This is the review for the fifth and final episode, The Vault of the Traveller. To read the review of Episode Four, Escape Plan Bravo, head to page 2, if you want Episode Three, Catch a Ride, head to page 3, if you're looking for Episode Two, Atlas Mugged, head to page 4 and if you're looking for the review of Episode One, Zer0 Sum, head to page 5.
Telltale does love to end their episodes with big cliff-hangers, but few left me as hungry for the next episode as Escape Plan Bravo’s. The opening moments of the finale reward the wait, and it only gets better from there.
The Vault of the Traveller doesn’t let up once, kicking off with the fruition of Jack’s nefarious scheme and then running full pelt toward the conclusion, with great escapes, chases, shoot outs and a whole mess of loose ends getting tied up.
It is, essentially, everything you’d want it to be.
The gang’s Helios heist didn’t exactly go to plan, starting a chain of events that make this last episode the series’ gloomiest and most likely to punch you in the gut. It’s a “rollercoaster of emotions,” as Loader Bot puts it. Even the opening credits, normally fun and action-packed, are grim and reflective.
It’s a bold direction for a zany caper, but not out of character. In each entry in the series, I’ve been impressed with how emotionally resonant they’ve been; The Vault of the Traveller just intensifies it.
This isn’t The Walking Dead, though. Tales from the Borderlands is not a harrowing game about loss and survival, so even when it’s at its most bleak, the blow is softened by moments of perfectly-timed levity. I welled up at least twice, but quickly followed up with a chuckle. It’s never too light, though, and the stakes are consistently high.
All of this leads up to a climactic confrontation outside the titular vault, a huge QTE sequence that spans several scenes. It is, perhaps, my favourite bit of action in not just the series, but all of Telltale’s adventure games. The spectacle really seems to push the tired engine to its breaking point – I think an upgrade is in order – but it’s worth it.
It’s not great just because of its gargantuan scale or because it actually subverts QTEs a little bit, it’s a fight that plays out depending on who you bring into it, and that depends on your actions across the entire game. How much cash has Fiona saved up, who you helped out and who you killed, even how you presented yourself – these decisions all inform the team you’ll bring into this final conflict.
Amid all of the action, there’s still room for each of the main cast to shine. They get to kick ass, spout snappy one liners, grow and reconcile, and despite the blistering pace, it never feels rushed. It’s an ensemble episode with nobody drawing the short straw.
Rhys and Fiona are really still the stars, of course, and it’s been a pleasure to watch them transform throughout the game. The Vault of the Traveller really puts them through the wringer, more than anyone else, leading to the adventure’s most intimate and heartfelt moments.
In a very short space of time, the finale surprisingly manages to wrap everything up in satisfying ways. Given how much time was spent in that aforementioned huge QTE sequence and how quickly it hurtles toward the conclusion, I wasn’t sure if it would, but Telltale manages it regardless. Jack, the kidnapping Stranger, the vault – it’s all concluded without loose ends. Well, no more than you’d want from a game that deserves a sequel.
Tales from the Borderlands is the best Borderlands game, taking what’s already great about the setting, amplifying it and subverting it, squeezing it all into a sharper, less exhausting package. It might even be Telltale’s finest work as well. It is undoubtedly its most consistent, with no episode standing out as notably weaker than the rest. The Vault of the Traveller is, then, a masterful finale to an exceptional series, and one I desperately hope will get a follow-up.
It’s always hard to say goodbye, and that’s why we invented the fist bump.