Borderlands (GOTY Edition) Review

It’s been nearly 10 years since the first Borderlands stormed onto retail shelves everywhere and defined the video game genre in which it resides. The game blended FPS and RPG elements seamlessly into one cohesive product that we have come to know as “looter-shooter”. By offering bazillions of guns, each with unique stats, rarities and effects, BL had a high drop-rate in the hearts of many gamers from all walks of life. I however, was not one of those gamers. At first. It was only with the recent remastered version of Borderlands that I have come to appreciate what the game does. And whatever it does, it does right.

The story is driven by the Vault Hunters, a gang of misfits who have made it their goal to find the mythic vault and plunder its riches for their own. This rag-tag team include a Soldier, Hunter, Siren, and Brick the… brick. As they are kicked off the bus in the middle of Pandora’s wasteland, a “guardian angel” of sorts reveals herself to them. She is actually some sort of fancy pants AI that helps the protagonists throughout their adventure. The game’s story isn’t laid out to you in cutscenes, but rather spoon-fed to you through quest summaries. The main questline will take a little over 20 hours to beat, however it will more than likely take about twice that due to the structure of quests. There is a certain player level that is recommended for each quest, and if you want to complete the story with the least amount of trouble, the side-quests are more or less forced on you. Indeed, the game can prove to be way too difficult should you tackle quests while under-leveled. Therefore, it is best to look at the story as the totality of all quests, main and side. And there is a lot here to applaud Gearbox for. Witty jokes and puns are ever-present, and they are so well structured that they can get even the most buzzkill people to snicker here and there. While well structured, the story does not encroach on gameplay which is something that I would have wanted. It puts narrative on the back burner. While the gameplay is stellar, I would have liked an occasional cutscene that highlights the incredible world Gearbox has created. Instead, I bust out my reading glasses and prepare for one hell of a ride.

The gameplay loop is simple, you complete quests that reward you with guns and enemies drop a bountiful amount of guns. You sell these guns or swap them into your arsenal so you can complete harder quests that will reward you with better guns. All this happens while you level up and gain skill points to spend within one skill tree of your choice among three. You’re always working toward the next level, collecting guns along the way. It is not uncommon however, for you to discover one overpowered weapon that will be used for a long time before being replaced. It’s in these discoveries that really gets the blood pumping when you see statistics that are off the charts. It’s enough to make the hardest of seasoned criminals giddy. In addition to the astronomical number of guns to experiment with, the gun-play itself is really quite spectacular. Shooting psychos and marauders has never been so much fun, as headshots land critical hits that are presented to you in big red letters and numbers bouncing off the point of impact. It’s strangely addictive to say the least.

This gameplay is wrapped up in a neat packaging of graphic novel style visuals. It looks a lot like cel shading, no matter how much this notion is contested. It’s an approach that award the game a certain graphical longevity, as it will look just as good 10 years from now as it did 10 years ago. The improvements in textures that ship with this GOTY version of the game are almost unnecessary, albeit a slight facelift is never unwelcome. It looks and plays just as I remember it looking and playing back in 2009. While it doesn’t excel as a realistic shooter, the graphics pair well with the over-the-top gameplay. It is not going for realism, and that’s ok. In a world full of triple A graphics pushing the envelope, Borderlands offers a refreshing aesthetic that deviates from the norm.

The game’s music seems to fit nicely with this aesthetic. It’s everything I imagine a wasteland sounds like, from screaming psychos to background acoustics. The weapons however, don’t sound like they have much weight to them. They sound weaker than a cap gun, like a children’s toy that somehow crits big burly raiders in the face. Perhaps these soft weapon sounds play into the lively and ambitious visuals; colorful sounds for a colorful game. Either way, there is something left to be desired here. That being said, the opening theme song and cinematic is probably my favorite opening of any game.

Borderland’s is highly replayable, allowing the player to carry over a character’s progress in a new game with harder, higher leveled enemies. While quests do not change from one new game to the next, it is admittedly quite convenient how progress can transfer over. The bigger the baddies, the better the battle.

Sound: 3/5

Gameplay: 4/5

Story: 2/5

Graphics: 5/5

Replay Value: 4/5

Total: 18/25, or 72/100

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