When Borderlands: The Pre-Sequel released back in October for last-generation consoles only, pretty much anyone and everyone with any understanding of this industry suspected it wouldn't be long before it found its way onto Xbox One. Sure enough, about 5 months later, it's shown up where we expected it to and brought Borderlands 2 along with it. Both of these games have been bundled together in The Handsome Collection with an enhanced frame rate and resolution, all previously-released DLC, and some other new features. So how'd it all port over? Well, we've got a bit of news, both good and bad.
Before we begin digging into the negative aspects of this bundle, let us make it abundantly clear that we really like both Borderlands 2 and The Pre-Sequel. In fact, the reason we draw such an issue with the flaws of these two games, is because they can occasionally derail and disrupt what we feel is a heck of a lot of fun. Shootin' and lootin' offers a nice sense of freedom and exploration, and it can make for one of the best times you'll have with co-op multiplayer this or last generation. What's more, in the particular case of The Handsome Collection, there's a ridiculous amount of content – likely about 100 hours if you're OK with grinding and replaying games on a harder difficulty – for those wanting to get the most out of it. But, as we hinted at previously, there are concerns and shortcomings here that might interfere with that.
Contrary to the wild popularity of the series, Borderlands won't be for everyone. While we tend to enjoy ourselves majority of the time, we can't deny the recurring moments of frustration that showed up during our experience with the two games in The Handsome Collection. For one, Borderlands is sort of an open-world take on first-person shooters, with lots of exploration, backtracking, looting and RPG elements – similar to Destiny in many ways. But instead of seamlessly moving through one massive world, each area is contained, some even divided into multiple sections that require loading when venturing between. This method serves its purpose for the most part, but there are times where navigation is confusing and amounts to a chore. Even when glancing at a map, it can be tough to decipher which route leads where and which one is a high road or a low one. Additionally, it can be effortless to find yourself smack in the middle of situations you're not ready for, pumping clip after clip into enemies that don't seem interested in dying, while you respawn again and again until you've eventually put them all down.
In a way, what it boils down to is that Borderlands sometimes has an unfortunate habit of not knowing when enough is enough. Whether that applies to its obnoxious style of humor or its missions that occasionally last far longer than they should, there are moments where we found our patience tested. The problem with the overly long missions is that they typically like to send you back-and-forth between various locations, cramming in as many waves of enemies as possible in between. It isn't so terrible if you've went out of your way to grind through optional missions to level up, but if you happen to be even a little bit under-powered in these events, well, then you're going to be begging for them to end well before they're interested in doing so. We did our best to accumulate extra XP between story missions but still ended up in overwhelming scenarios here and there. If the opposition didn't have pinpoint precision, and if strafing was a more effective method of avoiding damage, it wouldn't be so bad; but enemies usually land hits even when you're dipping, ducking, and diving all throughout your surroundings.
Another element of the Borderlands formula that can halt play and grate on the nerves, is the constant looting and the inventory management that comes with it. Around every turn, in practically every corner you come across, there's some sort of container, storage locker, or garbage can loaded with ammo, guns, money, or other pickups. Most of the time these items won't be necessity, but others you'll be ecstatic to find a weapon that's much more powerful than the one in your hands. But a common annoyance here is constantly pressing X to pick these items up, along with the constant upkeep of your limited inventory slots. When in multiplayer, it seems that every few minutes or so someone's popping open their inventory menu to shift things around, drop weapons, apply skill points or whatever. Of course you're able to keep moving and do what you want during that time, but it really does interrupt the flow of play and disconnects players from one another. Furthermore, when in split-screen mode, the frame rate drops drastically when someone enters any menu, and it can adversely affect whatever dangerous circumstances you may be dealing with during that time.
So those are our fundamental gripes with Borderlands – the things that keep us from entirely falling in love with its gameplay and universe. What makes the aforementioned problems even harder to stomach is the fact that when Borderlands gets it right, oh man, does it deliver. The gunplay is reliable and can be electric, and working together with other human beings in cooperative multiplayer – especially local split-screen – is a blast. Even though we didn't find ourselves to be particularly responsive to Borderlands' signature brand of humor, that doesn't mean Pandora and Elpis aren't interesting worlds with interesting characters – they are. It helps that the cell-shaded visuals are wonderful, and even though these are two last-generation games, it's hard to tell when everything is running at 60fps.
Unfortunately, though, it's a challenge to enjoy the enhanced frame rate when technical hiccups and performance issues are regularly in sight. The Pre-Sequel is guiltier of these shortcomings than Borderlands 2 is, but each one certainly has issues that shouldn't be surfacing in a last-gen-to-this-gen port. The screen tearing is the worst offender, with a constant presence in The Pre-Sequel, truly ruining the impression of this gorgeous world that 2K Australia and Gearbox have created. It's not only a shame, it's upsetting that Iron Galaxy and Armature, handlers of these ports, would launch the game in this state. Neither of these issues make the game unplayable, but they do cheapen the experience and distract often.
While Borderlands 2 did feel more cohesive overall, we did find The Pre-Sequel to incorporate some additions to the formula that we found very interesting. For one, because the setting is in outer space, there's a lack of gravity to consider. This equates to loftier jumps, and it's also the reason new mechanics have been worked into the mix – pressing A after a jump will cause you to temporarily glide, while pressing B will lead to a ground pound that can damage enemies in the surrounding area. After spending time with The Pre-Sequel and returning to Borderlands 2, we came to the realization just how much satisfaction we got from these new mechanics once they were removed from the equation. The Pre-Sequel still suffers from the "let's bombard the player with tons of enemies" method of design, and from confusingly designed areas, but in the end, it's still a highly satisfying adventure.
Not only does The Handsome Collection contain two lengthy games, it also features all the DLC that released for each game up to this point, which extends the life of the package even further. For those of you that keep returning for more after you've “completed" a game, there's the True Vault Hunter mode that allows you to continue through the campaign at a higher difficulty level – you'll be rewarded with more XP and better loot. Harkening back to the days before online gaming became as common as superhero movies hitting theaters in the summer, is the addition of four-player splitscreen, which allows three others to join up and vault hunt with you from the comfort of your living room. We were only able to test this out with three players, and despite a lower frame rate and some minor hiccups when navigating inventory menus, it's a very welcome addition.
It should be said that Borderlands, in general, isn't nearly as satisfying or enjoyable in single-player mode. You'll be partaking in all the same events and missions as you would solo, but it's simply not as much fun without buddies to engage in battle with. It can also be more difficult when playing alone, as dealing with a large number of enemies by your lonesome is more overwhelming than it is in co-op, and dying during a boss battle can mean restarting that sequence from the beginning. Also, if you're the type that just wants to push through story missions, reach the end credits, and move on, you should know that that's not really possible here. If you don't work through the “optional" quests here and there, you won't be leveled up enough to deal significant damage to enemies as the story missions progress. We tried to play many different ways throughout our 40+ hours with these two games, but even with the sense of freedom that comes with this type of game design, you'll still need to play by the game's rules if you want to succeed.
And that's really the gist of it. If you've never played a Borderlands game before and our criticisms have you doubting whether or not this collection is for you, chances are that it's not. But, if you are interested, it is a good place to start — if you can come to terms with the technical nonsense, that is. The story definitely isn't the game's greatest asset, so don't worry if you think that playing the first Borderlands beforehand is essential — it's not. This series is about action. It's about cool weapons, intense shootouts, and leveling up/stat building. Admittedly, it's a flawed experience, but one that we think is worth your time.
The integrity of Borderlands: The Handsome Collection is cheapened due to the constant presence of performance issues. Other than that, though, this is the same Borderlands you know and love – or don't. We're still recommending The Handsome Collection because, despite its blemishes and the general shortcomings of the Borderlands formula, it's often an absolute riot of a time – playing with friends, whether local or online, is the way to go. Let's just hope we get a patch that eliminates the screen tearing, frame-rate drops, and texture pop-in that permeates the package. Then this will truly be one good-looking collection.