Borderlands: The Handsome Collection – Xbox One
Platform: Xbox One
Developer: Gearbox Software, 2K Australia
Publisher: 2K Games
Release Date (NA): March 24, 2015
Nerd Rating: 9 out of 10
Reviewed by Cloud3514
Borderlands 2 is a fantastic game to the point that this is actually the third copy of it I’ve owned, but with the release of it, packaged with Borderlands: The Pre-Sequel!, which I had not played until now, on new hardware, is it still worth picking up? For new players, yes, because just one of these games gives well over $60 worth of content, let alone both with all of the expansions and DLC characters. For old players? Well, that’s a bit more complicated.
The Handsome Collection puts together the two Borderlands games that feature Handsome Jack, who first appeared as the villain of Borderlands 2. He quickly became one of the most popular antagonists in gaming history because of his charismatic personality and the fantastic voice performance by Dameon Clarke.
In Borderlands 2, Handsome Jack, CEO of the Hyperion corporation, has lured the six player Vault Hunters to the extremely anarchic planet Pandora to kill them so they can’t get in the way of his ambitions. Surviving a train crash intended to kill them, the Vault Hunters join up with the Crimson Raiders, led by Borderlands Vault Hunter Roland, to stop Jack from opening the Vault of the Warrior and using what’s inside to destroy Pandora and beyond.
Borderlands: The Pre-Sequel!, however, takes place between the first and second games. It tells the story of how John, a lowly Hyperion programmer with great ambition became Handsome Jack, the masked CEO of Hyperion trying to wipe life off the face of Pandora. The game opens with four Vault Hunters he hired going to Elpis, Pandora’s moon, to help Jack find a Vault so he can use what’s inside it for his own ends.
Both games are surprisingly well written. Anthony Burch’s work on Borderlands 2 made it one of the funniest games I’ve ever played and his presence is clearly there with The Pre-Sequel!, regardless of it being in a reduced capacity. With his recent departure from Gearbox, hopefully they will be able to find a writer that doesn’t make us miss him too much for the next installment of the Borderlands series.
The gameplay for both games is almost identical. They are Diablo-influenced shooters with RPG character growth and a heavy focus on loot hunting. Each character has an action skill and three talent trees that develop their skills and abilities. Where it differs is that The Pre-Sequel!, taking place on a moon with low gravity, adds a lot of vertical movement through use of O2 kits, which grant double jumps and “butt slams,” which cause massive explosions around the player character that are easily weaponized and add some extra options to the combat.
The missions remind me of an MMORPG. The story missions are on a pretty straight track, but the side missions are picked up from a variety of places. There are bounty boards in various locations that give missions, as well as NPCs scattered around, such as Face McShooty, who tasks the player with shooting him in the face. The missions have solid variety and include things as simple as going somewhere and eliminating all of the enemies to collecting items off of specific enemies to the aforementioned Face McShooty, whose mission is literally just shooting him in the face.
One of Borderlands’ defining features is Fight For Your Life. After the player loses all of their HP, they will drop to their knees and a bar will appear on the screen, which depletes over time. If the player can kill an enemy before the bar is depleted, they will get a Second Wind, where they stand back up with a portion of their HP restored.
Because of the focus on loot, the weapon variety is absolutely absurd. Weapons are randomly generated and you have just as much chance of getting standard assault rifle as you do a shotgun that fires swords that explode into giant fireballs and anything in between.
The types of weapons are pretty standard fare. You have pistols, assault rifles, shotguns, rocket launchers and so on and so forth, with The Pre-Sequel! adding lasers. On top of that, there are five elemental effects that have a chance of being applied to most weapons, with the exception of weapons from the manufacturer Jakobs, who’s gimmick is high-powered non-elemental weapons with semi-auto fire. These effects are fire, shock, explosive, corrosive and slag, with cryo replacing slag in The Pre-Sequel!.
On top of variations of elemental effects, the manufacturer of the weapon determines how the weapon works. The aforementioned Jakobs, for example, manufactures pistols and assault rifles that fire as fast as the player can pull the trigger. Hyperion weapons get more accurate as they’re fired, Maliwan weapons always spawn with elemental effects and Tediore weapons have very fast reload speeds and are thrown and explode like grenades when reloaded, among other manufacturers, each with their own gimmicks.
Every manufacturer has their strengths and weaknesses and all of them have their uses. For example, I personally prefer Maliwan sniper rifles for their high elemental damage, but find Hyperion sniper rifles to be completely worthless due to their low initial accuracy, which causes the wielder to flail around wildly while aiming down the sights. At the same time, I love Hyperion SMGs because their high fire rate quickly raises the accuracy, so even among the same manufacturer, there is a lot of variation in the weapons.
Each game has six characters to choose from. Borderlands 2 features Axton the Commando, who’s action skill sets up a turret to assist him in shooting enemies, Maya the Siren, who can “Phaselock” an enemy in the air to render it helpless, Salvador the Gunzerker, who equips a second gun for his action skill and Zer0 the Assassin, who turns invisible and deploys a decoy. The Handsome Collection includes the DLC characters Gaige the Mechromancer, who summons a robot that distracts and attacks enemies and can earn her a Second Wind and Krieg the Psycho, who’s skills do strange things like give him bonuses for playing recklessly such as charging enemies while having no shields or intentionally lighting himself on fire.
The Pre-Sequel!’s characters, with the exception of the DLC characters appeared as enemies or NPCs in pervious Borderlands games. These characters are Athena the Gladiator, who has a skill that can be best described as fighting like Captain America, Willhelm the Enforcer, who summons drones that fight for and heal him, Nisha the Lawbringer who’s Showdown skill auto-targets enemies with two weapons and Claptrap the Fragtrap, who’s action skill is a randomly generated effect. The DLC characters are Jack the Doppelganger, a Handsome Jack body double who gains bonuses for playing selfishly and summons decoys and Aurelia the Baroness, who focuses on sniping and using the Cryo element.
Every character has a distinct play style, which greatly increases the game’s replay value. The game feels different with every character, with different weapons and other equipment lending to different characters and skills differently. For instance, some shields grant additional melee damage while drained, which is great for Krieg, who can be built to get bonuses while his shield is drained, but does nothing for Axton, who is focused entirely on shooting. The options for character building adds to the replay value even more and, because skills can be freely reset with a small fee of in-game money, it is a lot of fun and encouraged to keep resetting skills and experiment.
The gameplay is not without its faults, however. Both games using the randomly generated loot means that unlucky loot drops will sometimes leave the player with poor weapons for very long stretches. My very first play through of Borderlands 2, for example, had me using the same assault rifle for about ten levels.
More frustratingly, though, is that someone clearly forgot that some players are going solo when designing The Pre-Sequel!’s boss fights. Many of them are extremely frustrating to fight solo. They often have attacks that are difficult to avoid, but almost kill the player in one hit. On top of the level curve often putting the player a level or two below the bosses, this can get very frustrating.
One boss in particular late in the main game is so unfairly difficult for a solo player, that the only way I was able to beat it was to hide in the entrance to it’s arena where most of it’s attacks can’t hit and shoot at it with a corrosive sniper rifle as it flew into my view. The game is best in co-op, but this doesn’t excuse screwing over a solo player who might be stuck playing solo due to having no friends who picked up the game and because I honestly don’t think he matchmaking system really works. I have yet to successfully find another random player to play with.
These games already looked great on Xbox 360 and PlayStation 3, but The Handsome Collection brings the visuals to be on par with the PC versions, while also running the game at a smooth 60 FPS. However, it would be a lie to say that the games run perfectly.
Borderlands 2 runs fine for the most part, but it has some moments of slow down, though it never dips as much as the Xbox 360 version did. The Pre-Sequel!, on the other hand, has some other issues.
While it only slows down about as much as Borderlands 2, The Pre-Sequel! has a number of technical issues. From the opening cutscene to the end of the Claptastic Voyage expansion, there is severe screen tearing. Gearbox is aware of this and hopefully they have a fix in the works, but it is pretty constant and very distracting. On top of that, at one point, my controller’s rumble functionality cut out, but that may have more to do with me accidentally dropping on the floor. What can’t be my fault, however, is that a few times, I would have parts of the audio cut out, namely gunshots and menu sounds. The audio is generally restored upon a reboot of the game, but, again, this is pretty distracting.
Voice acting is fantastic. I’ve already mentioned Dameon Clarke’s portrayal of Handsome Jack, but it bears repeating. While all of the characters are well-performed and even the random enemies sound great (and hilarious), Clarke’s performance steals the show. His presence is with you for the entirety of both games, except for the Borderlands 2 expansions, where characters like the explosion obsessed Mr. Torgue (played by Chris Rager) and the affable, but openly treacherous Captain Scarlett (played by Colleen Clickenbeard) get the spotlight.
Other notable performances include Ashly Burch as Tiny Tina, who’s hyperactive and psychotic personality quickly made her a fan favorite and David Eddings as the series chew toy Claptrap, who is hilarious throughout the entire Borderlands series.
While this game is wholeheartedly recommended for new players as both Borderlands 2 and Borderlands: The Pre-Sequel! are easily worth the price tag on their own due to the amount of extra content included, with The Handsome Collection putting them together for potentially hundreds of hours of gameplay.
For old players, however, the recommendation is a bit more cautious as many Borderlands fans already have the content included in The Handsome Collection in some other form. Saves from the Xbox 360 versions of both games can be transferred to the Xbox One versions, so the transition is mostly painless, but it really depends on personal preference on whether or not the improvements are worth repurchasing the game.
Borderlands: The Handsome Collection is a hell of a deal. It packages the definitive versions of two already great games onto one disc. Newcomers to the series will be very impressed by the sheer amount of content in the games, while old players will appreciate the improvements to the visuals and framerate, though paying $60 for content they likely already have is considerably tougher to justify. Regardless, this is one of the best deals available on the Xbox One and a perfect hold over until the next Borderlands game.
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