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 five episodes. To read our thoughts on that, refer to our review of Zer0 Sum.
When Escape Plan Bravo concluded, our intrepid heroes were still on Helios with Handsome Jack having made Rhys an interesting offer. It doesn’t take long in The Vault of the Traveler, the fifth and final episode in TellTale’s Tales from the Borderlands, to find out that, regardless of what decision you made, your time on Helios is at an end.
That means it’s time to escape while the literal ghost in the machine tries to stop you. It’s a fun little sequence that further divides the group, though it does feel a bit rushed. Rhys is able to outmaneuver Jack with relative ease while Fiona, Sasha and Gortys are left to deal with Valerie‘s thugs, Kroger and Finch. Done differently, this could’ve covered the better half of an episode, but the quickened pace is necessitated by how much ground the episode has to cover.
There’s a price to be paid to get away from Jack, however, and the series takes a fairly sharp turn with a number of emotional scenes. Characters you’ve grown to care about are sacrificed so that others can survive, and it’s a testament to the game’s writing and sustained focus on building connections that those bonds are so strong — especially when much of Tales was built on humor and inane behavior.
For a time it looks as though things are going to wrap up on a down note, but there’s actually a fairly lengthy final act that brings many storylines full circle. That includes the big reveal of your captor and their motives for taking you prisoner. How much of a shock either unmasking proves to be (yes, there’s another “mystery” character) is debatable, though where those twists actually take the plot should at least be surprising.
Without spoiling too much, let’s just say that earlier actions finally come back into play while money, which we’ve wondered about before, is given a purpose. Of course, considering that these decisions were staggered over an 11-month release window you may well have forgotten doing (or not doing) what’s laid out in front of you for reasoning.
The Vault of the Traveler does save the series’ best action sequence for last, culminating in a plan that’s being executed on multiple fronts. TellTale even strays outside its usual QTE comfort zone by adding some Street Fighter type directional/button input combinations. It’s a lot of fun.
What isn’t fun is how spotty the frame rate was. Even for a TellTale title, the number of times the action ground to a standstill was shockingly high. It wasn’t restricted to action sequences, either, as there were plenty of moments where dialogue would slow to a crawl. As gamers we’ve basically come to accept it as part of the cost to playing TellTale’s offerings, but it legitimately pulls you out of the experience at a time when you should be fully invested in it.
As a whole, Tales from the Borderlands is a rousing success. Sure, you can quibble that isolated sections could’ve been longer or shorter, but I absolutely enjoyed it as much as (if not more than) any previous TellTale series. The Vault of the Traveler is a worthy conclusion to a fun-filled journey. Now let’s hope we haven’t seen the end of TellTale’s partnership with Gearbox.