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All Thumbsticks: Borderlands: A Retrospective

Updated: Jun 9, 2022

Looting and shooting, total anarchy, a fanbase that has much love for meat bicycles as it does heartfelt stories, and a development history just as complicated as the mood of its current magic slinging CEO, get on the next rocket to the planet of Pandora and maybe its moon if you really want to with Borderlands.

The Borderlands franchise has gone through some serious bumps and grinds on its way to its hard worked for pedestal as one of the prime loot and shoot first-person shooter adventure role playing game. Try saying all that fast three times. Its tongue in cheek brutal gallows humor now with some griping story, Borderlands has essentially carved a bloody hole into our hearts as a self-referential gore and explosion fest from a story to get a vault full of loot to an odyssey across the stars to stop ancient aliens and get mad loot. But where do we start?

At the beginning with Borderlands 1, released in 2009 for PC, Ps3, and Xbox 360. It was an experiment by Gearbox to combine “Halo with Diablo,” in which the player could feel justified to loot and shoot. It was a game that Gearbox’s CEO Randy Pitchford wanted to make drawn from games such as Nethack, Diablo, and Duke Nukem 3D. It didn’t have as much of a detailed narrative as it did now, worked on a modified Unreal Engine 3, and had two different artstyles- first was the realistic E3 trailer art, then opted for cell shading after secret tests. Reception to the game was nearly perfect, with some criticism being to shoddy AI and a paper-thin story, even with added downloadable content. Now, let’s get to the main event; Borderlands 2, the game that centered itself in the hearts of many. When people think Borderlands, they think of this game as a staple in the series. Where the AI was weak, it improved. Where Borderlands 1 failed in its main villain and story, it makes up for with a tale of resistance and Handsome Jack- the CEO of Hyperion Industries, a madman with a grudge against you just because you’re a filthy bandit and he’s the goddamn hero. A man who stays with you the whole ride through communications and shows up twice, once to prove a point, and the other at the game’s conclusion. But that is just scratching the surface of Handsome Jack. Heck, Youtube theorists, gamers, and even Gearbox itself has talked and revealed everything about the mask wearing dictator. The game itself is great! You’re a part of a larger group and talking to the old gang- Lilith, Roland, Brick, Mordecai, and new- now legendary- faces of Tiny Tina and Mr. Torque, just to name a few! Nothing could hurt this franchise with its awesome downloadable content and vault hunters- a mechanic with a death trap and a mechanically game-breaking psycho.

Then we get to the Pre-Sequel. Oof. That’s the game in a nutshell. Where it tries to fill in the blanks between 1 and 2 with a focus on Handsome Jack- John- before he becomes CEO, it offers an awkward experience through 2K Australia’s confusing level designs and not as many deviations other than getting oxygen and laser guns, with a new freezing element and one downloadable character to boot.

Now, Tales from the Borderlands. Telltale Games, for all it was worth, is good with narrative experiences. But how do you translate a shooter genre game into a narrative? How do you, essentially, tell a tale about Vault Hunters? Well, you do so by having two characters- Rhys, a Hyperion employee, and Fiona, a con artist- with a supporting cast of characters (Vault Hunter cameos included) and considered in line between Borderlands 2 and 3, with Borderlands 2 free DLC, “Commander Lilith and the Fight for Sanctuary,” to solidify this story, and adding Rhys in BL3 as a non-player character.

I will say, it’s been too long since I’ve stomped on Pandora- replaying BL2 as Krieg the Psycho and begrudgingly playing BL Pre-Sequel as Athena, the Gladiator (the only good character in my opinion) but I worry for Borderlands 3. In its development time, the game has lost the voice of Claptrap- its mascot- and Randy himself has been in hot water (look him up when you can). I can only hope that BL3 keeps on with its history; from its trailers, it is. Until then, strip the flesh, salt the wound!

Borderland 1, 2, and Pre-Sequel is available on all consoles and PC for $14.99- $49.99

Tales from the Borderlands is available on consoles/PC for $14.99- $19.99

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