- Developer – Gearbox Software
- Publisher – 2K Games
- Originally released – October 20th, 2009
- Available on – PC, PS3, Xbox 360, PS Vita, PS4, Xbox One
When the original Borderlands was released, people really loved the game. Its cell-shade art style really caught people by surprise giving the game a distinct look amongst the other FPS releasing at the time. While many other shooters were focusing on faster pace single-player campaigns with a multiplayer component, Borderlands wanted to make a great slower pace shooter that you can enjoy with friends. The original Borderlands felt unique back in 2009 and pioneered the genre we now call “looter shooters”. In this Rewind review, we are going to take another look and see if the game is still fun after ten plus years. I’ve had the opportunity to play the game again thanks to the Game of the Year PS4 release and sometimes nostalgia can be a powerful thing.
The series signature cell-shaded graphics still look really great after so long. While the models are not as detailed as Borderlands 2 ended up being, they still look very good. Environments also look great as well thanks to the cell shade graphics. Developer Gearbox made a good choice to scrap the original look of the game and redevelop the game with the current look. Many games from the early PS3/Xbox 360 era are starting to age but Borderlands even without the remaster giving the graphics a nice boost look relatively good.
However, the environments have a few shortcomings. Firstly, they lack variety for a majority of the game as most of it desert biomes sprinkled some fortresses and a few other types of biomes. Secondly, the colour palettes in the place you go are very brown with grey. Sure these two points combined help paint Pandora as this post-apocalyptic barren wasteland but each main overworld area is far too similar to one another. A little bit of variety in its environments would make exploring all these areas and looking for loot more entertaining.
The loot aspect is the most important and interesting part of the game. Scouring the lands for chests of randomly generated guns inadvertently created an addicting gameplay loop. There are plenty of chances to find guns with high damage, insane fire rates, high ammo counts, elemental abilities and a rarity system. Guns with higher rarity often come with bonuses like increase weapon zoom, special firing abilities or even an increased chance to add elemental damage over time effect. You can find guns with legendary gun parts on it (maybe two if you are extremely lucky) so the game is all about min and maxing your loadout to create the best set up.
I love how Twitch streamer and Borderlands content creator DanksterTV describes Borderlands. He says that while many games are shooters with RPG elements, Borderlands is an RPG game first with shooter elements. Borderlands’ skill trees focus on building their character to a certain specification thanks to its branching skill trees. Each of the four Vault Hunters has three trees of skills and what is great is that very rarely do you see the same character built the same. Going back today, building new Vault Hunters is still so fun. This combined with the plethora of firepower and utility equips is the soul of the series part of the addicting gameplay.
Unfortunately, the shooting mechanics don’t feel as satisfying. Some of the gun types like repeaters, snipers and rockets just don’t feel that great especially if you are rolling with certain gun setups. The shooting mechanics do not feel tight and shots with certain weapons don’t have all that much impact. It’s another aspect of the game that hasn’t aged all that well and the common theme is later entries feel so much better.
As with the environments, there’s a lack of variety with the enemy types. You will fight a ton of skagg, psycho and marauder variations and occasionally there will be “badass” versions of them. The Crimson Lance and Guardian enemies become a breath of fresh air when they do arrive later on in the campaign but it’s already pretty far into the middle of the game and last set of missions. The boss encounters are more interesting and a bit more fleshed out.
Those said missions are also hit and miss for many of them. The issue is thankfully not variety as there is a huge quantity of side missions to go along with the main story. The problem is that a lot of the missions are either fetch quests and other monotonous quests. This game focused on quantity over quality in this department and it feels like half these quests are uninteresting fetch missions. Not all of them are like this but they certainly lack the backstory and thought the later game’s sidequests have. They are there to gain experience points and to keep you busy rather than entertained.
This brings us to the overall story of the first game which has its moments. At times it does suffer from the same fate as the side mission in terms of excitement but when the story is introducing new characters and pushing you into the more interesting parts of Pandora, it’s a great time. The characters are pretty likable too with great NPCs like Scooter, Marcus and everyone’s favourite robot Claptrap. At their core, they are just quest givers but they also have their own offbeat personalities. There’s a little left to be desired with the story and characters but they are good fun nonetheless.
Many of the issues I’ve stated above can be rectified by inviting another player into the fray. It’s incredible how strong of an experience Borderlands can be when you are vault hunting with people. Enemies get tougher when there are more people in the game but that means that loot drops are better. Money and experience points are shared too. The drop in and out online coop is great and so long as your level is relatively close to the host player, you will reap the rewards of playing with other people.
The original package for the first game overall feels like it’s got a bunch of elements that are hit and miss by today’s standards. Going back and playing Borderlands 1 feels like many aspects of the game needed to be fleshed out more including its story, missions, characters, environments, and enemies. The loot focused gameplay, RPG elements and multiplayer are all solid though and make the original package worth checking out if you are interested. However, if you play through the original Borderlands 1 package and nothing else, there’s a good chance that it will leave you feeling unimpressed. That feeling changes once you start up the downloadable content.
The DLC is one of the best parts of the game and I encourage people to seek out the Game of the Year versions of the game when looking to buy this game. In terms of story and characters, the DLC is far more entertaining than the main story, building out the world of Pandora and its inhabitants much better than the main game. Characters like Scooter, Dr. Zed, and Claptrap feel much more fleshed out, and new characters feel more like active participants in the story, rather than just quest facilitators. The whole collection of DLC tonally represents closer to the sequel’s signature humour and character and may have influenced the developers to make the creative decisions they did in Borderlands 2.
The Zombie Island of Dr. Ned
The Zombie Island of Dr. Ned is where the series started to embrace its zany characters and start having fun with them. An outbreak of zombies has taken over Jakob’s Cove and it’s up to our Vault Hunters to find Dr. Ned (totally not Dr. Zed in a mustache) and find a cure for the residents of the place before it’s too late. This first DLC in the 4 part collection is incredible and is more what people were looking for.
There are lots of new enemy types including zombified versions of familiar enemies, special infected, wereskaggs, tankensteins, and much more fun enemies. The story is great too with many memorable moments and surprises. I really love the twist ending boss fights and the moments where you are waiting for the elevator to come and you have to fight off hordes of zombies and special infected. At the time this came out, it was definitely one of the best DLCs you could find only to be outdone slightly by one of the later Borderlands DLCs. But you will have so much fun with The Zombie Island of Dr. Ned.
Mad Moxxi’s Underdome Riot
The one sore spot in the collection of DLC. Mad Moxxi’s Underdome Riot is essentially horde mode arena battles don’t really offer anything spectacular or new, other than the introduction of series staple Mad Moxxi. The DLC contains three new arenas that you will battle through twice, once containing 25 rounds and the second time containing 100 rounds. Every five rounds (divided into a wave) follows the same pattern (starter wave, gun wave, horde wave, badass, boss wave) and enemies will increase in difficulty after defeating a boss. On top of that, random game modifiers will be introduced into the fray like low gravity, increased shield power, draining health and other modifiers affecting your guns and equipment. All this sounds fun on paper, but its execution is flawed.
Jumping into the first three arenas with your buds can be fun and a chance to put the loot you have been collecting to the test, and 25 rounds can go by fast. However, the 100 round battles can turn into repetitive endeavors that sometimes take 2-3 hours to complete each one. As the modifiers mentioned above start to stack and enemy health and shields start to multiply, the whole experience with these arenas begins to grow stale. Doing this by yourself can take even longer and if you die along the way, there’s no depending on your teammates to finish the round and bring you back. Overall, this DLC is a hard pass unless you are going for 100% trophy/achievement completion.
The Secret Armory of General Knoxx
Hands down, the best and most loot-crative DLC pack of the bunch. The Secret Armory of General Knoxx has a great story with more depth into the lore of the Atlas Corporation and the Crimson Lance. The ominous and dark-humoured General Knoxx leads their resurrection and the invasion of [insert place here] and you will work with Scooter, Mad Moxxi to rescue Athena and gain access to General Knoxx’s Armory.
The new content includes a whole bunch of new missions, two new beefier vehicles to traverse the highways of the new areas, a good variety of new enemy types and the armory itself. The reward shutting down General Knoxx’s shenanigans includes a run at his building full of loot crates. There are literally floors full of crates and Athena is gonna blow the place sky high, but that doesn’t mean you can’t fill your inventory full of stuff on the way out. After doing the main story, there is a secret boss introduced into the game named Crawmerax the [insert here] to take on and get even more loot. It’s a tough fight that you will most likely need to take on with a crew of fully equipped players.
The only downside to this DLC is that there is quite a bit of backtracking to get to mission objectives and turn in quests. The trip back can be cheesed by quitting to the main menu and loading up again to spawn in the main area, but they could have just put more fast travel points instead. Other than this one minor thing, The Secret Armory of General Knoxx is a seminal piece of DLC. This was definitely a DLC that stood in the caliber of “Undead Nightmare” in Red Dead Redemption and “The Ballad of Gay Tony” in Grand Theft Auto 4.
Claptrap’s New Robot Revolution
The last DLC in the lot is another zinger and serves as the true ending to the whole game. You get to take on Claptrap who has become an Interplanetary Ninja Assassin and leader of a claptrap unit robot revolution. While the DLC might not be as good as the General Knoxx DLC, it is still a fun time and quality content. We get to revisit a bunch of boss fights from the story and even get to find Commandant Steele who met her end in the main story in a less satisfying way. We also get a brand new area to explore with more insight into the mission of the Hyperion corporation and introduced to Mr. Blake.
This DLC is great story-wise for giving insight into the affairs of Hyperion before they are further explored in Borderlands 2 and The Pre-Sequel. It wraps up pretty nicely whereas the base game kinda feels rushed and hollow at the end. The missions themselves are fun to play as you take down armies of combat-ready Claptraps and take down the revolution. It’s my third favourite DLC in the game and definitely worth playing.
The Full Package
Overall, the original Borderlands has aged well in the minds of people’s heads but not so well as an actual game. That’s not to say there is no fun to be had or a lack of awesome moments (just look at the majority of the DLC) but later games in the series and other contemporary looter shooters have made the game feel a bit antiquated.
However, Borderlands is still the game that popularized a genre where deep RPG mechanics like skill trees and number focused weaponry take the center stage. The game is still a blast coop with friends as well and that’s the way you should play this if you have never dipped into the game before. It definitely sits in the pantheon of influential games that should be enjoyed. It just hasn’t aged as well as some of those said pantheon games. That’s a different story with Borderlands 2 but without this game, a whole genre of other great looter shooters might not exist.
Twitch streamer DanksterTV join us on the Jacked In podcast to talk about everything Borderlands so be sure to check that out if you want more awesome Borderlands content.