“Bittersweet Farewells”

Developer: Telltale Games
Publisher: Telltale Games
Platform: iOS, Android, PC, Mac, PS3, PS4 (reviewed), PS Vita, Xbox 360, Xbox One
Released: October 20, 2015
Copy purchased

Tales from the Borderlands: Episode 5 – The Vault of the Traveler, brings Telltales’ fantastic journey to a close with some of the best writing, characters, and story beats of the year. Rounding off a great season, The Vault of the Traveler exceeds expectations, delivering a finale brimming with unbeatable personality, humor, and heartfelt moments. It successfully brings together the strongest elements from prior episodes and wraps up the season in outstanding style, proving Telltale still has it in them to deal a conclusion worthy of praise.The Vault of the Traveler 1 Episode five immediately redeems itself following the somewhat underwhelming direction of Escape Plan Bravo, getting back to what has made each episode of the season shine. The somewhat shaky pacing from the prior episode is carried over to the early moments of the finale, but once the signature opening credits hit, Vault of the Traveler finds its path and produces the best episode yet. From the lovable cast, to the superb writing, not a moment goes by that Tales’ isn’t actively putting forth its best effort. Choices come with emotional weight, twists pack their intended punch, and goodbyes spark effective response, all demonstrating just how potent Telltale can be with storytelling. Despite its seemingly tight duration, Tales from the Borderlands’ concluding episode allows enough room for each matter at the forefront of the narrative to see fitting resolve.

Creating just enough space for each character and plot thread to reach their full potential is a tedious task, though The Vault of the Traveler shows it’s possible. Much of episode five’s success can be attributed to simply allowing its cast of characters to interact with one another in meaningful ways. The result is a narrative that is able to achieve an impeccable range of emotions, with each scene invoking a new and palpable level of reaction, from distress to hilarity. Switching back and forth between emotional arcs and splitting humor would buckle a game any less confident in direction, yet Tales from the Borderlands strikes the perfect balance. Rarely has a game played with my emotions so quickly, with the constant shift in tone managing to stay coherent and relatable. It’s been a tug-o-war at the forefront of each episode this season, and The Vault of the Traveler is no exception, for it encompasses the most poignant emotional and comical highs of the whole series.The Vault of the Traveler 2 Once again, Tales’ characters and distinct personality remain a high point of the episode, yet more so, are the choices and overall branching narrative. Every decision I’d made over the course of the season seemed to come into play in meaningful ways that had a direct influence on my experience, no matter how drastic or minute the impact. From the way I treated a supposed side character back in episode one, to how I sided during a conversation in episode three, the finale smartly brings together choices to from an episode that allows for great authorship. Connecting dots from past episode not only strengthens the finale, but also lends to the revised lasting impression of previous episodes. Leaving hopefully what is the first of many seasons feeling like each interaction played a part in the grand narrative, contributed greatly to my overall takeaway from the journey.

Another element that took me by surprise was The Vault of the Traveler’s arcade-style action sequence that hit with a sense of fluidity and energy rarely seen in most Telltale games. The scene plays out in button combos, yet subverts monotonous simplicity by fueling the battle with stark humor and irresistible personality. What easily could have come across as oversimplified quick time events, morphed into a series of interactions that truly harnessed the potential of the cast leading the scene. Not only is The Vault of the Traveler the best paced episode of the season, it’s also the most personable. Whether it’s the dialogue choices, decision to spend money, or judgment to ally with a certain vault hunter, Tales’ is at its peak allowance of player freedom throughout its finale.The Vault of the Traveler 3Conclusion: Tales from the Borderlands: Episode 5 – The Vault of the Traveler wraps up Rhys and Fiona’s captivating adventure in true style. Each character, line of dialogue, and twist, hits with an effectiveness all narrative driven games strive for. From crushing heartbreak to charming humor, The Vault of the Traveler encompasses an array of emotions that define its characters in powerfully memorable ways. The thrilling romp that began almost a year ago, posed many questions and mysteries in its early episodes. Now complete, the season occupies a status of a satisfying journey. A journey in which managed to raise just as many thought-provoking nuances as it did fulfilling resolution, not to mention the unforgettable personality that will surely stick with me. Rhys and Fiona’s adventure on Pandora deserves a continuation more than any Telltale series to date, and whenever that may be, you can bet I’ll be the first one there.

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