It's taken an age for Telltale Games to release the second instalment in its Tales from the Borderlands series. The first episode deployed all the way back in December, and in the time since, it's released not one but two episodes in its other ongoing story, Game of Thrones. The question is: has the continuation of Rhys and Fiona's story been worth the wait?
When last we saw the series' cast, they had just discovered Atlas Corporation's Gortys Project – although we don't actually know what it is yet. Soon after, Rhys finds himself face-to-face with a holographic projection of Handsome Jack, and he seems very, er, sceptical about the subject of his demise in Borderlands 2. Getting into anything more specific would take us into spoiler territory, so we'll leave it there.
Not that there is a whole lot to spoil in this second episode. Atlas Mugged comes off feeling like it's treading water on its way to a big reveal, and while this is common of all types of episodic media, the drop off after the excellent opening episode is somewhat alarming. We can only hope that it picks up pace again in Episode 3.
It's not all bad, of course, as the series continues to deliver in the humour department. Sure, not all of the jokes really land, and after a couple of them you'll practically hear crickets in the background, but there's enough there to get you giggling. One part of the episode, for example, revolves around extended use of the word 'bro', which grates at first. But as the segment goes on and on, it'll make you laugh due to the sheer fact that the gag hasn't ended yet. It reminds this author of the Adult Swim short 'Too Many Cooks', in which it successfully turns tedium into hilarity. This, along with a few other bright spots, help to light up the interplay between the cast, and helps to paper over the otherwise obvious lack of narrative advancement.
A variety of new cast members are brought into the fold this time as well, alongside some returning faces, like Scooter from previous entries in the series. Additionally, a lesbian couple are introduced – although only for a few minutes. It's quite refreshing to see this be a plot point – irrespective of runtime – but the big issue is that the newcomers are treated with all of the subtlety of a giant flashing Las Vegas sign that says 'lesbians' above them. There's never really an opportunity for that information to unfurl through organic conversation, and that's unfortunate.
At least the music is as stupendous as ever, and continues to really set the mood for the series. This author's personal adoration for Jared Emerson-Johnson's audio aside, it just fits the universe perfectly, and pairs wonderfully with the use of licensed tunes.
We should also probably point out that, thankfully, this episode doesn't have any real technical issues – well, certainly not that we encountered. Normally, we'd gloss over this point, as an adequately functioning experience is the expected standard for most pieces of software, but with Telltale, you just never know. Hopefully it can maintain this level of quality so we don't have to talk about performance for much longer.
With the surprise of the debut now a distant memory, Tales from the Borderlands: Episode 2 – Atlas Mugged needed to be something special to beat expectations all over again – but despite the delay, it doesn't really hit the same highs as the opener. This instalment feels like it's treading water, waiting for future outings to move things forwards. The humour and characters carry things a bit, but Episode 3 will need to be much better.