If you've ever talked to me about videogames, odds are high that I've mentioned Borderlands AKA probably my favorite franchise of all time. To say that I'm a little excited about the recent gameplay reveal they did for Borderlands 3, which doesn't come out for another FOUR MONTHS, is probably an understatement.
I'm probably not going to talk about any of the new features in Borderlands 3 in this post, because there are probably better places you can go to read that, and it's not my silly blog for ranting is a news site. Instead, I wanted to summarize the various games so far, and explain the weird niche that the series fills in the gaming world.
Way back in the primitive and uncultured year of 2009 the first Borderlands game came out, and it was good. If you're unfamiliar with the series, the easiest way to sum it up is that it's Diablo, with guns instead of swords. You pick one of four characters (at least to start, the later games started adding two additional characters via DLC) that start off with identical capabilities. You find guns that are procedurally generated from a big pool of parts, giving you a staggering variety of different guns. Just because that new gun you found is a shotgun doesn't mean it's going to fire the same 9 pellet spread with semi-automatic fire. It might be fully automatic, should 12 pellets, that are all acidic, or it could use its entire magazine with a single pull of the trigger.
As you kill enemies, you gain XP, gain enough, and you raise a level, increasing your health, and after the first few levels, you unlock your action skill. This is where the different characters start to differentiate themselves. In the first game, you have:
Lilith, who can step into a sort of shadow dimension. What this means, functionally, is that she turns invisible, can cover ground more rapidly, and then as soon as she attacks an enemy, she shows back up on the battlefield.
Mordecai, who will send his pet bird out to attack enemies
Roland, who can deploy a turret that will assault enemies with machine gun fire, and provide a waist high force field for cover.
Brick, who goes berserk, ditching his guns in favor of pummeling enemies with his bare hands, while he takes reduced damage and regenerates health.
This is where things get really interesting, every level after gaining your action skill, you gain a skill point which can be spent on various skills in three distinct trees for each character. These can be minor changes to the way the game works, and sometimes they can be extreme changes. Roland can gain the ability to shoot his allies, or throw grenades at them, and the damage he would normally deal, instead heals them. Lilith can increase the effectiveness of her elemental effects with one skill, and cause elemental explosions when leaving the shadow dimension with another.
So that's the basic gameplay of Borderlands. You can play on your own, or with up to group of four people. You never sign onto a server, there's no hub town where you have to deal with random people running around doing stuff, it's old school. There is technically a PVP mode in the first game, but you can blink and miss it, because it's just an arena that you can go to and shoot your cohorts, the game never tells you about it, and there doesn't really seem to be a reason to do it other than for bragging rights. "My Lilith could totally wreck your Brick" "Oh yeah? You're on!"
Let's talk about story, because with the first game, there's barely one there to speak of. You ride into the starting town on a bus, and the bus driver/arms merchant, Marcus, gives you some backstory. Basically, you're treasure hunters, after a mysterious treasure just known as the Vault, which opens only once every hundred years. Once you get off the bus, someone starts projecting their voice and likeness directly into your head, like a psychic Skype call. This is Angel, and she's going to help you find the vault.
That's about it for the story, you occasionally meet some NPCs, and they will offer to help you get closer to the vault in exchange for favors, but seldom is anyone really part of the greater story. There is a enemy general that starts talking to you about two thirds of the way through the game, but she's so infrequently used that I keep forgetting that she was a Siren, which is a major thing I'll touch on in a second. That's not to say that the game lacks personality, it has that in spades, the four vault hunters constantly quip and make comments during combat, as do all of the human enemies you encounter. It's just that there doesn't really feel like much of a point to your character's journey.
In the DLC missions they really turn the storytelling around, they all feature recurring villains and allies that constantly call you up and talk on the phone while you're making your way to them.
So, how is Borderlands different than other games out there? It's not even the first game to try the idea of Diablo with guns. The first of those I remember hearing about was Hellgate: London. Sadly that was apparently a crappy game that I was never able to play while they still had servers up and running. There is already one of the big differences between most other games that can be fit into the "shoot and loot" category. Borderlands doesn't require servers, even for multiplayer it's just peer to peer hosting.
After not too long we starting seeing games like Destiny, The Division, Warframe, and now Anthem. All of these require you to be logged onto a server, they're also aggressively microtransationed, meaning that they want you to pay them money, for more chances to get new guns. At least Warframe doesn't cost anything to play to start, the other ones all want(ed) $60 to play, and then have the gall to tell you that they've made the game less fun, so that you'll want to give them another $5 here and there. These games also tend to feel like they're just railroading you through what I think of as the game, because the "real" game is the "endgame" where you do PVP, or participate in ultrahard battles with a fixed number of allies, over and over again, to get some unique piece of loot that only drops in this one place.
Now, this isn't to say that absolutely no one else has taken their games in a direction closer to Borderlands. My favorite example is Dead Island, it's got the same idea of choosing different characters with unique abilities and fighting enemies for loot, it's just all zombie themed, it also has a focus on building your own weapons. Guns are there, but melee weapons are more of the norm. Dying Light was the next game from that team, but it got rid of the unique classes for some reason, still more than a little fun.
Back to Borderlands: Three years later in 2012 we were treated to Borderlands 2, they didn't reinvent the wheel, instead just polishing. The gameplay is largely unchanged, just adding some mechanics here and there, getting of some things that were a little annoying, and polishing everything else. The biggest improvement over the first game is that it had a story. All of the original vault hunters are still on the same planet, only now they've come up against a dominating villain, Handsome Jack. Jack basically wants to kill everyone that lives on the surface of the planet, because he thinks they're less than human. He is an ever present voice, taunting and insulting you every step of the way, while you get recruited by the previous vault hunters to help take him down. Not only do the original four get crucial roles in the fight, every member of the cast from the previous game, and new ones to boot are part of the fight. Also, there's just an actual reason for why you're here, what you're trying to do, and why people are willing to help.
Oh, right! Sirens. So, both games so far, one of the playable characters has been something called a "Siren". Lilith in the first game, Maya in the second. We find out more about that in the second game. Sirens are always women, they have pale grey skin, and they have markings, like tribal tattoos, that glow when they use the special magical powers they possess. Lilith can teleport by stepping through a near dimension, Maya can pick things up in an orb of energy. There's another siren who can manipulate computers. The last important detail of their mythos is that there can only be six of them at any given time. Most of this was revealed, and probably made up just beginning with the second game, so it's no wonder that Commander Steele from the first game is so undeveloped. She looked like a siren, but never displayed any powers, and then she was killed before you got to fight her. Borderlands 3 will let you play as Amara, the swole siren, given that Lilith and Maya are still alive (Steele and the computer one, not so much) means that half of the sirens will be known, and apparently all on the same side. It's kind of hinted that they're all supposed to have a purpose, like a cosmic course correction for fate, but they've never really elaborated on all of that.
Anyway, the Siren thing isn't important to understanding Borderlands, it's just a fun little note. In 2014 we got two games with Borderlands in the name. One was Tales from the Borderlands, a Telltale adventure game. It's just a fun game that gave the universe a bit more fleshing out. It's also the only game to take place after Borderlands 2, and show us that Handsome Jack might still be around to influence things.
The other game was Borderlands: The Pre-Sequel. A clunky name, for a game that takes place between games one and two. Once again you play as one of four characters called vault hunters, but really you're muscle hired by Jack, before he was "Handsome" to help retake his space station before it can blow up the moon of Pandora (the planet everything takes place on). Narratively, it's a weird choice. In the prior games, you're not necessarily good people, but at least the people you're fighting are worse, and generally you're doing things for good people, for money. This game still follows that, Jack seems to mostly be doing things for good, at least to begin with, but you know where this is going. Additionally the entire game is presented as a flashback. Lilith has captured Athena, one of the character options in the Pre-Sequel, and is interrogating her before she executes her as a war criminal for helping bring Jack to power. (Quick aside, Nisha, Wilhelm and Claptrap are the other three non-DLC characters, Nisha and Wilhelm are bosses that you most likely will kill in BL2, and Claptrap narrowly escapes being killed by Jack before BL2 starts.) At the end of the Presequel, Athena's execution is interrupted by a mysterious interloper that says she'll be needed for the upcoming war. Very spooky! Then we didn't get another game for five years!
The Pre-Sequel gets shit on by a lot of people. Exactly why, I've never quite figured out. I would agree that it's not as well written and the level designs are a little overly complicated, but if you just need more Borderlands like I do, it's totally acceptable. Furthermore, it has one thing that I cannot stress enough is amazing, and that is varying strengths of gravity, as well as a double jump, and ground pound ability. It's so amazing.
Well, I'm not going to proof any of this, so if you made it all the way here, sorry? Thanks for reading