Even though I’ve previously enjoyed playing Borderlands 2 and Borderlands: The Pre-Sequel (via co-op), I could never say the same about the original. In solo attempts, I would get stuck at about 10% campaign completion because I couldn’t navigate through the open world. Playing with friends often failed due to lag and frame rate issues. However, after two friends who adore the series both gave me rave reviews of Borderlands: Game Of The Year Edition, I joined them to try a co-op campaign again.
As there was already a Borderlands: Game Of The Year Edition in 2010, I found the name re-use illogical, especially as the 2010 release is still on sale. To avoid confusion, I’ll use Borderlands to mean the series/games in general, “the original Borderlands” to mean the 2009 release, and GOTY to mean the 2019 release. But that’s a minor issue, so I’ll get on to the actual game.
Because GOTY is a remaster rather than a remake, the core gameplay, mechanics and plot are left untouched. The story retains its sparse exposition, as well as its odd pace – it still idles for most of the game then jumps to its full intensity during the last half hour. But the impactful gunplay, chaotic elemental effects, irreverent dialogue and deranged enemies are just as entertaining as in the original Borderlands. Customising your character’s build in co-op to get full-team boosts and combine each player’s abilities allows lots of opportunities to experiment with setups and weapons (and plenty of comedy from Brick’s melee adventures).
Most of GOTYs changes are quality-of-life features: for me, the new rotating mini-map and the enhanced waypoint marker greatly increase my ability to play the game and find objectives. Developers Blind Squirrel games have also enhanced the graphics and lighting systems.
GOTY can’t really be called a beautiful game, given that most major locations are post-apocalyptic brown deserts. But the series has always been strong on visual design – there seems to be a consistent vision for what the world of each game should look like and how its visual elements relate to that goal and each other. To me, the series’ comic-outline style means the original Borderlands has aged more gracefully than realistic games of the same age, so a full graphical overhaul seemed unecessary. However, GOTY features a brighter and higher-contrast colour palette due to its improved lighting. This reduced the “ocean of brown” issue the original game sometimes had, and let me distinguish between locations more easily.
I’m often cynical about remasters and re-releases, as many seem like unnecessary cash-grabs. GOTY isn’t one, thankfully. Gearbox and Blind Squirrel took an already-good game and added sensible improvements based on what they had learnt from the sequels. The teams made a fair distinction between bugs and features. They kept aspects unique to the original Borderlands that worked well, such as the weapon levels, and they changed aspects that were truly weaker in the first game, such as navigation.
I’ve now finished one complete campaign on the Xbox One version, totaling 10-12 hours of play. In that time I’ve been disconnected from the host twice, and experienced a couple of audio dropouts and issues with the mini-map display. However, I’ve had no major issues, and no lag aside from during the two disconnections.
Based on my experience, £25 seems like a fair price for the improvements and enhancements in GOTY, especially given that it includes all 4 DLC packs. Even though I could download and play the original Borderlands, paying for the remastered version was worthwhile for me, because I could finally play and enjoy this version in co-op. For Xbox players who enjoyed the later Borderlands games but haven’t played the original, I would recommend GOTY. It’s only £10 more expensive than buying the original Borderlands (even less when factoring in DLC), which is justified by the quality-of-life enhancements and performance improvements I’ve experienced so far.
However, some PC players have experienced major issues with the game, with some being unable to launch it at all. While many PC players can access GOTY for free, and so have nothing to lose by trying it out, PC players who are considering buying GOTY should probably wait for patches first.
I’ve now completed playthrough 2 of GOTY and most of the included DLC in co-op. While I still broadly agree with my original impressions, I found that glitches and connection issues increased the more I played. According to the friends I played with, many of the glitches were new to GOTY, rather than inherited from the original Borderlands. While minor glitches such as disappearing mini-maps and disorienting respawn screens popped up regularly during the main game, the DLCs featured larger and more impactful glitches. We had issues with dialogue cut-outs, save files that were marked as un-synced even though we had all played exactly the same missions, and even a boss fight where only one of us could see the boss.
While I still see the game as easier to play than the original Borderlands, I don’t think it deserves quite as much praise as I gave it before. At least, not until the issues are fixed – hopefully, Blind Squirrel games will continue working on it.