware that Handsome Jack is back… sort of. Rhys being able to see Handsome Jack plays a large role in Atlas Mugged, especially given that no one else can see him. There are some choices that revolve around this, and Handsome Jack himself gets a large amount of dialogue, though I didn’t find him as side-splittingly funny as his Borderlands 2 incarnation. Fortunately, the rest of the characters in Atlas Mugged more than pick up the slack.
Humor in Spades
It’s been a long time since episode one released. Rounding on four months now? That’s got to be some kind of record for Telltale games, and not on the good side of things. If they keep up this release schedule, we won’t see the season finale until more than a year after the pilot released, so hopefully they pick up the pace with future episodes. My concern with it being so long was in forgetting the narrative nuances that were presented in Zer0 Sum, but we are treated with a recap narrated by resident Borderlands narrator, Marcus, and this is where the humor begins.
The opening dialog acknowledges the long wait, making the game self aware and setting the stage for the humor that is to follow. Atlas Mugged’s humor is silly, mildly irreverent, and comes from all sides. As we’ve settled in on the ‘getting to know you’ side of things, this episode was allowed to relax a little bit and have some fun. There is one scene in which Rhys hilariously calls out a big decision you have to make, closely followed by the ‘bro’ scene, all of which had my literally laughing out loud. My sleeping wife had to tell me to keep it down the entire time that I was playing. The writing is top-notch, and I would argue that it is even better than the first, though it has been four months since I played it, so I can’t be entirely sure. Yes, Telltale, I’m going to keep jabbing that point just because it’s one of the only downsides to this episode.
The signature Borderlands feel is entirely there, and Atlas Mugged treats us to additional crossovers from the other games. Familiar characters make their Telltale debut, including ones seen most recently in The Pre-Sequel. The brand new characters still fit the look and style of Borderlands, and I have to wonder how they keep coming up with all of these unique characters with strong and distinct personalities. It also makes me curious if characters making their debut here will see screen time in future Gearbox made Borderlands titles.
The characters aren’t the only thing Borderlands about Atlas Mugged. The Catch-a-Ride station, elemental effects of guns, and Rakk Hive all make appearances, really rewarding the fans of the Borderlands series for their previous knowledge of the other games. That’s not to say that people who haven’t played Borderlands won’t enjoy this, but there’s a lot more to glean from the world if you’ve been to Pandora before.
Choices, Choices, Choices…
Telltale games are all about making choices and shaping your story, and this follow up to Zer0 Sum felt like it played on a lot of the decisions made in that first episode. Now I’m not one to go back replay Telltale games to choose the other options. I like going with my gut decision, and having my story be my own naturally, come whatever may. Ultimately there are certain major points that the story obviously needs to hit, but between those points, the story can be vastly different for different people. In fact, after reading up on the other choices you can make, I found that there are entire characters that you may not even see in episode two depending on your final call with certain options and the diverging story paths they take.
I also noticed that many of the choices in Atlas Mugged were focused on building (or breaking) the relationships between each main character and their companion. Many of Rhys’ options were focused on how good of friends he was with Vaughn, and Fiona had to make some tough calls on if she supported and respected her sister or not. These kind of character moments make the game for me, especially when you know that narratives need to course correct to get to certain places. As long as I know I can build my main characters to be who I want them to be, I am happy making those decisions. This episode also faced me with some decisions that I had to think long and hard about. When that timer is in your face however, it makes for a very tense ending scenario, and I can’t wait to see how my major choices play into episode three.
There was one brief decision while Rhys was telling the story that I suddenly had to make a choice as Fiona, which made no sense and in the tension of the whole moment I selected an option without fully realizing what was going on. Turns out that this was one of the major decisions listed at the end too. When playing as multiple characters, they need to make sure to make it very clear which character you are playing as. For the most part they do a great job, but this misstep was a standout moment for me.
If you want to look at Atlas Mugged by itself, it’s nothing special by any means. But let’s take a look at it for what it is. This is the second episode. It is a follow up to getting to know a bunch of great characters and the crazy situation they have just landed themselves in. Atlas Mugged is about coping with the events that happened in the first episode and setting up the things to come, all with hilariously written dialogue and excellent voice acting to match it. It is an awesome piece to a whole story that is shaping up to be one of, if not the best, Telltale Games series. Let’s just hope it’s not the end of June before we get to see the next part.
Tales from the Borderlands Ep. 2: Atlas Mugged review code provided by publisher. For information on scoring, please read our Review Policy here.