Although Gearbox have finally made a great PC port of their iconic loot-n-shooter, it's time to move the formula forward.
By James Pinnell on September 25, 2012 at 2:26 pm
The original Borderlands was an ambitious, well-intentioned experiment that, for many, ultimately didn’t quite work. Full of a zillion different ideas and directions, it did as much wrong as it did right, being wholly the result of development hell combined with a sharp u-turn of focus halfway through creation. While the console versions were playable, the PC version was atrocious, becoming almost the poster-child for ‘how not to do a UI’. But the risk ultimately paid off in the end, with the title selling millions of copies while at the same time carving out a niche within a niche — the shooting-and-looting cherry on top of Fallout 3‘s FRPG hybrid.
We all knew a sequel was coming eventually, and the one we got was basically what was overwhelmingly expected, because — well, Borderlands 2 is a bit of a do-over.
If we could go back a few years and tell Gearbox everything that was wrong with the original: too many creatures, not enough carnage, awful story and terrible PC port, they’d end up creating the revision that we now have in front of us. There’s little here that wasn’t drip-fed out over many months of trailers, screenshots, interviews and news, and playing through the game won’t shock you in any way or form. Frankly, the original meat of the Borderlands burger was tasty enough that it only needed a bit of extra salt and pepper to be truly palatable, and the gherkin relish that Gearbox added in the way of proper skill trees, refined classes and a proper target to aim at story-wise completes the package.
Finally, a great PC version
From the get go, it’s obvious that the various angry cries from the PC community were heard, loud and clear, and as a result we’ve been provided with easily the best version of the game by a large margin. We’ve got an extensive array of graphical options, to the point where it becomes almost ridiculous: want to change the amount of UI sway? No problem. What about HUD bounds and foliage distance? Sure, why not. You can cap the framerate in a variety of different ways, alongside mucking with vsync, FOV, view distance and PhysX effects amongst others. At maximum specifications, the game looks absolutely stunning, with an incredible amount of detail across the environment, vehicles, weapons, and the various enemies and allies you’ll run into along the way. Thanks to the comic style art design, even slower PCs will still be able to appreciate the level of detail that has been put into the world.
The UI has had a drastic overhaul as well — although it’s still full screen, it’s much less intrusive and doesn’t need to be accessed as often (especially during crucial and crazy battles). The inventory system, is still a little clunky, since you can’t simply drag things back and forth between your bag and your back, which feels like a holdover from the console version. But I’m not complaining — it’s much easier than navigating the original game’s atrocious inventory system with a keyboard and mouse, and that’s just fine by me.
Quests are dynamic: once assigned they’ll automatically change based on your location and level, meaning if you blitz your way through and become too powerful for a quest, the game will lock it out so your alt can have a crack at it. It’s an interesting system, and means that you will still likely have some variety if you decent to play co-op with a friend using a different character.
See the world, kill everything in it
Exploring the environment hasn’t changed much at all. The world is broken up into medium-sized zones that consist of a few quests, many of which, like the original, are multi-step branching missions that wind their way through long, well-designed shanty towns, cave systems and various other types of areas full of people and creatures geared up to kill you. If you’re a loot fiend (and if you’re not, why are you playing this game?) then Borderlands 2 still has you covered with the (literally) thousands of chests, buckets, safes, letterboxes full of ammo, weapons and other equipment. It’s actually a little silly how many things there are to open, with a ratio of about five chests per axe-wielding maniac. I think I actually spent more time opening things than fighting for the first 10 levels.
The weapons are just as quirky, varied and fun to use as the original, thanks to the addition of a few more variables for destruction. Elements now make up a huge part of any strategy, and it’s not just simple enough to blast away with the same rifle when certain mobs or bosses may have a resistance to a particular kind of effect. Other than that, you’re looking at the same randomized stack of names, stats and mods all scrambled together to create that mix of both completely useless and horribly overpowered gun-porn joy. Even with the similarities between the weapons systems I found myself enjoying Borderlands 2 much more, likely due to the sheer number of weapons you find, which ends up providing a larger choice over many of the samey firearms that started to duplicate around the end of the original game.
Thanks to Steamworks, joining and creating games on the fly is effortless, as all available games with your friends are listed on the main game screen. You can easily jump in and out at any time, and the game does a great job of highlighting if your level is too high or too low for the experience. I did, however, notice some framerate issues and latency spikes in situations where things got a bit hairy, but these situations were rare at best and will likely be patched out over the next week or so. Steamworks integration allows for some very deep data collection which should make it easier for Gearbox to solve a lot of the bugs that plagued their original post-launch period. I also hope they decide to implement some sort of proper looting system, before people start nailing each other to the wall after their buddy ninjas the blue item that boss just dropped.
It’s time to move the formula forward
But there’s something about Borderlands 2 that just doesn’t grab me in the way the original initially did. There is not enough evolution here, as if Gearbox just decided to focus on developing an expansion pack that redeemed themselves of their mistakes and omitted taking any risks. Which is strange, since the original was an enormous risk, a brand new IP in a sea of sequels and stagnant gameplay mechanics. Yes, the story is deeper, the weapons feel great, the humour is bang on (Butt Stallion), and it’s still incredibly fun to set rampaging crazies on fire as they scream expletives at you. But it just feels like I’ve done all of this before, and after killing my millionth Psycho or running over my thousandth scrag I’m finding myself just a little bit, well… bored.
Borderlands 2 is essentially what the first Borderlands should have been. It’s polished, PC friendly, lots of crazy fun and has a fantastic co-op system, but in the end it’s really just more of the same. But if we are judging it on its own merits, (and pretend the PC original never happened) there is really nothing else like it on the market. Killing things with crazy new weapons has this addictive quality about it that can only be compared to ripping mobs apart in Diablo or Torchlight, where every time you feel like you should stop there’s yet another wave of enemies waiting to be slaughtered in the name of loot and cash. Because, really, that’s what Borderlands is all about – killing lots of things with your friends.
PerfectFantastic PC version (finally)
- Improved co-op and matchmaking
- Great story, crazy weapons, and Claptrap
- Gorgeous graphics and an interesting world
- Less a sequel and more a big expansion
- Very few new mechanics or innovations
- Some of the classes have been nerfed a bit
- Difficulty curve in multiplayer is too high