The original Borderlands
is one of my favourite video games, so much so that it inspired me to return to writing futuristic science fiction science fiction, something which I hadn’t done since the 90s. It was a real breath of fresh air after the endless waves of grim, brown, cover-based-shooters and Call of Duty
Having played through both Borderlands 2
and The Pre-Sequel
, I’m not entirely sure that either Gearbox or 2K really knew themselves why Borderlands
worked, because both additional entries into the canon failed to grab me in the same way.
Here are the reasons why I thought Borderlands
was great, and why it’s sequels weren’t.
1: The opening.
There are very few games that set the scene as perfectly as this. In just under 2 minutes, you know everything you need to: Going by that weird dog-thing, Pandora is an alien planet. The crusty looking billboard suggests it’s a frontier world which people were lured to a long while back. Marcus’s pep talk implies a “gold rush” atmosphere and his heavily armoured bus lets us know you can’t be sure when and where danger is going to come from. Not that any of that should make you think this is a serious, po-faced game. Backed as it is by a kick-ass tune and the squelching sound of road-kill, this whole sequence informs us that Borderlands
is a comic book illustrated by a crazy person using dark humour for ink, and you’re going to enjoy the ride.www.youtube.com/watch?v=Ai7pMP…
The intros to Borderlands 2
and The Pre Sequel
simply didn’t spark in the same way. They had a checklist of everything that featured in the original and it shows that they were simply ticking boxes. Tune? Check. Character introductions? Check. Gore (without understanding why it was funny in the original)? Check. There’s just no charm to it. I could watch the original over and over. These I just skip past.
2: It was set in a desert.
Pandora seems to be a very arid place. Nothing but jagged rocks and dust. The only places you’ll find any kind of flora is around the pipes discharging waste from the scattered, run-down looking population centres.
This was awesome. It gave a real Mad Max
vibe and made you feel like you were in the middle of nowhere. It gave more of a reason as to why everyone was so crazy, here; they were all desperate, fighting tooth and nail to stay alive.
The sequels f**ked this all up. You have no idea how annoyed I was when I found Borderlands 2
kicked off in the tundra and remained in a more-or-less temperate climate for the duration of the game. You get to see a little bit of the old desert, but there’s some dull, Mordor-like volcano-level between you and it. It didn’t actually make any sense that it was still there, either, as the planet had undergone some sort of climate shift since the original.
3: There were a sh*t-ton of guns.
I’m sure there were more guns in the original game than in the sequels. Probably not as many potential variations, but there were certainly more gun-cases lying around. I felt like I was tripping over them. Borderlands
basically invented the concept of “shoot-and-loot”, which is why the lack of “loot” in Borderlands 2
and The Pre-Sequel
really grates. In both sequels there seemed to be an age between the moments when I found myself torn over what gun to keep and which to ditch. That was one of the most memorable aspects of the original. It felt it had been diluted in favour of set, special weapons granted by NPCs upon completion of missions, which detracted further from the sense of achievement found through exploration of the environment.
4: You were alone.
There wasn’t much NPC interaction in Borderlands
. Your main form of communication with Pandora’s population was by shooting them in the face. Those not quite as crazy talk briefly over the Echo communication system, outlining some of the missions. On the whole, though, there’s not a lot of chatter. I liked that. It added to the sense that you were on your own out here, and no one really cared if you lived or died during your treasure hunt.
In the sequels…..people don’t shut up.
Scooter was memorable in the first game because he had a few good catch-phrases and some really funny lines, all of which added to the backwater nature of Pandora. That all changes in Borderlands 2
when he, like the rest of the returning cast, have their roles expanded. They talk and talk and talk and aren’t funny or memorable at all, partly because they’re not terrible well written but mostly because their voices are drowned out by the gun-battles they always choose to call you during.
5: It wasn’t epic.
Your role in Borderlands
was entirely selfish. Regardless of what the weird Angel kept saying over the radio; you were a prospector, going out into the wilderness to pan for gold. There was no other agenda, no grand, world-saving goal, which really made the game stand out from other shooters. As with the desert setting and the lack of NPC chatter, it added to the sense of isolation. This was a game about YOU. YOUR progress is the focus.
Again, this wasn’t something that carried over to the sequels. What happens in Borderlands 2
? Oh, there’s an evil, invading empire and you have to join the resistance to fight them off and save the world.
How very original.
Having completed the Pre-Sequel
, and heard mention of an approaching war, it seems that we’re not going to see a return to anything that made the original Borderlands
so special, which is a damn shame.