Tales From The Borderlands: Episode 2 – Atlas Mugged
After nearly four months since the first entry, the next installment of Telltale's narrative take on Borderlands is finally here. While the series' debut started slow and gradually built up to an enticing finale, the second episode struggles between its exciting opening and cliffhanger ending.
Telltale talked up several Borderlands-specific elements that it would focus on in this series: combat and loot. The second episode promptly downgrades both of them. The loot system has been limited to picking up cash in a couple of places, and you can only spend it on pointless paint job variations for Fiona and Sasha's vehicle. As for combat, Atlas Mugged's action sequences are back to the simplest of quick-time events; I lost track of how many times I had to spam the interact button to fill an arbitrary meter. I wish Telltale could keep players engaged between conversations with more than an activity a novelty drinking bird could accomplish.
As an interactive story Atlas Mugged is only so-so. My favorite moments happen in the first twenty minutes; Fiona's attempts to outwit a retinal scanner and the unforeseen aftermath provides the biggest chuckles, and the chase that leads up to the opening credits is the most stylish action sequence. After that, the plot gets mired down in endless conversations where the majority of your decisions are more superfluous than ever. Rhys' exchanges with a holographic Handsome Jack feel particularly forced and disjointed, and most of the jokes fall flat. Any moment of danger or suspense is almost immediately negated (usually by a deus ex machina in the form of a Loaderbot), and I rarely feel like any of my choices are having a meaningful impact on the story. The unreliable narrator angle – one of the most intriguing aspects of the first episode – is also underused, though I did get a laugh out of Fiona's bro-filled take on a conversation between Rhys and Vaughn.
Character development is also a mixed bag. Surprisingly, Vaughn emerges as the most interesting of the protagonists, as he oscillates between his inherent cowardice and a newfound love of danger, all while shrugging off his freakishly ripped abs. On the other hand, Sasha spends most of the episode nursing her grudge against Felix, while Rhys and Fiona continue to be cyphers for whatever choices you hoist upon them. The quartet still has good chemistry, and I'm interested to see where they end up, but they spend most of Atlas Mugged just getting there; many of the conversations and interactions feel like filler.
Altas Mugged ends on a huge cliffhanger, with the fate of all four protagonists hanging in the balance. However, the emotional moments of the finale (and the rest of the episode) are undermined by some unnatural facial expressions and stiff animations – at times it feels like you're watching ventriloquist dummies trying to emote. I also doubt Telltale would kill off any of the main characters, so it's not so much will they survive as it is how they survive – and I doubt player choice will be much of a factor in the upcoming solution. I'm still interested in seeing the next chapter of the story, but the reasons I play Telltale games – the intriguing characters and meaningful choices – are still not hitting the mark.