I’ve spent hours traipsing through the cold bits of Pandora yet again since 10 years ago, gunning down heavy-shielded Vault protectors and Crimson Lance soldiers of varying bad-assness in glorious 4K and Ultra graphic settings. And then it just dawned onto me; I didn’t turn on my network settings in-game. Within 10 years, the loot-and-shoot genre that Borderlands started has evolved.
OK, maybe not “evolved”, but more like mass-marketed and “streamlined” to make people assume that such games need to work online only. Look at Destiny, The Division series, and Anthem: shooters made by big companies that took the Gearbox formula and changed it up so that it’s a mass-multiplayer instance-based experience.
Somehow these new experiences feel like a step back, especially when replaying the new Borderlands GOTY Enhanced Edition that came out a few days ago. I should actually be bored playing the new version of part 1, considering that part 2 is a larger and more improved experience.
Sure, the GOTY edition has a few improvements like a minimap, a reworked inventory system, and better visuals that stay true to the Borderlands look. In retrospect, the 2009 Borderlands looks pretty bad. Don’t believe me? Check it out:
The Cycle Begins Anew
Still, the gameplay and shooting beats remain the same. I liberate the town of Firestone from bandits. I sorted out New Haven from its scythid and midget bandit problems. I defeated endless waves of Crimson Lance engineers and infantry packing rocket launchers and turrets using a solo build of Lilith the Siren where I basically can stay in Phase Walk mode almost all the time as long as I kill enemies.
I’ve done this many times in 2009 when the game was first previewed to the media back then, and played through it with all classes on the Xbox 360 version. By right I should just be playing a few hours of this 2019 version and call it a day. 10 hours later and one dead hentai tentacle Vault monster later, I beg to differ: shooting for loot and gunning for that second run still feels good.
The reasons are plentiful. Shooting still feels good. The atmosphere is desolate yet immersive, given the Mad Max-esque settings. The human enemies let out many inaudible shrieks of pain when you shoot them with a little extra. The music is kinda soothing in a way; it blends synths, country twangs, and simple percussions in simple methods during the non-combat bits.
And the guns. There is still a heckaton of guns to collect and use and experiment with. Every subclass of a weapon feels distinct, from fire rates to their elemental properties. Every legendary weapon feels earned and like an actual reward. There’s just a lot you can get especially when you have random guys jumping into your game once you remember to turn the network switch on; something we take for granted these days.
Best of all, every run you perform will net you so many armaments you’ll spend a few minutes sifting through your spoils. That small tinge of feedback is enough to make you want to go through the grind once more, even if you’ve played it too many times back in its release.
Gearbox somehow figured out the loot-giving system, replicated it and made it better for its sequels, and rode on that. I pray to god it only goes upwards from here now with a Borderlands 3 on the way.
Remember Your Roots
Everyone’s going to mount heaps of praise onto Borderlands 2 to the point where even your grandmother and her cats know about that time you killed Handsome Jack and The Warrior for the 400th time in Ultra Vault Hunter mode while respeccing and re-equipping for the next OverPowered end-game level session. Everyone knows about the game’s off-kilter humour and eccentric missions such as that one time you shot a Psycho in the face because he wanted it.
No one’s going to remember how Borderlands 1’s mission structure requires a lot of back-tracking and driving even with the Fast Travel system turned on. But they should see the good from the bad: Borderlands 1 got better over time thanks to its plethora of DLC that worked out its story narrative structure and dishes out better loot and interesting enemy types like loot midgets and the undead. It didn’t take itself seriously and had fun doing so to the point where it wasn’t completely excessive and grating.
Borderlands 1’s art style set the precedence of its sequels and its defined “cel-shaded”-kinda look that is central to its identity. You won’t be mistaking the first game as a Call of Duty game anytime soon. There was a time in 2006 or 2007 where the game was close to looking like a serious modern post-apocalyptic shooter before Gearbox decided to scrap that tired old idea of looking like every other game gunning for that massive market look.
Most importantly, it made an action RPG gameplay incredibly viable in a first-person shooter gameplay with local & online co-op. Gearbox took the best from their Halo-porting and Brothers In Arms-developing to create a Frankenstein’s monster creation of fun while also launching a new kind of genre. The kind which Bungie, Ubisoft, Digital Extremes, and EA/Bioware ended up imitating and duplicating; you decide which is it.
Simply put, it’s OK to go back again if only to pay your respects to the one that started it all. Is it worth revisiting history even if its sequel trounces it in every way possible? Yes, because the first game was a lot more grounded. More reserved. And arguably more focused.
If you prefer the over-the-top additions of part 2, more power to you. I still enjoy fighting homicidal loader bots and all sorts of crazy aliens. But I still miss the sense of mystery and dread in the first game, now enhanced with a slightly-richer palette.