Every few years, there is a game that really captures my attention and I gain somewhat of an obsession with it. However, 2009 was a year filled with games like this, with great titles being released such as Assassin’s Creed 2, Dragon Age: Origins, Batman: Arkham Asylum, Prototype, Brutal Legend, Left 4 Dead 2, just to name a few!
One game that really stood out to me, was Gearbox’s latest game, Borderlands. I remember me and my brother playing this game constantly, because there were four characters to choose from and a completely randomized loot system, which meant you will never get the same set of guns in back to back playthroughs (except for guns dropped by bosses such as Sledge’s Shotgun).
Since the game’s initial release, there have been multiple sequels, plenty of DLC for both this first installment and it’s sequels, a Tell Tale adventure game called Tales From The Borderlands, and the first game has been re-mastered and re-released under the title of Borderlands: Game Of The Year.
Welcome to Pandora, and no it’s not the Pandora from the James Cameron’s Avatar film that’s full of green forests and beauty. Instead, this Pandora is full of dry, rocky land and baron wastelands, populated by all manner of creatures, all of which, want to kill you.
So, why would you visit Pandora if not for sight-seeing?
You are a mercenary, in search of a legendary Vault that is rumoured to hold treasure beyond your wildest dreams. You have come to Pandora with three other Vault Hunters, all of whom are determined to unlock Pandora’s secrets, and you will shoot, punch, slice, phase-walk, explode and run over anyone that gets in between you and your goal.
Along the way you will make friends with some very interesting characters, the first of which is a funny little robot, CL4P-TP, though more commonly known to locals as Clap-Trap. This robot will alert you to knew quests when they become available. As you explore, you will find other CL4P-TP units across the land that can help you if you help them.
Choose from one of the four Vault Hunters and get ready to Lock, Load and Loot!
Borderlands is a mixture of gaming genres. At it’s heart, it’s a First Person Shooter (FPS) with elements of Role-Playing Games (RPG), since you can assign your skill points and choose which weapons you want to use, with no restrictions on which characters can use which weapons. However, certain characters have skills that enhance specific weapon types, such as Brick’s skill tree which allows the increase of explosive damage specifically, as well as a skill called ‘Wide Load’, which increases ammo capacity for Rocket Launchers, a skill which the other heroes don’t have.
Whether you play solo, local co-op or Online co-op, Borderlands is a ton of fun to play, with plenty of different ways to play, you can build a team and head out on the adventure together as you massacre the population of Pandora, or you can head out on your own, and become a one-person army with your arsenal of weapons that, if it could talk, would say don’t mess with me.
After all, there are well over a million weapons in the game, and each playthrough is randomized, meaning that you might find a similar weapon to one you have owned previously, but the stats for the guns such as damage output, reload speed, fire rate, accuracy and whether or not it has any elemental effects/bonuses, are completely different to one another.
Speaking of elemental effects, this game has four different elemental effects that can help you with your daily dose of murdering. These include Electric, Acid, Fire and Explosive. These can even be added to your special skills with the help of Eridian Artifacts. There are weapons that can have these elemental effects attached to them when you find or buy them, and there are even certain barrels lying around Pandora that you can shoot to release the devastating effects to any bandit, Skag, or whatever it is that’s trying to kill you, as long as they’re standing close enough to the barrel when you destroy it.
The game is full of pop culture references and great humour, which adds to the fun of playing through the game. Whether they come in the form of text on a title screen, a piece of dialogue from one of the bandits, a mission title, or even the name of a skill on a skill tree, there are references galore in Borderlands, and from the first game on-wards there are a ton more to discover throughout the series.
Examples of pop-culture references throughout the game, can be seen early on as the game’s staple NPC enemy types, the Psycho’s sound a lot like the lunatics from the Mad Max franchise, but instead of screaming things like “What a Glorious Day” & “Witness me!”, the Psycho’s in Borderlands scream out stranger comments such as “Strip the flesh, Salt the wound!” or “I’m gonna skin ya, put on your face, and say Hi to your momma!”.
Other examples come in the form of names for certain things within the game such as Brick’s Skills that can be unlocked within his Skill Tree. For instance, the skill called Unbreakable, is a reference to the 2000 film of the same name, starring Bruce Willis and Samuel L Jackson. The skill called Bloodsport is a reference to the 1988 film of the same name starring Jean-Claude Van Damme. Another Bruce Willis movie is referenced in the skill called Diehard, referencing the famous 1988 action movie of the same name.
It’s not just movies though, as Brick’s skill known as ‘Sting Like A Bee’ is of course a reference the famous Muhammad Ali quote “Float like a butterfly sting like a bee – his hands can’t hit what his eyes can’t see.”.
Borderlands has a very unique art-style from it’s initial release in 2009, with the cel-shading technique being something gamers hadn’t seen before in a sci-fi FPS, but this art style for the game was only brought in during the final 10 months of development. According to various sources, one being The LeaderBoard’s YouTube Video ‘107 Facts about Borderlands‘, the art style was very different originally, to what was released, and the new cel-shaded art style was inspired by a short film called ‘Codehunters’, that was written and directed by Ben Hibon, and animated by Axis Animation. Gearbox apparently contacted Hibon about collaborating on a project for the game, but nothing ever came of this and when the game was released, it apparently upset and frustrated Hibon that they would go ahead and re-produce his work, and make it their own without his help or consent.
Since that first game, the cel-shading technique has become a staple of the franchise and allowed Gearbox to create and design more zany characters who have brought the game to life and given the series it’s own unique cast that makes sure you know that you are playing a borderlands game.
Weapons in the game, as previously mentioned, come in all different shapes, sizes and designs. With over 3 million randomization options, it’s hard to imagine how many different designs there are for these guns. Some of them have simplistic designs and colour schemes to represent their type or their manufacturer, such as Hyperion, Atlas, Dahl, Jakobs and so on. Some guns are brightly coloured, others are rustic and metallic looking but all of them have a unique look when compared to any other game out there.
The many areas of Pandora that you will explore are vast wastelands with very little population. At first, it may seem like the areas have very few objects/enemies, and too much open and empty spaces but when you become familiar with the game and remember that there are cars available to traverse the open lands, you realise that Gearbox have managed to get the ratio of open world and activities within an open world, pretty much spot on. I don’t think there’s any one area I would call boring because there’s always something to kill, or a quest that will take you somewhere on the map that you may not have thought to go in free roam.
Being an RPG means that Borderlands comes packed with Quests for both the main plot and of course side-quests to help out the NPC’s of the world. Questing is the fastest way to earn experience points and level up, because not only does finishing the quest grant more XP than a massacre of beasts and bandits would, but I don’t think there’s a single quest in the game that doesn’t require you to enter, pass or get close to some sort of enemy, whether that’s Bandit camps to find parts for a weapon which you will receive as the prize upon completion of that quest, or fighting mini-bosses such as Skagzilla and Mothrakk, both of which have plenty of enemies along the way to kill before you reach their lairs.
As the success of Borderlands began to rise, there were four DLC (Downloadable Content) missions available to purchase including;
- The Zombie Island of Dr. Ned
- Mad Moxxi’s Murder Underdome Riot
- The Secret Armory of General Knoxx
- Claptrap’s New Robot Revolution
These four add some fun and exciting new elements to the game and can be accessed at any time, though some are specifically designed for end game playthroughs. All of the DLC’s are included in Borderlands Game of the Year when purchased either separately or from the Borderlands: The Legendary Collection, which includes the first 3 games (Borderlands, Borderlands 2 and Borderlands: The Pre-Sequel) all with full DLC included.
Borderlands also has New Game Plus (NG+) feature that allows players to restart the game after completion, with their same character, whilst maintaining their level and gear, and upping the difficulty of enemies to scale with the players level. There are also visible features to ‘Playthrough 2’ as it’s called, on Borderlands, as certain enemies are given new titles. For example, the staple NPC enemies of the franchise known as Psycho’s, have their name changed in NG+ to Maniac instead, as well as the stronger enemy types known as Badasses (i.e. Badass Psycho in Playthrough 1) having been renamed to BadMutha’s (i.e. BadMutha Maniac in Playthrough 2).
Playing Borderlands on Nintendo Switch:
My most recent playthrough of Borderlands was on the Nintendo Switch, and most games that worked so well on consoles, seem to have done well on switch but not without downgrading the graphics substantially. However, it has to be said that thanks to Borderlands’ unique graphical design, it has transferred brilliantly to the switch without looking any worse for wear. As soon as the first Press Start screen loaded up, I could tell this was already a winner for the switch. Not only can I now play Borderlands on the go, but I can do so without it looking a little shoddy compared to my console versions!
Whilst it is of course possible to play the game with the Joy Cons provided with the switch, I found it much easier to play Borderlands with a pro controller. This isn’t to say that the joy cons are bad for this game, it’s just that for me personally, I prefer my thumb sticks off to the side of the buttons, not directly above or below, but again, that’s personal preference. I did play the first half hour of the game with Joy Cons and it takes a fair bit of getting used to if you haven’t played any other FPS games on Switch, but once you get the hang of it you’ll be shootin’ and lootin’ your way through a good time.
One thing I came across though, and since I only own this version of the newest Borderlands remaster on my switch, I am unsure whether this is a game issue on all consoles or just Switch, but there were quite a few glitches through my playthrough. Some of the NPC would sink into the floor, or an enemies dead corpse would going flying up into the air. They were funny at the time, but having glitches throughout a playthrough can get annoying when they effect you, such as a shotgun I wanted to loot going flying across the map before disappearing forever. Now it could be that these things have just happened to me, but it could be to do with the GOTY Enhanced Edition. However, because it wasn’t just one or two glitches, and some of them genuinely effected my game play experience, I would have to knock some points off the overall rating.
In March of 2019, in conjunction with the announcement of Borderlands 3, Gearbox announced that they would be releasing a remastered version of the original Borderlands game. Not only did this remaster come with all the DLC, but it actually brought some of the improvements from Borderlands 2 into the first game, such as Character Customization (though not nearly as much as Borderlands 2), Four Player Split-Screen Mode on Consoles, and of course they also enhanced the graphics to 4K Resolution with HDR support.
This new Enhanced Edition also brought Shift Keys to the first Borderlands, which, if you didn’t know, are unlocked using special Shift Codes, released online by Gearbox on the Borderlands Twitter Page. Each Code entered gives the player 3 Shift Keys, which unlock a special Golden Chest found in certain safe areas around Pandora, often the cities and towns. For example, the first Shift Chest found in Borderlands: GOTY Enhanced Edition, is found in the Fyrestone, the very first safe area you find when starting the game, outside of Dr. Zed’s building.
These Shift Keys and Shift Chests, give the player randomized loot of great quality weapons, mods, shields, and relics to help give you that extra kick to your arsenal. However, as I have found, the weapons given aren’t always better than what you’re wielding so don’t expect this chest to always give you worthy loot. What it can be good for is money making, if like me, you have plenty of keys, you can always loot the chest for multiple items to sell and reach that goal of earning $999,999,999.999 which you would think is the cap, but really you can earn more than that, that’s just the number the visual for your wallet stays at.
In May of 2020, Gearbox released the first 3 Borderlands games onto Nintendo Switch. Borderlands: GOTY Enhanced Edition could be bought separately, whilst Borderlands 2 and The Pre-Sequel could be bought together in Borderlands: The Handsome Collection, or you can buy all 3 games in one bundle called Borderlands: The Legendary Collection.
It was great going back to the first Borderlands game after so long, and I had such a great time playing it on the Nintendo Switch, even with the annoying glitches. If you have played the later games before this one, you may be disappointed as the story isn’t as long as it’s sequels, and there’s certainly not as much loot as the sequels. However, Borderlands remains one of my favourite games of all time, and one I go back to at least once a year to playthrough again and again. It is a game I would recommend to any friend looking for a fun shooter game, and especially now if they’re looking for something on Switch to play, because I think the port is great.