Jonathon Dornbush
June 22, 2015 AT 12:00 PM EDT

Tales from the Borderlands

Video Games
Current Status
In Season

We gave it an A-

Three episodes in and Tales from the Borderlands is continuing solidifying itself as one of Telltale Games’ greatest endeavors. The first two episodes offered an incredible start to the series. The midway point, “Catch a Ride” introduces several new characters — and offers cameos from a few Borderlands favorites — for the funniest episode yet.

Among those new characters is a robotic presence voiced by The Last of Us’ Ashley Johnson. For fear of spoilers, I’ll avoid saying who she plays, but her character is such a perfectly peppy addition to a team full of more selfish, morally dubious characters. Her naivety to the near-constant bloody mayhem of Pandora adds a fresh energy to the main players, continually surprising as a source of both comedy and plot revelations. Johnson so perfectly evokes the strong writing for the character that it’s difficult to imagine another voice actor filling that role.

The core team remains as fascinating as ever. “Catch a Ride” will also offer some key differences depending on the player’s choice at the end of season 2. The season’s frame device of Fiona and Rhys telling the story also takes an unexpected turn or two that will hopefully pay off in the season’s endgame, while other long term dynamics are established.

Romance blossoms and friendships deepen while a bigger bad is introduced for the season — Vallory. The episode is bookended by her appearances, which reveal just how important she is not only to what’s happening in the moment, but to everything that’s come before. Her scenes are brief but powerful enough to make Vasquez, August, and the other villains look friendly in comparison.

With Vallory comes the arrival of new forces to support her and a few to fight against her growing army. And both sides see returning faces from the Borderlands universe, with Athena, Mordecai, and Brick all popping up. Mordecai and Brick’s appearances are more fun cameos that propel the plot forward than anything else, but Athena makes a real impact. Her presence can throw characters for a loop and help turn others into true vault hunters (which is becoming all too common a profession on Pandora).

One of Athena’s most important contributions is the training she provides, and it certainly comes in handy during the final action sequence. The combination of a tightly focused and paced chase with a great, separate showdown for Fiona accomplishes one of the feats Telltale strives for and succeeds at when at its very best, making its character building implicit in the thrilling action.

Another fantastic entry in Tales from the Borderlands, “Catch a Ride” delivers another strong reminder that Telltale, despite being renowned for the heavy material of The Walking Dead, can seriously bring the laughs. Here Ashley Johnson’s character, who consistently steals scenes from the otherwise hilarious ensemble, is a fresh example of that. But it’s the strength of that cast, both the impressive voice work and the writers behind them, that prove Telltale’s funny bone remains as strong as ever, leaving me eagerly anticipating episode 4.

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