Tales from the Borderlands, from Telltale Games, will be heading to physical media. The disc will be available exclusively from certain retailers (Everybody’s favourite store, Game, in the UK). The game received rave reviews when it was released back in 2014. It was funny, thrilling, everything you’d want from a mash-up between episodic kings Telltale and super-flippant Gearbox Software.
So you can now play Tales from the Borderlands in all one go. Which is no bad thing – after all, Netflix doesn’t make you wait a week weeks months for the next installment. It’s there, it’s instant, exactly like an episodic game isn’t.
Run a search for episodic games and you’ll find that, by and large, the internet dislikes them (But what does the internet as a whole actually like?). Check out articles like ‘Episodic Gaming Needs to Change’ and ‘Why Bother with Episodic Games?’ for proof. These are well-reasoned arguments, sure, but is there too much hate for episodic games?
Episodic games get a lot of hate in the gaming community – and gamespulp aren’t going to argue over a lot of the criticisms (Which we pretty much agree with across the board).
The unreliable release dates, drop-offs in quality from episode to episode, these are fair arguments to level at these sort of games. It’s reached the point where some games are now trying to reclaim another title, rather than be associated with the ‘episodic’ tag.
We get it. There are serious issues with the model, especially for gamers (Not the suits looking at the bottom line).
But there are some redeeming features with episodic games. Now hold on, hear us out.
For gamers, episodic content gives us a chance to trial a game and see if we fancy it. It’s an episode one demo, for – usually – a reasonable price. It’s a different way of telling a story through video games, and anything that attempts to break the mould of 20-minute long cut-scenes is to be applauded.
It even gives us a chance to enter our favourite TV universes, or re-enter our top gaming universes to see it from another angle. In an age where cheap movie tie-in games have all but died, episodic games, particularly those from Telltale, who can afford to buy licences for top franchises, give us an opportunity that would otherwise be lost.
For gamers who can’t afford to spend 20 hours a day playing games, episodic content lets them play at their own pace, whenever they can, without that all-important life getting in the way.
And then there’s the excitement that comes from waiting for that next episode.
Think of Life is Strange, which gamespulp adored. The cliffhangers in each episode, the questions we were left with, only added to the joy of discovery when the next episode started. You can discuss it with friends, argue with enemies, you can form theories about where the story will go. That’s a rarity in the Netflix binge-watch age. And what’s wrong with a bit of deferred gratification, so long as it’s not deferred in perpetuity.
From an industry point of view, it allows smaller developers to compete, on some level, with the big boys. There’s no reason why Telltale are still pushing this model – they’ve matured as a studio. And why are Square Enix releasing Final Fantasy VII in chunks, rather than as a full game? How immersion-breaking is that? But the episodic delivery service gives the indies a shot at reaching a wide audience, without breaking the bank.
Episodic games can be saved – though probably not by a studio like Telltale, who tacked on an unnecessary fifth episode to Minecraft Story Mode that was solely designed to sell DLC eps at a later date.
That’s part of the genre’s problem: total lack of trust, and practices like that do nothing for a genre that does have some good ideas behind it (Though some of the worst execution since the release of Battlefield 4). But some serious planning, both technically and from a storytelling perspective, setting clear expectations and a realistic timeline may sway players back to the fold.
Personally, we don’t feel you should pay upfront for a product you haven’t got. But we get it. And we’ll defend your right to play them – no matter how long it takes for you to receive the next episode.
You may also like Battleborn Beta – The Review from Gearbox.