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Preview: The First 30 Minutes of TALES FROM THE BORDERLANDS

[Warning: minor spoilers from the opening half hour of Tales From the Borderlands to follow.]

During this year’s E3, we had the opportunity to see the first half hour of gameplay from Tales From the Borderlands, one of our Editor’s Choice award winners, in a hands-off demo with Telltale Games. A Telltale rep noted that the demo wasn’t visually complete, but from what we saw, Tales reproduces the look of the Gearbox series in same Telltale style as The Walking Dead games.

The first half hour puts you in the role of company man Rhys (Sam Witwer), who’s hustling to become the next Handsome Jack a year after the Hyperion boss’ untimely death. While the choice-based dialog is about the same as it ever was: four choices – three statements and silence – featuring conversations with some surprisingly dynamic camera moves. Like The Walking Dead, Tales will prompt you when characters will recall or react to key responses as we follow Rhys’ half of the story in flashback.

Family Guy and Venture Bros. voice actor Patrick Warburton joins the voice cast as Hugo Vasquez, the guy who gets to occupy the big seat as a VP of Hyperion. The interaction with Vasquez in his orbital office allows Rhys to not only chat with the new heavy, but try out Rhys’ cybernetic eye, which allows him to investigate his environment with an AR overlay. To get one over on Vasquez (and make a trillion bucks), Rhys enlists a couple of his corporate pals Vaughn (our own Chris Hardwick) and Yvette to help him steal a Vault key out from under Warburton’s character.

From there, Rhys and his pal Vaughn make their way down to Pandora and the gritty town of Prosperity Junction to acquire the key. Rhys notes that he has a stun baton (which I’m sure will likely be useful somewhere down the line). In the first exploration sequence (a little under 15 minutes in), Rhys can talk to other characters and explore loot-filled chests. Much like in Borderlands, loot will be an integral part of the gameplay experience, although Telltale declined to elaborate further. Any cash Rhys picks up will go to his bank account with Telltale promising that the money will have some interesting uses down the line.

Here’s where it gets interesting: when a group of bandits attempts to hold up Rhys and Vaughn, the former is able to select a Loader ‘bot from an AR menu, customizing its weapons using his cash. When the robot drops, the player select targets and deflect enemy attacks in a series of timed sequences, breaking up the usual dialog-search gameplay. The big question is how it handles: the brief “combat” sequences in The Walking Dead were usually imprecise and a little frustrating. Tales seems to be borrowing the quick time event structure here, but hopefully it has omitted the insta-fail conditions inherent to many QTEs. Telltale says some of the sequences will offer fail scenarios while others will just change the flow of the sequence.

A pile of bodies later, Rhys and Vaughn make their way to August (Nolan North), the sleazy guy holding the vault key. The deal goes south fast when August’s girlfriend Sasha has a little freakout. August apparently really, really trusts her instincts. Remember that. The punchline to the sequence segues into the second playable character, Fiona, who offers a counterpoint to Rhy’s story – and our first look at Borderlands‘ Vault Hunters. Telltale explained that throughout the game, Fiona and Rhys would be telling sometimes conflicting versions of the same story, leaving it up to you to decipher who exactly is telling the truth.

And that was the end of the hands-off demo. Telltale says there will be some hooks into Borderlands: The Pre Sequel, but at this time, they’re not ready to share what those are.

Tales from the Borderlands will be out later this summer.

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