Review: Tales from the Borderlands: Episode 5 – The Vault of the Traveler

Editor’s Note: This review contains spoilers for the previous four episodes of Tales from the Borderlands.

Pretty much every one of the previous four reviews for Tales from the Borderlands‘ first 80% suggested that it was on the fast track to becoming the best game that Telltale has produced to date. Bear in mind, this is the same developer that created a game in The Walking Dead: Season One that would have run away with practically every Game of the Year honor had it not been for Journey and Far Cry 3. While Telltale’s latest quest for the critical crown may be thwarted by The Witcher 3: Wild HuntMetal Gear Solid V: The Phantom Pain and (potentially) Fallout 4Tales from the Borderlands has ended on such a wonderful note that arguments for this being the best game of 2015 will probably need to be heard. Not only is it likely the funniest game since South Park: The Stick of Truth, but its gripping story make it one of the best choices for a game you introduce someone to the medium with. Yes, we all feared that Tales from the Borderlands would be the franchise that suffered as a result of Telltale’s intense new workload, but it ended up turning into a tribute piece to the adventure game studio’s undeniable talent. Long story short, you need to play this game.

When we last left Rhys, Fiona and the rest of the gang, they were pretty much done for after Holographic Handsome Jack managed to inhabit Hyperion’s electronics. The insane space-heist that our team undertook seemed to fail right as they managed to locate the final piece of Gortys (who remains the cutest thing since puppies were invented), but, of course, this wouldn’t be Tales from the Borderlands if everything went according to plan. After all, when you consider that the entire series up to this point has shined largely due to its comic unpredictability, it’s no wonder that this story wouldn’t end in pure chaos. Everything from the fates of pretty much every notable character to the identity of the mysterious nomad holding Rhys and Fiona hostage in real time is revealed, but what makes The Vault of the Traveler shine is the fact that no unveiling feels shoehorned in. Of course, if you’ve made it this far into the series and need convincing that you should play the fifth episode, then we have larger problems here. Rest assured that all of your questions will be answered before the final credits roll (with the exception of whether or not we’ll get a second season, obviously).

Still, if you wrap up every loose end over the course of a couple of hours and do nothing more, that winds up being a disappointing finale on the level of Lost or Weeds. What makes The Vault of the Traveler one of Telltale’s hallmark episodes isn’t just that we find out what happens to Athena, Vallory and Gortys, but that the story leading us to those conclusions feels as though it was intricately crafted every step of the way. Without spoiling the biggest reveal of the series, let’s just say that if you pay attention, you might see what made Tales from the Borderlands‘ biggest secret possible. It’s these flashback-inducing cinematic moments that find a way to leave your jaw hanging in between emotional moments and bellowing fits of laughter.

Speaking of those sensitive moments, Tales from the Borderlands fifth episode will take you on the biggest emotional roller-coaster of the series thus far. If a game can bring you to the edge of tears, make you blush out of admiration for Gortys’ amazing character moments and make you laugh out loud by yourself, you know that it has the makings of something special. Those who thought that the tragic character death in Episode 4 would be the end of the gut-wrenching moments in this largely jovial series are downright incorrect, and even though this causes pain in the moment, the result is magical.

There is such a blatant dichotomy in the way that Tales from the Borderlands has the ability to make you feel that there’s literally no way to predict what is next. Even if some of you guess who the mysterious traveler holding Rhys and Fiona hostage, you definitely don’t have the foggiest clue how this one turns out. Oh, and let’s not completely spoil the ending, but if you were hoping to have an experience devoid of any insane cliffhangers, then you’re totally playing the wrong game here.

As outstanding as the storytelling and overall narrative design of The Vault of the Traveler is, it should be noted that this episode contains the most “advanced” Telltale gameplay in quite some time. During a major battle sequence, players have to move the stick, or press the D-Pad, in a number of different directions before pressing a face button in order to execute attacks. While this is clearly a play on fighting game mechanics, it actually turned out to be well done and a welcome change of pace for a developer whose gameplay across every one of its recent titles is just about identical. Who’s to say that we are going to wind up seeing more action-oriented gameplay in the future from Telltale, but this fight should teach the heralded developer a solid lesson. Simply put, if something worked in the best game you’ve produced to date, you shouldn’t be afraid to borrow that for future titles (though, to be fair, Telltale is not at all afraid to do this).

Closing Comments:

If this entire final paragraph could be replaced with a slow round of applause, then that would be far more apt considering how fantastic Tales from the Borderlands wound up being. This is the type of game that you regret playing as soon as you finish it considering you’ll never get the opportunity to experience it again for the first time (barring some major head trauma, of course). From its downright brilliant comedic dialogue to the emotional moments that tug on your heartstrings, The Vault of the Traveler and Tales from the Borderlands as a whole, are as good as it gets in modern adventure games. The opening paragraph mentioned that this would make an excellent first game ever for someone, and this is a point that needs to be doubled down upon. If you have someone who you’ve always wanted to experience video games with but never could convince them to play, give Tales from the Borderlands a shot. This story, these characters and this product are simply too good for only a small segment of the population to enjoy.

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