'Borderlands: The Handsome Collection' review: quality and quantity
For a franchise that started off with a paper-thin story but a colorful world full of mayhem, Borderlands has expanded into one of the most enjoyable universes in video games.
And with Borderlands: The Handsome Collection, it’s a perfect time to dive into the planet of Pandora and its chaotic but hilarious story of hidden treasures, vault hunters, and egotistical robots.
The Handsome Collection combines Borderlands 2, Borderlands: The Pre-Sequel, and every major piece of downloadable content released for both titles (which is a long list). It’s an incredible value, and, unless you’ve exhausted every last mission from both games on the last generation of consoles, The Handsome Collection is a no-brainer of a purchase.
It’s particularly worth exploring for those looking to see what all the fuss about for a franchise that promises a gazillion weapons and references everything from Breaking Bad to Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles to MacBeth.
The franchise found its chaotic groove with Borderlands 2, thanks to sharp writing that made new characters feel instantly endearing and old characters, previously devoid of memorable personalities, feel like old friends. Add in the Handsome Collection’s captivating namesake, villain Handsome Jack (Dameon Clarke), and the series suddenly became much more than a fun and wacky shooting gallery. The series retained its cartoonish glee in the sequel, but developed a substance and weight that imbued quests and challenges with actual meaning, comical or otherwise.
This pattern continued with The Pre-Sequel, a prequel to 2 but a sequel to the first game, which uncovers more of Handsome Jack’s story. The game released late last year only on the PlayStation 3 and Xbox 360, and the Handsome Collection gives players who might have missed it a chance to better understand Pandora… and shoot things on the moon.
There are dozens, and likely hundreds, of hours of game to play in the Collection, demonstrating the franchise at its most juvenile (one mission actually calls for players to fight creatures called “bonerfarts”) to its wackiest and most experimental, like in the Dungeons & Dragons-influenced “Tiny Tina’s Assault on Dragon Keep.”
Not included the package but equally worth the time, particularly for those not inclined to play a game all about shooting in a more colorful Mad Max-style world, Tales from the Borderlands is a wonderful entry point. Its focus is entirely on narrative and character, and it retains the original series’ humor while improving even further on the franchise’s storytelling. 2 and The Pre-Sequel are hindered a bit by having to stretch their main throughlines over more than a dozen hours each. Tales is all about its story, and is all the better for it.
But that shouldn’t stop anyone from playing the Handsome Collection. Borderlands succeeds most when the sheer fun of its world and characters is married with its gameplay, and both 2 and The Pre-Sequel provide excellent examples of that.
It’s easy to look at the recent glut of rereleased games and cringe at the idea of what feels like a cash-grab, an easy way to plug holes in the release calendar when other games are delayed. Yet, despite this problem with remaster after remaster seeing release, I can’t stop playing Borderlands: The Handsome Collection. Even after having completely played through Borderlands 2 years ago, the jokes remain fresh and the missions inventive enough that spending time revisiting familiar locations is just as fun as exploring new ones as I pick up The Pre-Sequel for the first time.
The Handsome Collection could have been a case of quantity over quality with its sheer size, but Gearbox Software and 2K Games haven’t sacrificed one for the other. Instead, they’ve delivered both in one addictive package.