Review: Borderlands Remastered

That an enhanced port of the original Borderlands exists is no surprise. That it was released ten years after the original version is. This game seemingly exists to make sure the entire series was playable on modern consoles to set up for Borderlands 3, but the changes made are entirely welcome.

As you would expect, Borderlands Remastered has improved graphics and presentation. However, the important changes were made to gameplay. First and foremost, while the in-game compass remains in place, the Remastered version finally offers a minimap. In addition, quest objectives are called out on screen in 3D space with a distance indicator, which helps immensely with certain confusing map locations. Sidequesting in particular goes much more smoothly than it did in the original version of the game. The other major UI update is an overhaul of the inventory screen to focus on item graphics more in-line with later Borderlands game. The layout actually causes you to see fewer items at once, but the addition of favorite and trash flags makes this a definite improvement on the whole. Those flags even work better than in Borderlands 2, as the game will not let you sell a Favorite item until you de-flag it.

Little has changed gameplay-wise, though some specifics have been retuned. Of particular note is that the final boss was made less trivial to defeat on normal difficulty. Some fancy new weapons were added for this version, as well as support for Golden Keys that can be attained through non-game means (such as codes distributed on Twitter) and give great loot whenever you need it. You are now able to re-assign buttons on the controller freely, which depending on your play style can be a big improvement to the basic shooting as well. The Remastered version also includes a fantastic improvement to basic looting, in that ammo and money are now automatically picked up from the ground when you walk nearby. These changes make it very difficult to go back to the original after playing this version (or any of the sequels, for that matter), not that you’d want to.

Every version of Borderlands Remastered includes all of the DLC, which consists of four packs that range from good to frustratingly repetitive. All four packs suffer from a strange decision not to add any fast travel locations beyond the initial one, leading to a whole lot of walking around. Moxxi’s Underdome avoids this problem by being a set of arena fights, but they go on interminably and offer very little in the way of rewards for your time. The other DLC is more imaginative, and embraces the weirdness of Borderlands more enthusiastically than the original game did. You’ll fight zombies created by Dr. Zed doppelganger Dr. Ned, and put down a rebellion consisting of Claptrap units. These scenarios are undeniably amusing, even if the leveling structure of the game makes them largely superfluous on your first playthrough.

The bottom line is, if you like Borderlands, you should play the Remastered version exclusively. All of the improvements are positive, and it doesn’t break the original game or try to shoehorn in new content that disturbs the original vision. This is just Borderlands 1 with a UI worthy of Borderlands 2 and beyond. Given how relevant the Borderlands cast is going forward, it’s worth it to play at least once.

 

Review Score: B+

Review: Borderlands

Borderlands helped define the looter shooter genre, taking the basic gameplay loop of games like Diablo and applying it to the first-person shooter genre. It hews closer to that inspiration than others of its genre in many ways, while keeping a style distinctly its own.

The tone of Borderlands is undeniably weird, as the game’s cover makes immediately clear. It features a masked Psycho, a common in-game enemy type, apparently shooting himself in the head with finger guns. The vibe doesn’t quite match that image in practice, though. Borderlands can be a wacky game at times, though the main plot is played mostly straight. The silliness is mostly injected via the various side characters like the Claptrap robots you find all over. The game’s distinct cel-shaded look also sets it apart from other shooters.

When you boil it down, the gameplay loop of Borderlands is pretty simple: you do quests, you kill bad guys, you get randomized loot. Most of this loot is in the form of guns, which are randomized not only in effect but in appearance. There are six main types of guns, as well as a variety of manufacturers that align with general attributes that are applied to each gun. You’ll also modifications for your basic grenades, more powerful defensive shields, and class mods that can have a huge variety of effects. The game uses a standard color scheme to indicate loot rarity, as well as keying the power of its loot to level, resulting in what is now a familiar scheme for searching for that next upgrade. Inventory size starts small, requiring you to sell off excess loot frequently, but can be upgraded to a pretty good size via sidequests. Ammo capacity can also be increased by spending increasing amounts of money (refreshingly presented as cash rather than some pseudo-futuristic credit scheme), which can otherwise be spent on the same kind of loot you’d otherwise find.

The gameplay in Borderlands feels pretty good by shooter standards, with the caveat that one of the stats is accuracy. Inaccurate guns can be a pain to use, and you’ll find yourself using them more early on before you find really good guns. Sniper rifles will always be more accurate than shotguns, so you’re not going to be completely helpless, but there has to be room to grow as well. There are four characters to play, each aligning with a specific class that has a unique ability. Each character has a three-part skill tree to improve, and it is laid out in such a way that you’ll be able to concentrate on one or dip into two during a typical playthrough. The level progression is based on points spent per tree, though, preventing a generalist approach to the game. Fortunately, you can re-distribute skill points for an affordable price at many points throughout the game, allowing you to experiment.

The characters are imaginatively setup, presenting classes that range from the pretty standard Soldier to the more supernatural Siren. Any class can use any gun type, though each has skills that suggest a focus on certain guns. The special abilities of each class are on a cooldown but can have battle-determining effects and are usually subject to significant upgrades by at least one of the skill trees. The characters have a lot of personality, though not as much as the various denizens of the world.

The plot of Borderlands doesn’t really live up to the creative spirit of the rest of the game. You (and your companions, in multiplayer) are Vault Hunters, on the planet Pandora in search of an ancient alien vault presumably filled with treasure. The plot centers around the machinations of various factions trying to find the Vault first. You’ll make friends and allies along the way, but the details are pretty forgettable: finding the Vault is always the priority. The game offers tons of sidequests, usually with several appearing at once after major plot points. Some of these are quite amusing and rewarding, while many others are just a slog. There’s no good way to know which is which on first glance, which is too bad because you definitely don’t need to do them all to be powerful enough to complete the game. There is a cash penalty for dying, but cash is plentiful and there’s not a lot to buy besides ammo upgrades, so that’s not really a concern either.

On the whole, Borderlands is a fun shooter with fun loot mechanics and a fun world. The series doesn’t fully embrace its wackiness in its first entry, and lacks a certain level of personality in all aspects aside from its graphics. The enemy types are interesting but there are a limited number of them, battles are challenging but often go on too long and in a repetitive fashion, and predictably most of the loot is vendor trash. The game also lacks a minimap, a serious oversight that is corrected in both its sequels and the Enhanced version of the original. Indeed, if you’re going to play Borderlands today, I highly recommend playing that version instead of the original. It’s worth it just for the minimap, and they added a number of other fantastic tweaks as well. Borderlands may not have received the love of Borderlands 2, either from its creators or the public, but it’s still a fun game in its own right and worth playing if for no other reason than to get all the later references. Your four Borderlands character choices all appear as plot characters in Borderlands 2 and beyond, so give Borderlands a shot.

 

Review Score: B