Please note that since each episode of Tales from the Borderlands features the same graphics engine and control setup, those elements will not be repeated in our reviews for the final four episodes. To read our thoughts on that, refer to our review of Zer0 Sum.
After the first episode wrapped up with the big reveal of “holographic” Handsome Jack we were anxious to dive right back in and see where TellTale was going with things… and then we waited… and waited… and waited. Nearly four months have passed — such a long time for an episodic adventure that TellTale even dishes out a little self-referential humor during Marcus‘ prologue — but finally we get to return to Pandora and pick up where we last left Rhys, Fiona, Vaughn and Sasha.
Despite the lengthy gap between installments, Atlas Mugged turns out to be one of the shortest trips we’ve seen from any TellTale series, clocking in at around 90 minutes. It’d be a mistake to dwell on that brevity, however, as the episode delivers the goods from start to finish, once again flawlessly teetering between slapdash action and total absurdity. In other words, it continues to be a perfect extension of the Borderlands universe.
The writing deserves special kudos here as it accomplishes so many things simultaneously in such a short amount of time. There’s the progression of the main story, the deepening of relationships between the characters, the expansion of minor players from the first episode and introduction of new ones, all while generating legitimate laughs; both from the ridiculousness of the situations you’ll find yourself in and the smart dialogue.
What makes all this doubly impressive is the fact that our protagonists (Rhys and Fiona) spend much of the episode apart, so we’re only spending closer to an hour with each of them. Of the two, Rhys’ side is played more for laughs, focusing on his coping with the presence of Jack, who only he can see, and his ongoing rivalry with Hugo Vasquez — and the affect said rivalry has on his bromance with Vaughn.
Fiona’s tale is more emotional, as she and her sister deal with the fallout of Felix‘s betrayal while trying to dodge some nasty bounty hunters. That these two halves intertwine so successfully while being so divergent is once again a testament to the writing team and the voice actors.
If there’s a weakness in Atlas Mugged, it’s one I touched on with Zer0 Sum: there still haven’t been many pivotal decisions or moments where you feel like the narrative could really change course. You’re just sort of along for the ride, and as engaging as that ride has been thus far it doesn’t feel as though you’re doing much to influence the story. It’s also unclear what role money and your inventory will have going forward. Thus far, we’re doing lots of collecting and very little using.
Whatever skepticism I once carried for the marriage between 2k and TellTale is gone. In spite of its short run time, Atlas Mugged is a total blast to play, and Tales from the Borderlands continues to nail the pulse of its source material. Now let’s hope for less down time between now and Catch a Ride.