Review – Borderlands: Game of the Year Edition (Switch)

Diablo with guns. That was the simple concept from which the Borderlands franchise was born. In a post Destiny world it can be hard to believe this was ever a risky idea, but there it was. The Diablo formula was so ingrained into ARPGs that changing from hack and slash to FPS was a drastic decision. While it ended up paying off in a huge way eventually, the original Borderlands was more a test for these mechanics rather than a fully fledged game. Which is why everything outside the core mechanics was barebones to nonexistent, and it wouldn’t be until Borderlands 2 that the concept showed its true potential. While Borderlands: Game of the Year Edition does provide some quality of life upgrades and shiny new graphics, it doesn’t really do enough to make it worth playing instead of its superior sequels.

Now that’s what I call a roasting session.

The game is set on the planet Pandora, located at the fringes of human civilization. Hidden beneath the endless desert of Pandora is rumored to be a Vault that contains unimaginable treasures and power. You play as a Vault Hunter, a mercenary dedicated to discovering the Vault and claiming its rewards. Opposing you is a PMC called the Crimson Lance, which is employed by Pandora’s corporate overlords, the Atlas Corporation. That’s that as far as plot and setting go. Story was really not a priority for the first Borderlands, versus making sure the gameplay loop was satisfying. That’s not really a problem in my opinion though. Even sparsely designed, Pandora was a nice change from the genre’s standard medieval setting. Especially as a huge Dark Tower fan, as the franchise is filled with references to Stephen King’s fantasy saga. Still, if story matters to you Borderlands does not deliver.

There’s also seamless vehicle combat, allowing you to go full Mad Max if you wish. Even if the controls take some getting used to, it’s still a lot of fun. They’re even two-seaters for co-op players.

This shallowness doesn’t just extend to story and characters, but to locations and enemies as well. Repetitiveness has always been the genre’s Achilles heel and the best solution is variety. Borderlands has none. Most of the maps look and feel exactly the same. You’ll tire quickly of killing the same handful of enemy types again and again, and bosses are just boring and unremarkable. Even the final boss, which was already famously anti-climatic, was only slightly tweaked and remains an unexciting end to your journey. While the kind of changes required to fix this are far outside the scope of a remaster, that doesn’t make it fun. It’s the kind of game best played in short bursts, which is perfect for the Switch. The Handsome Collection is on Switch too though, and doesn’t have any of these problems.

Borderlands: Game of the Year Edition manages to fill it’s skill trees with passives that are actually interesting. An absolute rarity in gaming.

Now about what the game does right, even in 2020. The gunplay for one is a lot of fun. It’s smooth, there’s a large variety of guns that all feel very different, and the element system is more than just a damage type change. A shock SMG plays differently than a fire SMG, which helps keeps combat fresh.

That’s in addition to the four classes/Vault Hunters, each of whom has three unique skill trees and an active ultimate ability. From Lilith’s phasewalking to Mordecai’s pet hawk, each character is very unique and doesn’t fall exactly on standard RPG class lines. And even though skill trees are composed solely of passive abilities, they’re more than 1% to X trait and drastically effect gameplay.

You can also cross spec between trees, meaning min-maxers have a lot to love here. All of this greatly assists build variety, and is the biggest strength of Borderlands: Game of the Year Edition. No other game in the series has characters as distinct and interesting as those in the first, not counting DLC additions. Later games may have improved and refined what the original did, but they lacked the same level of style.

Despite everything against it, I still mostly enjoyed Borderlands: Game of the Year Edition. While as a huge ARPG fan, parts of the dated design just killed me, but what it did right spoke to me just as much. The distinct fun to play classes, the unique Max Max/Dark Tower style setting, and the always alluring draw of random loot. It’s undeniable that later games were better in almost every way that matters. For anyone who’s already played the hell out of them though, Borderlands: Remastered is there. It might take a while to get its hook in you, but if you give it a chance there’s some fun to be had here.

Graphics: 7.0

Performance is solid and it looks fine, if unremarkable.

Gameplay: 7.0

The gunplay and RPG elements are adequate, but were dramatically refined and improved in sequels.

Sound: 8.5

I’m a sucker for great atmospheric music in an ARPG and for me, Borderlands is up there as far as game soundtracks that capture its environment go.

Fun Factor: 6.0

It’s fun at first, but repetitive enemies and the glacial pacing quickly wear out their welcome.

Final Verdict: 7.0

Borderlands: Remastered is available now on PC, Xbox One, PS4, and Nintendo Switch.