Taking the addictive give-me-all-the-loot mindset of Diablo and forcing it through a fast-paced first-person-shooter sieve, The Borderlands series offers a distinctive mosaic as rich and audacious as its bandit-infested badlands. For every gleeful trigger pull against the lunatic psychos in its cel-shaded world, there’s a moment of wry humor delivered by a claptrap unit. Delving into Borderlands is like rummaging through a vault filled not just with alien weaponry, but with wit, irreverence, and pop culture nods.
At its heart, it isn’t just a shoot-and-loot experience; it’s a chaotic ballet of explosions, vibrant skylines, and raucous laughter. If Salvador’s dual-wielding mayhem represents the series’ audacity, then Tiny Tina’s volatile whimsy encapsulates its unpredictability. Every vault hunter’s journey isn’t merely about firepower or collecting Eridium; it’s about unearthing stories, forming ragtag alliances, and confronting their pasts.
As the echoes of Pandora’s tales reverberate, newcomers and series veterans alike are beckoned. Now, as new tales unfold on the horizon, vault hunters gear up for yet another exhilarating escapade. Amidst the turmoil and treasures of Pandora and its neighboring realms, one thing remains constant: the quest for the ultimate loot never truly ends.
- Released for PS3, Xbox 360, Windows, and macOS X
Developed by Gearbox Software, Borderlands introduces the world to the unforgiving wasteland of Pandora, a planet rumored to have a hidden alien vault filled with untold treasures. Playable characters Mordecai, Lilith, Roland, and Brick each have their unique abilities allowing for different approaches to the quest to find the elusive vault.
The game’s aesthetic was notable: a cel-shaded art style that made it stand out from other shooters of its time. It combined first-person shooter mechanics with role-playing game elements, offering a vast range of weapons with different stats – “87 Bazillion” to be exact. Borderland‘s distinct sense of humor, characterized by witty one-liners and quirky NPCs (Claptrap being the Clarence Boddicker of video game mascots), became a staple of the series. Multiplayer co-op gameplay further enhanced the experience, allowing friends to join in on the chaotic fun.
Borderlands 2 (2012)
- Released for PS3, PS Vita, Xbox 360, Linux, Windows, and macOS X
Building on the success of the first game, Borderlands 2 takes players back to Pandora. With improved graphics, new characters, and a more extensive narrative, it further cements the series’ unique identity. While the core premise remains the same – hunting for another vault – the game introduces a formidable antagonist – and professional cartoon nightmare – Handsome Jack to the proceedings.
The game expands on the loot system, offering a virtually endless range of weapons and gear. Side quests are more nuanced, often introducing intriguing sub-plots or memorable non-player characters. The game’s humor continues to shine, making light of dark situations and breaking the fourth wall on several occasions. Borderlands 2 improves on the original across the board pushing the franchise from simply “great” to “one of the best RPGs ever”.
Borderlands Legends (2012)
- Released for iOS
The move to mobile came with a change in perspective. A third-person real-time-strategy approach replaces the well-loved first-person-shooter-gone-rpg elements. Players utilize all four OG Vault Hunters from the first Borderlands game – Mordecai, Lilith, Roland, and Brick – simultaneously to fend off waves of incoming enemies. Through various missions, players loot, level up, and strategically managed character abilities and resorces. While graphically impressive for a mobile experience, the gameplay is unpolished and unsatisfying. Like most bigger titles trips to the world of the cellular phone, Borderlands: Legends comes across as hollow filler.
Borderlands: The Pre-Sequel (2014)
- Released for PS3, PS Vita, Xbox 360, Linux, Windows, and macOS X
Taking place between the previous two entries in the franchise, Borderlands: The Pre-Sequel delves into the backstory of the series’ most notorious villain, Handsome Jack. The game provides insight into his rise to power and the events that shaped his tyrannical rule. The player explores Pandora’s moon, Elpis. The addition of low-gravity environments adds a new dimension to combat, allowing players to leap great distances and slam down on enemies. Additionally, oxygen becomes a resource players needed to manage, further altering gameplay dynamics.
Four new playable characters, familiar faces from previous games but now in different roles, are introduced. The story, while still humor-laden, explores themes of moral ambiguity, making players question their choices and alliances.
Borderlands: Tales from the Borderlands (2014)
- Released for PS3, Xbox 360, Linux, Windows, and macOS X
Another entry into TellTale’s beloved visual-novel-goes-point-and-click adventure series. Set on Pandora after the events of Borderlands 2, Tales from the Borderlands maintains the series’ sense of humor and adventure. Just with the shooting replaced with quick-time events. Players follow Rhys, an ambitious Hyperion employee, and Fiona, a con artist, as they pursue wealth, adventure, and power. The game does a wonderful job of expanding the already vast lore of the series, deepening replays and future entries alike.
Borderlands: The Handsome / Legendary Collection (2015/2020)
- Released for PS4, Xbox One, Nintendo Switch, Windows, and macOS X
Borderlands: The Handsome Collection consolidates two pivotal titles from the Borderlands series: Borderlands 2 and Borderlands: The Pre-Sequel. It’s not just about enhanced visuals; it’s about depth and continuity. The collection stitches together the story of Handsome Jack, from his ambitious rise in The Pre-Sequel to his reign and eventual downfall in Borderlands 2. Throughout both games, players encounter diverse environments, from the moon’s low-gravity expanses in Elpis to the unpredictable terrains of Pandora. This collection is more than just two games; it’s a deeper dive into the lore, offering insights into the eclectic cast of vault hunters, their motivations, and their intertwined destinies. It paints a comprehensive picture of a universe where humor meets chaos, and where every corner potentially hides rare loot or an unpredictable enemy.
Its later port to the Switch and Xbox One under the Borderlands Legendary Collection moniker further spit-shined the graphics and controls. The Nintendo port specifically is responsible for more missed train stops than a Hanna Barbera villain.
Borderlands 3 (2019)
- Released for PS4, Xbox One, Linux, Windows, and macOS X
Exploring worlds beyond Pandora, Borderlands 3 finds the player going up against the Calypso Twins, leaders of a cult with sinister plans for the galaxy. The game retained its trademark humor, but with an updated graphics engine, the environments were richer, and the gameplay felt smoother. The standard four new Vault Hunters each have their own unique abilities and extensive skill trees. One notable improvement is the gunplay, with weapons feeling more distinctive and varied than before. The game also expands its narrative, delving deeper into the lore of the Borderlands universe.
Vehicle customization is enhanced, and side quests are even more varied, ranging from humorous diversions to deep explorations of character backstories. The introduction of different planets brings with it diverse environments and extensive chances for exploration, ensuring the game feels fresh throughout.
Tiny Tina’s Wonderland (2022)
- Released for PS4, PS5, Xbox One, Xbox Series X/S, and Windows
Tiny Tina’s Wonderland thrusts players into a vibrant, fantastical realm shaped by Tiny Tina’s whimsical imagination. Unlike the post-apocalyptic landscapes of its Borderlands predecessors, thrusts players into a world of castles, dragons, medieval stylings, and, er, guns. It wouldn’t be Borderlands without guns. The game enhances its looter-shooter base with magic spells, allowing players to combine firepower with fantasy. Instead of selecting preset Vault Hunters, players create and customize their PCs, navigating a rich RPG progression system. As the narrative unfolds, Tiny Tina, acting as the unpredictable DM of her own sadistic tabletop game, guides players through quests and challenges.
New Tales from the Borderlands (2022)
- Released for PS4, PS5, Nintendo Switch, Xbox One, Xbox Series X/S, and Windows
New Tales from the Borderlands is a pale impersonation of TellTale’s original faux-visual novel experience. Following new characters Anuradha Dhar (a brilliant and selfless scientist), Octavio Wallace-Dhar (her fame-seeking brother), and Francine Miscowicz (a frozen yogurt entrepreneur in a hover-chair), the game – once again – pits the player against a series of decision trees and quick-time events. The content is amusing enough but doesn’t warrant the same adulation as its predecessor.