Quality of life improvements make an impact but how does Borderlands hold up all these years later?
The looter shooter genre has seen its changes throughout the years. Games-as-a-service has become more entwined with its post-launch content delivery; concerns over PvP vs. PvE balance continue to linger; and drop-rates can make or break many games. However, when you go back and think of the original king of looter shooters, you often think of Borderlands…2. Which still holds up today and offers tons of content, plentiful loot, well-designed side-missions, and a fun story. But what about where it all truly started? What about Borderlands 1?
Someone at Gearbox Software probably asked the same question and decided to bring Borderlands: Game of the Year Edition over to current gen consoles (with a few bells and whistles in for good measure). By now, you know the story – four Vault Hunters, each with their own checkered past, arrive on Pandora in search of a mystical Vault. It’s rumoured to be full of treasure (spoiler: It wasn’t but has since been updated). Our Vault Hunters are helped along by a mysterious entity, one that wants them to succeed at all costs. Surely, this won’t end badly. As an overall story, Borderlands doesn’t feel as urgent, immediate or engrossing as Borderlands 2 did.
"There are plenty of other upgrades including support for 4K resolution but the real question is: How does Borderlands the game hold up after all these years?"
Improvements to texture quality and lighting abound here, highlighting the game’s sleek cel-shaded style all the more. The performance is very smooth and maintains a constant 60 frames per second even with all details on high. Various quality of life improvements help make the looting and shooting that much more endearing like immediate health and ammo pickups and the new mini-map which prevents you from running around in circles. That being said, given the smaller map size compared to Borderlands 2, it’s probably not all that strange in hindsight that a mini-map was missing at launch.
The new inventory system is also more seamless. It’s not super flashy but presents a wider view of your weapons and drops with the relevant stats while letting you switch between them quickly. There are plenty of other upgrades including support for 4K resolution but the real question is: How does Borderlands the game hold up after all these years?
The rough edges are pretty apparent but to the credit of Gearbox, it still holds up very well. Shooting feels slightly less refined and slightly less forgiving than Borderlands 2. That snappy feeling isn’t quite there yet and weapons like sub-machine guns and combat rifles feel like they sway a bit too much when aiming down sights than in the sequel. You may find some nice snap shot kills, which you landed with no problem in the sequels, missing more often than not here. It’s not a terrible thing, mind you, but it makes for a slower shooting experience altogether. The sickening “splat” from headshots feels as satisfying as ever so that’s a plus.
"Instead of the ham-fisted, silly-but-knows-when-to-get-serious attitude of the sequel, the original feels a lot more desolate and isolated. "
Otherwise, it’s amazing to see just how simplified Borderlands was back in the day. You choose from four character classes – Soldier, Hunter, Siren and Berserker – and the personality imbued in each definitely feels like a step back. Chalk this up to less voice-lines overall but even their customization trees feel gimped. Having seven skills in each tree for a class feels kind of limiting. There’s still the potential to create some fun builds – like Lilith having increased melee damage and the cooldown of Phasewalk being reduced with each kill, thus allowing you to chain melee attacks and Phase Blasts with Phasewalk – so don’t worry.
The characterization of NPCs also feels very streamlined. Dr. Zedd is still here as is T.K. Baha and their personalities are as endearing as ever. But they’re missing that extra bit of polish, that extra “oomph” that really pushed them to be full-fledged personalities. On the one hand, this also means certain NPCs like Claptrap are far less annoying than in subsequent titles. On the other hand, characters like Angel come across as all the more robotic (which was the intention here but still).
The tone of Borderlands is also significantly different. Instead of the ham-fisted, silly-but-knows-when-to-get-serious attitude of the sequel, the original feels a lot more desolate and isolated. You truly feel like an adventurer setting out an unknown world, filled with danger around ever corner. There isn’t as much NPC chatter during missions, which lends more to that lone wanderer feeling, and the music helps in that regard as well. Borderlands captures that far-future, Space Western mixed with Mad Max feel in its own unique way and thankfully doesn’t go too over-the-top to maintain it.
"In Borderlands, Legendary weapons simply drop, even during the initial stages, from chests and killing tough enemies."
The overall pacing of the game also feels far more reliant on completing side-missions before venturing further. Other titles might have let you cruise on a side-mission or two while primarily sticking to the main quest but Borderlands wants you to get out and explore Pandora. Death may happen more than once even though inherently the artificial intelligence isn’t as developed. Remember the days of bandits taking an adjacent staircase to reach you instead of rushing headlong, even if the flank was extremely telegraphed? They’re still here.
Looting is slightly different compared to what you’re used to in other titles. In Borderlands, Legendary weapons simply drop, even during the initial stages, from chests and killing tough enemies. These are capped by level so it’s possible that certain higher level items, despite having lower rarities and less affixes, may be better in terms of overall damage. The guns aren’t necessarily as zany but they each offer a unique look and feel that has a significant impact on gameplay.
Still, it offers a good level of variety and a constant sense of being rewarded throughout the campaign. I wasn’t a huge fan of certain weapon types like Repeater Pistols and Revolvers, both technically part of the same pistol class, having different ammo and different capacity upgrades but it’s not the worst thing. The same goes for the weapon proficiency, which increases damage, reload speed and other attributes for a weapon class the more it’s used. Is it an effective substitute for the Badass Rank System? Not really but it still offer passive benefits, even if they’re restricted to certain weapon types.
"There’s no denying that even today, Borderlands has a unique charm to it that the more modern looter shooters just can’t seem to capture."
It may sound like I more than my share of nitpicks for Borderlands: Game of the Year Edition. If we’re being honest, this is an inferior game compared to Borderlands 2, especially with all the quality of life improvements and content that the latter has received. Thankfully, the original stands on its own pretty well, offering a fun experience with a great amount of content and an intriguing story with strong atmosphere. The quality of life improvements bring it slightly up to date but for the most part, you’re investing in a fairly old-school title.
There’s no denying that even today, Borderlands has a unique charm to it that the more modern looter shooters just can’t seem to capture. If you haven’t played Borderlands: Game of the Year Edition, need an excuse to revisit the original or just couldn’t get into The Pre-Sequel for whatever reason, then this version is the best yet. At least, for solo players – those wanting to engage in online co-op might want to hold off until many of the issues are addressed.
The less snappy shooting, limited skill choices and pared down structure may have trouble competing with the very best of the best. However, Borderlands: Game of the Year Edition still proves to be a fun experience that will ensnare you in its own wicked ways.
This game was reviewed on PC.
Cel-shaded art-style looks even better thanks to texture and lighting improvements. New quality of life features like the inventory overhaul and mini-map make for a smoother experience. Exploring Pandora, looting and shooting bandits still feels very satisfying. Plentiful amounts of fun content with a robust loot cycle to run through.
Shooting - and the gameplay as a whole - doesn't feel as refined as the sequels. Enemy AI isn't overtly smart. Characterization, both for NPCs and playable characters, is inferior to further titles.
Borderlands: Game of the Year Edition is more than a blast from the past - it's a compelling game in its own right. Though it serves as more of a base for greater things than a pinnacle for the genre, there's still plenty of shooting, looting and Vault Hunting to be had.