Borderlands: Game of the Year Edition Review

Often referred to as the shooter-looter that started it all, Borderlands is back via the newly released (yet, unsurprisingly announced) Borderlands: Game of the Year Edition. Now, it’s been quite a week for fans of the series. Not only has 2K and Gearbox announced and released this game, as well as offering a 4K update for The Handsome Collection, they’ve also announced Borderlands 3 for later this year. Safe to say, it’s the year of Borderlands. Moving back a bit, what exactly makes Borderlands: Game of the Year Edition a worthy investment?

Well, for starters, this new and updated version brings quite a few improvements to the table. First and foremost, the game is visually enhanced across the entire board; improved lighting, textures, and character models are present, as well as 4K Ultra HD and HDR support on both Xbox One X and PS4 Pro. This applies not only to the core game, but to all of its add-on content too. Comparing the visual presentation of this version to the original version is night and day. Sure, it still comes across quite desperate and empty, but it’s a desperation and an emptiness that’s never looked so good.

It doesn’t end there. Not by a long-shot. In fact, this goes quite a stretch beyond what you would expect to see from a traditional remaster. The game is chock-full of quality of life improvements too. The implementation of a Borderlands 2-style mini-map is present, with additional improvements made to the inventory system, as well as now being able to auto-pick ammo, money, and health items from off the ground. These may seem like small features, and indeed they are, but fluidly they make quite an impressive difference.

The ability to manage your inventory more adequately is a nice touch. Having the option to select favorites or multi-junk everything in bulk improves feedback more than you would think. It’s just a shame that the waypoint system didn’t see any updates. I lost count at how many times I thought I was chasing the waypoint correctly, only to meet a brick wall and then need to turn back and run all the way around. This is a problem that happens often. Some improvements and added consistency would have gone a very long way in the grand scheme of things.

On top of those aforementioned improvements, a new set of named legendary weapons have been thrown in for good measure; in which you need to obtain golden keys or beat bosses to acquire them. Further to that, and in response to fan feedback, the game’s final boss battle has been tweaked to be a more challenging, engaging, and rewarding encounter. Simply put, amidst all of that, this is by far the best way to play Borderlands. That being said, there’s a good chance that this is your first trek into the series, and with that in mind, let’s take a step back and go from the top.

Borderlands is a merge of both FPS basics and RPG mechanics, ultimately resulting in a shoot-and-loot affair that rarely grows tired. Players take on the role of Vault Hunters, and are immediately thrown into the wastelands of the planet Pandora. You’re free to select from a few Vault Hunters to begin with, each arriving with a handful of additional cosmetic extras in comparison to the original version. I should point out that the few Vault Hunters on offer arrive with some distinct characteristics, so it certainly pays off to select your character wisely.

Once you’ve made your selection, that’s that, you’re cut loose and must work towards fulfilling the game’s main and overall objective; find the fabled vault. The vault is said to be jam packed with alien technology, technology that’s clearly got some worth and value behind it. Sadly, despite the game’s wide variation of missions and assignments, the story never evolves in a meaningful way outside of that. It’s a simple case of being dropped in a baron world, being drip-fed some info at irregular intervals, and gradually making your way to the endgame.

Nevertheless, Borderlands gets by on the merit of its fun-filled gameplay above all else, so much so, I was almost able to overlook its weak narrative altogether. The crux of play sees you tackling all manors of beasties; from grunts and disfigured humans, right the way up to monsters and nefarious animal-like mutations. You’ll kill, earn EXP, level-up, and then rinse and repeat. There’s no shortage of missions to take on throughout, but the majority of them tend to follow a similar loop – go here, kill that, collect or deliver this, and return for another biscuit.

Each level-up that you earn will grant you an upgrade point to spend on your skill tree. Whilst hardly deep by today’s standards, the skill tree sits well with the times in which the game was first released. You’re free to focus your upgrades however you see fit, with the majority of them enhancing your character’s capability and resilience in one form or another. The whole scale is quite well set, with a firm and established difficulty curve in place to ensure that you’re never truly overpowering the game’s many variations of tough foes.

In regards to the difficulty, the game constantly reminds you that more players equates to tougher enemies, and tougher enemies equates to better loot. Sure, whilst you’re free to play the game via online co-op or split screen co-op with up to four players in total, playing solo is still a challenging and rewarding affair. Regardless as to how you play, there’s plenty of firepower to go round. Borderlands sports a unique system on this front, being that the firepower you can pick up is procedurally generated, ultimately making for near endless possibilities.

Everything from pistols, rifles, snipers, shotguns, and many more besides are yours for the taking. They all come with their own distinct stats too, ranging the likes of magazine size, damage output, fire rate, and so forth. You’ll even find some that come with elemental buffs for that extra kick. Needless to say, it’s wise to study whatever weapon you stumble across and weigh it up to the weaponry in your kit. It’s also wise to ensure that you’re using the right tool for the right situation, given that some enemies are highly protected against specific builds, and some the contrary.

Moving back to the game’s variation of enemies, there’s heaps of baddies to blast within, and they all rate high on the “I don’t give a shit” scale. Seriously, they’ll run at you and exploit a weakness at any passing opportunity, and they always tend to travel in packs. Enemies in Borderlands all house their own attack and movement patterns, and often climb with your own level to ensure that you’re never afforded the easy route. Furthermore, there’s several variations per-enemy, once again providing the whole ordeal with some extra depth.

Should you fall in battle, you’ll be given a quick chance to revive yourself by killing a nearby opponent in a last stand-like way. Failing that, you’ll be spawned back at your nearest point of interest. This carnage all takes place within the confines of several wide open locations, all of which are interconnected via travel points. The game’s areas are stunning, and have held up rather well ten years from release. They’re also fairly interesting and distinct, keeping visual repetition at bay as a result. With that in mind, it’s important to take your surroundings in.

Borderlands is full of secret areas and optional opponents that offer up neat rewards for those that take the time to soak everything up. There’s some lore to glean by doing this too, but it’s not quite as interesting as it could have been. Regardless, you’ll spend chunks of time taking in the sights (even if you’re using a vehicle), and this vastness certainly paves the way for you to take to the game’s enemies through methods that suit your play-style. Sadly, this is where my first issue comes into view, and it’s an issue that appears to be exclusive to the base Xbox One.

What issue might that be? Delayed rendering. Several times I’ve loaded up the game, died and respawned, or visited a new area, only to be met with heaps of delayed rendering. It can be quite jarring to reach an area and see its plastic-like presentation before extra details pop-in, and whilst far from game breaking, it does indeed break immersion. I’ll also point out that there seems to be a bit of inconsistency as far as the framerate is concerned, but again, this seems to only happen on the base Xbox One; in particular areas and when the action picks up.

I’ll say it again, it’s hardly a deal breaker, but for a game that boasts fidelity and fluidity, it’s a shame the developer couldn’t optimize this in time for release. Outside of that, there’s very little to groan about. Borderlands is what it always has been, a silly, daft adventure that’s packed with style, depth, and outlandish amounts of carnage. Borderlands doesn’t want to immerse you in its story, this is clear due to the sheer lack of focus on that aspect of the game. Instead, it sets you up with a stage unlike any other, and gives you the means to partake in its pantomime however you see fit.

The game has always been a multiplayer-first experience, and if that’s how you’re taking to this, you’re going to have a grand time. There’s plenty of tactical depth to lean on, and devising a plan to overcome a towering boss or overthrow a crowded post is going to be as gratifying as ever. There’s some PvP elements present too, as in the original, granting players the ability to throw down in short-burst competitive bouts. I’m hearing a few reports regarding issues with multiplayer connectivity, but for me, I’ve had no problems. Nevertheless, it’s something to be mindful of.

The gameplay itself is both diverse and satisfying. Traversal on foot and by vehicle is fluid and weightless, with rapid, sharp, and immediate gunplay backing everything up. I’ve always been particularly fond of the game’s animation, especially that of its gore – and gore there is plenty of. Painting the roads red with a close up shotgun slug never gets old. It’s quite simply a feast to behold, irrespective as to where you are or what you’re doing. I can say the same about the game’s character and enemy models, being that they’re well detailed and utterly unique.

The game’s audio design gets a thumbs up too. Everything sounds so crisp and is magnificently relayed, especially through the use of a headset. The voice work, what little there is, does its job well and never really recycles too much of its script. Claptrap takes center stage here; an overenthusiastic bot that brings much personality to an already charismatic shooter. You’ll speak to Claptrap often on quests and assignments, and due to its sheer likability, you’ll often make a firm habit of interacting with it just to see what it has to say.

When all is said and done, and without beating around the bush, Borderlands is Borderlands. If you enjoyed it the first time around, you’ve every reason to enjoy this enhanced version; warts and all. If you’ve never given it a chance, this is the perfect opportunity to rectify that. What it lacks in narrative and mission depth, it certainly makes up for in fast-paced play and variety. Plus, the addition of its robust DLC packs only put the icing on an already tasty cake. Bottom line? Pandora, now more than ever, is worthy of your time and attention.

Conclusion

The game’s enhancements and quality of life improvements are wonderful, not only making it look much better and more refined, but giving it a management fluidity that the original version lacked. You’ll need to forgive some delayed rendering and the odd drop in framerate, but for the most part, the entire package holds up remarkably. Putting it simply, Borderlands: Game of the Year Edition is the best way to play Borderlands on console.

This game was tested and reviewed on Xbox One. All of the opinions and insights here are subject to that version.
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Good
  • Is just as outlandish and as diverse as ever before.
  • Quality of life improvements make for a smoother trek.
  • Some new additions to soak up throughout.
  • Visual enhancements make it look so much better.
  • Replay value is through the roof.
Bad
  • Delayed rendering and some framerate drops.
  • Some reports of broken multiplayer.
8
Great
Gameplay - 7
Graphics - 8
Audio - 8
Longevity - 9
Written by
I've been playing games for as long as I can care to remember. Here at Xbox Tavern, I write news, reviews, previews and more. I'm a long time Final Fantasy fan, I can camp like you've never seen before in most FPS, and if I'm on a racing game, I tend to purposely trade paint. Feel free to add me - Gamertag: Kaloudz

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