When Borderlands: The Pre-Sequel launched on previous-gen platforms in October of 2014, the Xbox One and PlayStation 4 had already been available for nearly a year. Many Borderlands fans like me who would otherwise be the prime target of The Pre-Sequel had already moved on to new consoles. We all hoped and/or expected Gearbox and 2K to port the game to Xbox One and PlayStation 4 where it would look and run better than any Borderlands console game before it.
This year, we got our wish! Not only did The Pre-Sequel recently make its way to new-gen consoles, it also brought Borderlands 2 along for the ride. Borderlands: The Handsome Collection bundles the second and third games in the series (but not the first) and all of their downloadable content (that's a LOT of DLC) in one $60 retail or downloadable package. No, you can't get them separately.
Players who have already completed both games on other platforms might not be eager to buy this new collection, but everyone else – even if you already played one or the other – should give The Handsome Collection a serious look. Read on for our detailed review with gameplay video!
Welcome to Pandora
If you've somehow missed out on the Borderlands series until now, you might wonder what the appeal is and whether you should jump in with The Handsome Collection rather than the first game. We'll tackle both of those questions, starting with a story primer.
The first Borderlands had a light and enjoyable storyline, but not such a complex one that you couldn't skip straight to the second game. Basically, Borderlands 1 and 2 take place on Pandora, a semi-desolate frontier world that has been colonized primarily by bloodthirsty corporations and bandits. Pandora's resources include alien ruins and vaults that everyone wants to exploit for themselves.
In the first game, a mysterious entity called the Guardian Angel led four Vault Hunters (the players) to a Pandoran Vault that she claimed should never be opened. But corporate villains did open it, unleashing an alien monster that the Vault Hunters had to kill.
Borderlands 2 takes place five years later. The Hyperion Corporation has been taken over by Handsome Jack, a ruthless new villain. Jack in turn conquers Pandora, ruling it with a heavy hand from an orbital satellite. A new batch of Vault Hunters arrives on the scene in search of another legendary Vault and its potential riches. With the Guardian Angel's help, they must thwart Handsome Jack's plans and perhaps free Pandora from Hyperion's grip in the process.
Stepping up the narrative
Story is not the main draw of the Borderlands games, though both 2 and the Pre-Sequel have significantly expanded storylines (and even more humor) compared to the first game.
Borderlands 2 still relies too heavily on voiceovers from the Guardian Angel while live-action videos of an actress appear at the top of the screen. The actress doesn't move her mouth as we hear her voice over, which looks kind of shoddy and cheap.
The Pre-Sequel thankfully ditches the Guardian Angel and puts players right in the action. The story itself takes place between the first two games and chronicles the rise of dastardly Handsome Jack. Our Vault Hunters interact with Jack much more directly than previous non-player characters (NPCs). Each player character even speaks unique lines in reaction to story events and generally shows more personality than ever before.
Another differentiator between the two games is their settings. The Pre-Sequel leaves Pandora behind, taking place on Pandora's moon Elpis. Large portions of the game happen on the moon's surface, where gravity is much lower than indoors. Moon jumping around really makes the game feel different than its predecessors. Players also have to manage their oxygen supplies, retreating to locations with air when supply runs low.
Shoot fools and loot some tools
As welcome as the increased focus on narrative and characterization in these two games is, the Borderlands game play remains the star of the show. Borderlands marries first-person shooting with the role-playing game mission structure and loot hunting mechanics of Diablo III. The result is a much more immersive and dynamic loot hunt than you'd get from a zoomed-out action-RPG.
When arriving at a new location, you'll generally run across one or more NPCs and bulletin boards that dole out missions. Some are optional; some required to advance the story. Next you'll travel across the map (or to other areas) to complete the task, whether it's killing a particularly offensive inhabitant of Pandora or protecting a location from a Hyperion attack. Return to the mission-giver, turn in the mission, enjoy some witty dialogue, and receive money and items as your reward.
Even more diverse than the missions are the countless thousands of guns dropped by enemies, awarded by NPCs, sold in vending machines, or found in containers throughout each game. No other shooter can claim nearly as varied as arsenal as Borderlands. You'll discover pistols, shotguns, sniper rifles, rocket launchers, and much more, all with unique attributes that ensure no two weapons are alike.
Lots of weapons will prove to be junk compared to what you already possess, but that just makes it even more thrilling when you encounter a new weapon that meets your needs. Grenades, shields, and (in the Pre-Sequel) oxygen tanks come in nearly as many varieties as well, giving you plenty of room to customize your character with better gear.
The mid-gameplay menus for equipment, character abilities, mission tracking, etc. are some of the best of any video game – especially in the Pre-Sequel. We get to see our Vault Hunters on-screen to the side of the menus, making selections. It helps sell that you are a distinct character instead of a faceless FPS hero. And during co-op games, the other players will see your menus hovering in front of your character while you use them. Simply brilliant.
Two teams of Vault Hunters
At the start of either game, you'll select from that game's six unique Vault Hunters (for a total of 12 characters between both titles). If you already played Borderlands 2 or the Pre-Sequel on 360 and chose the in-game option to upload your character to the cloud, you'll even be able to import that character into the Handsome Collection version. This also imports your Badass Rank, an overall experience level for each game that unlocks bonuses for all characters.
Borderlands' characters are all varying combinations of funny and cool, and generally quite unique. To me, the standout characters are the ones that were sold as DLC on last-gen consoles:
- Borderlands 2 has Gaige, a Mechromancer who can summon a giant robot to fight alongside her; and Krieg, a melee-focused Psycho (a common enemy type) who utters nonsense as he fights.
- The Pre-Sequel introduces Jack the Doppleganger (a body double of Handsome Jack, which leads to amusing exchanges when the two meet) and Aurelia the Baroness, an acerbic sniper who commands shards of ice to deadly effect.
Each Vault Hunter has varying stats and proficiencies, plus a unique special ability (like the aforementioned mech summon and ice shards) that unlocks after leveling up a few times. They also have triple-branching skill trees that allow for a delightful level of customization. Oh, and both games offer tons of cosmetic options per character as well.
Multiplayer options and performance
Loot-hunting games like Borderlands are typically best played with friends. Both games in the Handsome Collection support online and offline 4-player co-op, though system link is regrettably not supported. If you'd rather not look to matchmaking to fill out your online team, the main menu automatically displays anyone on your friends list who is currently playing. That makes it super convenient to invite them, and I wish more games included the same feature.
The Xbox 360 and PlayStation 3 Borderlands games supported 2-player split-screen co-op, and that number has been doubled to four for the Handsome Collection. Additional local players can join in or leave the game at any time, and all of them earn Achievements. Split-screen players can even participate in online games, making it easy to fill out your team.
It can be inconvenient to manage your inventory, etc. in split-screen; menus don't fit perfectly within each player's tiny window. You have to pan around the menus, which takes a little getting used to. Still, it works better than Diablo III's local multiplayer menus (which largely take up the full-screen and force everyone else to wait around).
Although the Handsome Collection runs at 1080p and 60 frames per second on Xbox One (with minor frame rate dips when things get hectic), the frame rate naturally drops during split-screen. You can expect it to generally hover at 30 with two players. Four players will cause the frame rate to dip during combat, especially in the Pre-Sequel.
Split-screen has always caused a performance hit – it takes a lot of extra power to run more than one instance of a game at once. On the whole, it's pretty awesome for a pair of games of this scale to support full 4-player split-screen co-op in this online-focused era.
Speaking of the Pre-Sequel's more frequent frame rate drops (and serious screen tearing issues), Gearbox has promised to investigate the issue. The newer game's lesser performance can be irritating at times, even outside of split-screen.
So many Achievements
If you like long games with lots of Achievements, you're going to love the Handsome Collection. Borderlands 2 includes 69 Achievements worth 1,650 Gamerscore. The Pre-Sequel has 63 Achievements worth 1,355 Gamerscore.
If you imported a character from Xbox 360, a few of the new Achievements will pop as soon as you start playing. Most of them require a fresh playthrough though. For new players, it should take around 100 hours or so to unlock both games' Achievements.
Although it's not unusual for a first-person shooter to support campaign co-op or at least a cooperative horde mode, the genre remains a largely competitive one. Borderlands stands out with its cooperative focus. These games are slower paced and a bit easier than the average FPS game, so even non-experts can enjoy them. Heck, my girlfriend barely plays games and she loves Borderlands. It's just so fun to team up, shoot enemies, and collect loot together.
The Handsome Collection contains not only Borderlands 2 and the Pre-Sequel, but also every piece of DLC for both games. We're talking four campaign expansions, five headhunter missions, and two extra characters for Borderlands 2, and one campaign expansion, two arenas, and two extra characters for the Pre-Sequel. That's two huge games (one of which is less than a year old) and all of their downloadable content for sixty bucks.
What if you only want the Pre-Sequel though? Not everyone will be eager to play through Borderlands 2 again on their new consoles. The Handsome Collection does allow players to install each game separately, so you could avoid installing Borderlands 2 if you want. But you still have to buy the whole collection, which is odd.
Why not sell them separately? Well, we know that the Handsome Collection started life as a simple remastering of the Pre-Sequel. That's the real draw of this collection, and publisher 2K seemingly doesn't want to let such a new game go at less than $60. Getting Borderlands 2 and all of its DLC in the bargain just sweetens the deal.
The Handsome Collection contains two of the best cooperative first-person shooters ever, with a dozen diverse characters and the promise of hundreds of hours of game play. If you're tired of replaying the same few raids and strikes endlessly in Destiny, give the minimal repetition of these two huge games a whirl.