Riding on the wave of hype of the announcement of Borderlands 3, the first Borderlands has now been remade for Xbox One. Including all the DLC for the title, this is dubbed the Game of the Year Edition, and a more cynical reviewer than yours truly would suspect that this is a bit of a cash grab – pure and simple. With the original Borderlands already playable via Backwards Compatibility, do we need this game or is it a remaster too far? I took a trip into Fyrestone to find out.
First of all, and if you’ve played Borderlands before, you know what to expect. Colourful, cartoon style graphics mixed with lashings of gore and popping heads, exploding Skags, characterful NPCs – usually with a story to tell and things to say in addition to the missions they may have for you. The game is played out in a first person perspective, and there are more weapons, shields and mods than you can shake a stick at. Borderlands is, in many ways, the definitive looter shooter, and back in 2009 when it was launched I, and many others, hadn’t played anything like it. Of course, these days there are games like The Division 2 and Destiny, so whether it can still mix it with the new boys is open to debate.
The story of Borderlands is an epic sweep, involving monsters, crosses, double crosses, guns and fighting across the planet of Pandora. Every 200 years a Vault full of alien treasure can be opened using a special key. This key is currently in pieces, scattered across the various zones, and our primary mission, as a Vault Hunter, is to recover the key and open the Vault, as coincidentally the 200th anniversary of the last opening is right about now. What a stroke of luck. I mean, it would certainly suck to retrieve the key to be told to come back in 167 years…
So the scene is set for us to fight, blast, shoot and loot, with the promise of good gear to get, new and shiny guns to discover and utilise, and much levelling to be done. The level cap in the original game was raised with each DLC pack that was added, but in this Game of the Year Edition, the level cap is already as high as it will go – 61. And boy do you need those levels. Each character has their own individual Action Skill, ranging from Roland’s Scorpio Turret to Lillith’s Phase Walk, and investing skill points into the three trees of the upgrade screen will reap much in the way of rewards. Roland can gain the ability to heal his allies by shooting them, while Brick can extend his Berserk skill, for instance. Furthermore, Mordecai’s Bloodwing can be upgraded into a badass bird.
In many ways, writing this review is quite difficult. I played and completed Borderlands years ago, including much of the additional content, so it’s like stepping back in time to play a game that doesn’t really look any better than the original. There’s a coating of lovely new HD polish around the place, and the lighting is different, so the whole experience looks slightly newer, but the difference isn’t vast. In my eyes – and in the eyes of my rose tinted memory – the two games are pretty much identical, with the exception that it is now possible to earn all the achievements again. So, if you loved the first game, and its hugely imaginative achievement list, then this is as good a reason as any to replay the game. Jumping up and down on a Skags head to earn the “My Brother is an Italian Plumber” achievement never gets old.
So, it’s Borderlands Jim, exactly as we know it. The imaginative mission design, the characters, the baddies, and the massive bosses are all present and correct. And that’s a good thing too. These are the things that make Borderlands, well, Borderlands, if you get me, and any change to this would have spoiled the recipe. Even the slightly dodgy handling of the Runners is still the same, making it just that little bit more difficult than it needs to be to drive through narrow gaps or to try and shoot enemy vehicles. Things that aren’t the same include the difficulty though – I seem to remember the game being a lot harder than this remade version. I took down The Destroyer, the final boss, on my own at level 37 without even so much of a whimper, and last time around I had to get help from friends to finally make it through.
So, it’s easier, but how does the Borderlands GOTY Edition play with friends? Sadly, the answer is quite badly. There is a lot of judder, there are a lot of enemies moonwalking on the spot, and even more disappearing only to reappear around a corner. Further to this my Vault hunting friend’s gamertag was vibrating so fast above his head it looked like an epilepsy risk, and driving in a runner as a passenger is a deeply unpleasant experience as the landscape puts things in super-blurry vision. Just for fun, sometimes the mini map won’t load either – no enemy markers, no mission markers and no map makes Borderlands quite hard. It is however still a lot of fun with friends, and the loot improvements make it all worthwhile.
Playing solo has its own share of issues as well. Most concerning of these is the tendency of the game to cause the super powerful Xbox One X to go into thermal panic and turn itself off, but seemingly only when fighting Spiderants. Strangely, if I have ever been able to pick them off from a distance, then there is no problem, but let them get up close and personal, especially if zoomed in, and the Xbox shuts down every time. Fallout 76 had a similar problem when it first launched before being patched – and there have been reports of many a game doing the same – so I’m hoping Gearbox will do the same. The only patch so far has been to add a pre order for Borderlands 3, however…
It’s not all doom and gloom though. As if you needed telling otherwise, Borderlands is still as much fun as ever, and if you’ve never played it then I have no hesitation in recommending this game to you, despite the issues. I’m also quite jealous, as coming to it totally fresh would have been a delight, instead of allowing for a session of deja vu. Played alone the game is fun, and with three like minded players the multiplayer co-op is hilarious, even to the point of challenging each other to duels.
The DLC packs are still very good too, and The Zombie Island of Dr Ned still makes me smile to this day, with the evil doctor rocking a brilliant moustache as a disguise. The others are just as hard as before, with the Assassins in The Armoury of General Knoxx still messing me up as efficiently as they did back in the day. Don’t fight a level 51 baddy at level 38 is the lesson here, kids!
All in all then and Borderlands is still Borderlands. Despite the issues, I’ve had a blast with this game, but it must be said that the thermal panics have taken the edge off for me. You don’t want to play a game worrying that your console is going to switch off at any moment. Thankfully it does seem to be limited to the X though, as playing this on my OG launch day Xbox One has seen it perform faultlessly.
So, with that in mind, this is going to a qualified conclusion, strangely. If you are playing on an original Xbox One, and haven’t played it before, then Borderlands: Game of the Year Edition is without a doubt, a five star game. If you’re on an X, or have played it before, it’s not. There’s a great deal of fun here, even for returning players, but it’s hard to recommend this over the Backward Compatible version, particularly as that was free with Xbox Games with Gold.
Borderlands is still a great game, although these days it’s a bit of a troubled genius.