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Is Borderlands over?

by Icecream
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Borderlands was as soon as poised to be one among gaming’s greatest franchises, however the home that Jack constructed appears to be crumbling primarily based on latest kind. Can Gearbox’s looter-shooter struggle for its life and are available again from the brink?

I will preface issues by saying this: I love Borderlands as a franchise. I used to be in on the bottom ground for the primary sport and loved it despited its limitations, and Borderlands 2 was comfortably one among my most-played Xbox 360 video games, having looted with associates and strangers alike for numerous hours again within the day. However since then, it simply seems like Gearbox and the opposite groups who’ve been pulled in to assist out on the collection have did not recapture what made the early days of the collection so particular, so thrilling, so distinctive. Based mostly on how a lot pleasure I received out of Borderlands 2, I genuinely anticipated this collection to develop and evolve into one thing that might slot in alongside my different core gaming obsessions — the likes of Monster Hunter, Remaining Fantasy, Future, Diablo, and Pokémon — however because the years have rolled on, it is grow to be more and more clear that Borderlands merely does not have the consistency to rub shoulders with any of these franchises, and repeatedly, it has struggled to ship something near the degrees of high quality that made me a fan within the first place.

There’s one notable exception right here, after all — Tales From The Borderlands was undeniably excellent. I might go as far as to say it was probably Telltale’s greatest sport, with the point-and-click-style journey coming simply after gamers began to see by means of the smoke and mirrors that made The Strolling Lifeless work so nicely and leveraging that for some becoming fourth wall breaks and gags which managed to tessellate completely with the Borderlands vibe, and mocking the style with out being actively dangerous within the course of… an extremely uncommon feat for jokes at a sport’s personal expense. However that was method again in 2014, that means it has been near a decade since this franchise produced a real top-tier sport, though the primary indicators of rot additionally began to indicate that exact same yr.

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Borderlands: The Pre-Sequel was, frankly, a little bit of a multitude. We are able to begin with the identify, with the sport doing a joke earlier than you even get previous the boxart, however one that does not make it fully clear how this factor suits into collection chronology — one thing that extra lately did not appear to pan out so nicely when Goat Simulator jumped straight to quantity three as a gag, however that leaves final yr’s sport with solely round 2% of the whole TA gamers of the unique, which is a big drop even contemplating the primary sport is in Sport Go. TPS was additionally a multitude mechanically, although, including 4 new Vault Hunters, two of whom might fully ignore the sport’s lunar setting and lack of oxygen to simply waltz round exterior of air pockets as they preferred, with out a lot in the way in which of checks and balances to even this out. Jokes simply did not appear to land wherever close to as typically (cricket gags are a fairly area of interest subject), new weapon components Radiation and Cryo have been simply objectively worse variations of Shock and Corrosive respectively, and it simply did not have that very same draw as the primary video games, regardless of being thematically pretty attention-grabbing. Coming off the again of the massively profitable Borderlands 2, this simply wasn’t it.

Even going into Full Sequel Mode, the franchise dropped the ball once more with 2019’s Borderlands 3. Like all the things that has come after B2, this felt very very similar to a sport going by means of the motions to try to replicate its prior success. Good-looking Jack was at all times going to be a tough act to comply with, however new antagonists the Calypso twins proved simply straight-up unlikeable, fully lacking Jack’s occasional relatability to simply have us face off in opposition to a pair of odious self-serving pricks. That is a working theme for the sport on the whole, really, with the roster providing up valuable few characters that we’re supposed to truly like and most, if not all, being actually detestable. Early video games gave us some fan-favourite characters, from the Vault Hunters themselves (with the primary sport’s returning in 2) to secondary people like Torgue, Moxxi, Tiny Tina… heck, even Shade and all his Hunter S. Thompson nonsense. Just about your entire solid of Borderlands 3 exists to be hated, and it runs in opposition to the grain of the earlier video games that had needed you to be part of their ridiculous actions. B3 additionally made the warning indicators begin flashing with a few of its gags, with one specific bounty to kill Wick and Warty being the type of low-effort reference {that a} youngster may make… should you discovered it humorous then good for you, however I cringed so arduous that I nearly imploded. Not that it ever actually set an particularly excessive bar, however this collection must be higher than this. DLC deserves a point out too, with Borderlands 3 bringing a number of season passes with solely a handful of truly respectable content material throughout them — a travesty contemplating Borderlands 2 had a few of the greatest DLC of all time, and that is one thing that might solely worsen.

Tiny Tina's Wonderlands

I used to be delighted to study that we would get a Borderlands spin-off primarily based on Borderlands 2’s excellent Tiny Tina’s Assault on Dragon Preserve DLC, however the finish product was respectable at greatest. Tiny Tina’s Wonderlands had worlds of potential, particularly given how rather more in style Dungeons & Dragons — the premise for each the unique DLC and follow-up sport — has grown in recent times, however the remaining product missed out on a bunch of what made our first foray into Bunkers & Badasses so good. The unique noticed us adventuring alongside the acquainted faces of the Vault Hunters, displaying us new sides of them in how they approached one thing wildly totally different to their typical adventures (or doubling down on their one aspect, within the case of Brick’s insistence on punching all the things, even in character), but additionally managed to sneak in a fairly mature and affecting subtext of the entire sport being a distraction from and technique of Tina dealing with grief. Wonderlands has none of that, with us joined on our journey by two model new characters who aren’t even enjoying the in-game sport (and one among whom is simply Andy Samberg as Andy Samberg, for higher or worse), with solely Tina herself and some anticipated cameos tying it to the broader Borderlands universe. That is to not say that it ought to essentially have caught extra intently to the supply materials, however in deviating so little and barely benefiting from its standalone nature, it fails to get one of the best out of both strategy and simply treads an odd center floor for essentially the most half.

Then got here the DLC, and oh boy… I’ve spoken earlier than about simply how dangerous the Tiny Tina’s Wonderlands DLC is, nevertheless it bears repeating because it was in all probability the worst DLC of final yr, and one of many worst Season Passes ever. Whereas the mainline Borderlands video games supplied a collection of standalone adventures as their DLC choices (with some being easier than others), Wonderlands affords principally 4 of the identical factor — tedious generic dungeons with repeated goals and evolving bosses on the finish. Because the kicker, these have been designed to be replayed over the course of 4 weeks to see all of the boss types as a method of padding them out, however by merely going offline, you possibly can rattle by means of every in about an hour and that was them accomplished. Worse but, a few of the new bosses are dreadful, and defeating them provides them to the pool of potential fights within the Chaos Chamber — the DLC successfully makes the sport’s core endgame exercise actively worse, even when the additional areas do supply a smidgen extra selection to a mode that did not actually have all that a lot to start with.

New Tales from the Borderlands

Most lately, we had New Tales From The Borderlands, which simply kind of got here out of nowhere with minimal hype and launched quietly late final yr. Telltale’s authentic format would principally function a bottomless nicely for an anthology collection set in any universe, however New Tales actually feels prefer it squanders its potential with simply the second try. I will admit that I’ve tried and did not get into this a number of instances so I am only some episodes in, however as soon as once more, it simply feels prefer it’s missing what made the unique so good. As with Borderlands 3, each character is so abrasive or obnoxious as to be fully unlikeable, and whereas there’s the odd giggle alongside the way in which (principally courtesy of fancy murderer bot L0U13, who’s principally only a well-spoken model of KOTOR’s HK-47), so most of the jokes fall flat that it is arduous to remain when the sport is clearly making an attempt so very arduous to be humorous. Right here, Borderlands’ cultural references get weirder than ever, too, with a notable instance being a complete mini-game that sends up Skylanders — a fad of a franchise that has been on the bench for one of the best a part of a decade at this level. Good well timed burn there, guys.

Even the long-planned Borderlands film can not seem to escape the franchise’s downward spiral. It was first introduced method again in 2015 and did not choose up director Eli Roth till some 5 years later, and it lately got here to gentle that Deadpool director Tim Miller has been introduced in to direct reshoots following take a look at screenings late final yr… appears like these went nicely, then. The solid is wild too, with Cate Blanchett as Lilith, Kevin Hart as Roland, Jamie Lee Curtis as Tannis, and Jack Black as Claptrap, together with another fairly massive names. A film might definitely assist get Borderlands again within the highlight if accomplished nicely — it is an avenue Sony is aggressively pursuing in the intervening time, with all of its key unique franchises set for main TV or film diversifications within the coming years (sure, even Gran Turismo) — nevertheless it might simply as simply put one other bullet within the collection ought to it flop, and that is the very last thing Borderlands wants at this level.

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Whereas it won’t inform the complete story, taking a look at TA participant counts does a minimum of give a superb indicator of simply how a lot Borderlands has fallen off in recent times. The primary two Xbox 360 video games are each within the high 50 most-played video games on the positioning, with nicely over 300,000 gamers a chunk (round a 3rd of all registered customers) and including one other 350k throughout the Xbox One rereleases, albeit seemingly with a good quantity of crossover as followers merely improve to the newer variations. Once we get to Borderlands 3, although, that drops to somewhat over 200,000 — nonetheless a giant quantity all issues thought of, certain, but additionally nonetheless a 50% drop-off in participant rely, and The Pre-Sequel sits at across the identical mark throughout its two variations. For Borderlands 3, we additionally see solely round 1 / 4 of these gamers get caught into the DLC in any respect, dropping to lower than 10% for the second season move’ slim choices, which definitely soured the collection for lots of followers. Wonderlands, in the meantime, solely hits somewhat over 60k, whereas New Tales From The Borderlands hasn’t even damaged 3,000 but… for context, Telltale’s authentic has over 150,000 throughout the 360 and XB1 variations.

Borderlands is in a little bit of a difficult place. The overwhelming success of two led to the workforce repeatedly going again to the nicely and that ‘put Good-looking Jack in all the things’ strategy wore out its welcome fairly quick, however on the identical time, each step away from the franchise’s pillar title has seemingly taken it additional and additional away from what made it so successful within the first place. It is much like the type of ennui that has set in with the Far Cry collection, with each sport since FC3 successfully being a retread of the very same format, and unsurprisingly, it is getting outdated, particularly with so many different main collection displaying actual development and evolution, for higher or worse — simply evaluate how totally different Valhalla is to the unique Murderer’s Creed, or on the opposite aspect of the fence, have a look at how God of Conflict went from button-mashing gratuitous violence to open-ended mature storytelling. When so many massive video games are consistently altering with the instances, it simply makes it all of the extra apparent when others aren’t, and whereas ‘extra of the identical’ is usually what followers of one thing need, we nonetheless want one thing particular with every new iteration, else diminishing returns are inevitable. Borderlands, now greater than ever, wants to seek out that one thing particular.

Commander Lilith & The Fight For Sanctuary

Regardless of these massive slumps in participant counts, some horrible DLC practices, and up to date spin-offs placing in tiny numbers in comparison with the collection’ highlights, I do nonetheless suppose we’ll see a fourth mainline Borderlands sport. It feels inevitable, however on the identical time seems like a real make-or-break second for the franchise. The workforce must discover a technique to recapture that magic that made the second sport so particular to so many gamers, to reinvent the components in a method that makes it really feel like we’re not simply replaying the identical sport over once more. And competitors goes to be stiffer as of late, too. This triple-A title may as soon as have been king of the FPS x jokes scene, however have a look at how simply Justin Roiland’s Excessive on Life — with somewhat assist from Sport Go, after all — simply sashayed in and stole that crown, racking up extra TA gamers in beneath a month than Borderlands 3 has accrued in over three years. Someway, in opposition to all odds, that Wick & Warty gag simply received even much less humorous.

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