A Borderlands Retrospective

Rolling on to the entertaining thoughts of tehdr4g0n, an accomplished medical practitioner with fiery opinions and a blog you can check out at the bottom of this page!

—Written by tehdr4g0n—

—Edited/formatted by Vagrantesque—

Before I begin this article in earnest, I’d like to thank Ryan for featuring me on his blog. In doing so, the man shows a remarkable degree of courage, considering my usual style. With this in mind, I’ve toned things down a little.

So, on to the actual content of the article. With the recent release of Borderlands: The Handsome Collection, this seems as good a time as any to take a look at the Borderlands franchise as a whole. In other words, strap yourselves in because I’m about to talk about three Borderlands games, and various aspects of each. Full disclosure, I’m going to talk about my own experience and thoughts on each game, so there won’t be any philosophical discourse on this article. It’s just going to be my experience and opinion on each instalment in one of my favourite franchises of all time.

Borderlands

The original Borderlands game, released in 2009, was adventurous and different. For any whose memories of the time are hazy, this was the year of Uncharted 2; the auspicious first release of Dragon Age: Origins; James Cameron wowing the world with pretty trees and blue aliens in Avatar; and me curled in a little ball trying to ignore the calamity that was X-Men Origins: Wolverine. Yes, more stuff happened, no I’m not going to name them all. That was just off the top of my head.

Now, to Borderlands. Around the time it came out, shooters had already kind of settled into their rhythm; Activision was riding their COD 4 high, and it was generally accepted that that kind of arcade-esque, realistic, PVP shooter was the way to go. Personally, I’d spent a lot of my time playing Modern Warfare against my friends, so I gravitated towards that kind of game.

When Borderlands came along, it was a game with radically different, almost cartoonish graphics, and the introduction of a conceptually different game which came to be known as a ‘loot and shoot’. The drastic difference between games was bold and risky…

And it worked.

Borderlands as a game was flawed. There were a lot of aspects of it that didn’t work, or were poorly thought out. Issues with appropriate hitbox detection, badly placed invisible walls, some very noticeable texture issues, some glitchy movement, and awkward animation. It was in spite of these issues that the game shone. While there were a great number of issues with the game, most of them fell under the category of mildly irritating technicalities, none of which are entirely unexpected in the first instalment of a new franchise.

The gameplay itself was oddly, unexpectedly addicting. Particularly for me, as I was not at all expecting anything of the sort. Improving my character, getting new and better skills, obtaining better weapons, all to the backdrop of an oddly appealing world with engaging and sometimes outrageous characters. It was something I played religiously, until I finished the game. Then I stopped.

Here’s where the discussion gets interesting. What is it, exactly that made me lose all desire to play the original Borderlands game after having finished it a few times? A couple of things jump immediately to mind. Did the technical difficulties finally drown out the novelty of the game? Did I finally run out of things to do? Was I bored shitless by the game itself?

Kind of.

Despite the release of various downloadable content packs to provide some sort of end-game ratification for its purchase, there was very little purpose or satisfaction after having beaten the story. In addition, after a certain point, the game becomes really easy. At some point, I remember becoming virtually untouchable, where I no longer had to be subtle or think about how I was going to make my way through any given area, because I was strong enough to clear any area in the game without any need for forethought or planning. Given this now lack of purpose or meaningful challenge, I just didn’t see any point in continuing to play the game.

Borderlands 2

Now, fast forward three years, and I’m well over the original Borderlands game. In other aspects of my life, I have enough money to play games, and enough time to work my way through them as well. In hindsight, this was a veritable golden era for me – after all I’ve never really had that much free time since – so it was a great time for the release of what would be the single game to which I’ve perhaps devoted more time than any other.

With my closest friend, we discovered a shared love for local co-op games, as we both agreed that it was more enjoyable than playing online. We’d just finished playing the Army of Two games and were looking for another game to play. Having just found out that Borderlands 2 was coming out soon, we went back and played the original Borderlands, which we both decided was sufficiently mediocre.

So following this, we hoped Borderlands 2 would be fun enough for us to play through in lieu of other couch co-op games, and as it came out at a very auspicious time for us, we both took off an entire week so we could play the living crap out of it, and we figured that was about all the entertainment we’d get out of it.

Boy, were we wrong.

Borderlands 2 improved so much on the formula that was the original Borderlands. The technical issues were all addressed, and basically every aspect thereof was improved – even those that we didn’t see as too much of an issue. Perhaps one of the most noticeably differences made was the addition of a minimap. Navigating in the original Borderlands was extremely difficult due to having to bring up the map from the menu every few seconds. While less irritating at the time (I don’t think very many games had minimal technology yet), having it made such a difference in the sequel. It allowed you to focus on the objective and enemies around you, and meaning you don’t have to worry about getting lost.

In addition, perhaps the most noticeable difference made is that the characters’ abilities were actually fun. Borderlands being a series about guns, and the diversity and sheer number thereof, meant that abilities that allowed you to do interesting and diverse things with them were more fun than the more basic abilities that the original characters had. This change, in addition to the changes in gameplay, made for a new experience that was not only interesting, but provided for a vast amount of gameplay options even after finishing the campaign.

In addition to this, there were four additional major DLC campaign areas, as well as four minor Headhunter packs and two character packs. While most would consider this superfluous, the advent of ‘ultimate’, very difficult boss fights, come to be known as ‘raid bosses’, added an immense amount of difficulty to the game and provided numerous hours of entertainment, particularly since it was virtually impossible (at first) to beat them without working with other players.

Perhaps the best other addition was that of the Raid on Digistruct Peak area; which was a new levelling system based on player proficiency rather than grinding. If you possess the game and haven’t discovered the joys of this additional content, I strongly suggest giving it a go. The combination of Overpower Levels and raid bosses creates a very impressive challenge that forces you to play the game at a higher level.

It’s difficult to convey just how much I enjoyed the absolute bollocks out of this game, so I won’t continue for the next hour or so. Just know that it, along with its substantial DLC, is an experience unlike any other. It comes highly recommended, and if you haven’t played it yet, it’s totally worth the money. Consider that I spent maybe $100 over console and PC versions of the game, and between the two, I’ve clocked in easily over 1000 hours.

Also, if anyone wants to play on PC, if we manage to line up some free time, I’m all about it.

Borderlands: The Pre-Sequel

After the sheer beauty that was Borderlands 2, I was extremely excited for the release of The Pre-Sequel (or TPS, as it will be known from now), scheduled for release in October last year. In the exact opposite situation to the release of Borderlands 2, I had the highest of expectations for TPS, and hoped to spend many hours in the new world they created.

But I didn’t.

I don’t want to make it seem like TPS is a terrible game. It’s certainly a decent game, and enjoyable enough on the first playthrough. The decreased gravity and ability to double jump add interesting options to getting around the areas in the game; there’s the addition of new weapons and enemy types to keep things fresh, with the reappearance of older enemies for the sake of familiarity. In addition, the story is relatively engaging, and provides the intriguing backstory that was promised to us when the game was announced.

So where did it go wrong?

Perhaps first and foremost, the addition of an oxygen meter is less of something to monitor, and more of an annoyance. There’s never any time where it made any kind of noticeable difference to the gameplay, I’d only ever notice it when the screen started flashing.

In addition, while I found the story itself to be enjoyable, the other side missions are designed to make you appreciate the level design. And by appreciate, I mean you run around an abnormally large area for an inordinately large amount of time to do a disappointingly basic activity, then run all the way back. Side quests are never particularly fun or interesting, but the great thing about a lot of them in Borderlands 2 was that they usually existed within their own little story arc. TPS’s side quests were slap-dash and unorganised. Basically a cacophony of “run here, fetch this” quests that were poorly thought out, and created in the spirit of tedium rather than adding anything to the overall experience.

Now the story itself was adequate enough, but that was all there is to it. After finishing, it suffered very much from the same issues that the original Borderlands did in that there was no reason to continue playing. There was a distinct lack of challenging bosses, and furthermore, TPS initially didn’t seem to believe in respawnable bosses, so the few challenging fights that were in the game couldn’t be replayed. This is something of a sore subject for me, as when initially raised by the community, 2K Australia took the longest time to respond, and even so, didn’t seem to want to support the community.

Now, some of you guys will probably know that I like to complain about things, and will read what I’ve written so far, and shrug it off as just me being bitchy. While I am unquestionably bitchy, this attitude is not only my own. The community at large has seemingly rejected TPS as a whole due to its various flaws, and the overall sentiment is that the severe lack of end game content and extraordinarily tedious gameplay after the story makes it a game that may be worth playing like once.

For the sake of comparison, I don’t think I’ve put in even 100 hours into TPS.

Now, more recently, the new Claptastic Voyage DLC has actually been very well received and the mentality behind it seems to be similar to that behind the creation of Tiny Tina’s DLC, that being the best received DLC of any game in recent memory. Honestly, it’s not really enough for me to go back to TPS and play it, but hey, there’s something working for it.

As for my closing thoughts, I’m not even going to bother pretending any degree of partiality when it comes to discussing games in this franchise. I clearly love the series and have spent an inordinate amount of time on Pandora. From the perspective of someone who understands a gigantic amount about the inner workings of the game (probably too much if the truth be told), I’d suggest everyone try Borderlands 2, as it really is a masterpiece in its entirety. It alone is worth the investment in the Handsome Collection.

The Borderlands games are highly addictive in a way that can’t really be explained. The learning curve is easy enough for new players to pick up and enjoy, with enough of a challenge to keep more experienced players hooked. While there are definitely flaws in the system, none of them are outrageous enough for it to be completely unplayable, thus making it a definite worthwhile experience. Highly recommended.

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(Read Xining’s own blog at https://tehdr4g0n.wordpress.com/)

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