What Makes a Classic: How the Borderlands franchise nails it

Using the best tools from the Role-Playing Game toolbox, The Borderlands series creates one of the best RPGs in the genre.

Okay, class raise your hand if you can tell me the greatest RPG of all time.

No, it isn't Gex: Enter the Gecko.

That's right it's the Borderlands Franchise you did it you've won a gold star.

This horse is so proud you answered correctly.

Time for School

I have no idea what the best RPG is, primarily because there are now different sorts of RPGs. Some are 3rd-person, looting adventures into underground caves or something. I think one of them has dragons also. Umm.. a lot of them have like swords and fire-hands and stuff like that. Oh and Borderlands has, like, a lot of guns. At least 15.

But they all share something in common: they simulate an immersive experience. And that's really the goal of any game. Whether you're exploring a story, or just destroying stimulated people's lives, video games are about placing yourself in another dimension where ragdolls are possible.

Oh and Borderlands has, like, a lot of guns.

They're about experiencing a world that is made to feel real, but is ultimately a bunch of 1s and 0s. And RPGs do the best job at this because they nearly all give you customization options out of the ol' WAZOO. I mean, I love giving my Fallout character a green afro and naming him, "I'm a lizardman." It's what makes me, me.

But unlike the ultra-immersive RPGs like the Fallout series, Borderlands reaches a new level of badassery. This franchise has the greatest model for the "Role-Playing Game Experience," and it does this by combining the best features of the genre into one game.


Firstly, Borderlands outdoes itself in capturing the best features of any RPG. It's configuration of incessant loot gathering, trill-ass level up trees, and special ability perks, are all stylistically reminiscent of fan-favorite games like Torchlight. The kicker is, is that while it's expansive, you don't feel bogged down my over-complicated options. Other RPGs have so much filler and so much to choose from:A delicious goat-cheese wheel from Jarl Balgruuf, just for you.

  • Should I upgrade my lock-pick ability?
  • Maybe I need the potion-making perk...
  • What's the primary damage of this cheese-wheel?

There's nothing wrong with playing your game differently; that's what makes games like Skyrim so replayable. But in Borderlands, everything is contributing to the action. I don't have to think about what will be most useful for my quests. I know that whatever I choose is going to help me destroy as many shotgun-midgets as possible:

  • Looks like I found another gun in this pile of money.
  • Should I improve my Ballbuster Bazooka-3000, or increase my turret ammo my 3 trillion percent?
  • Oh wow, this grenade mod is incendiary AND shoots lasers!

The first step to a great RPG was nailing these factors, and Gearbox nailed it harder than a roofer nailing a roof. Have you ever nailed a roof? It takes some effort; they don't get paid nothing.

Schmirst Schmerson

This second reason may not seem like a reason at all, being that nearly all games are played in first person, but from someone who enjoys 3rd-person dungeon RPGs, this is a key element.

Screenshot from Torchlight II

I have to be honest. Sometimes, I just get bored playing some RPGs. I think it's because I played Fate as a kid. You know that game you get that already comes on your computer? I played it for a while, but the magic eventually died. It just seemed so pointless. Dungeon after dungeon. Boss after boss. It was just getting boring and pointless. I loved the thrill of leveling up and finding the next best weapon, but the monotony of the system took its toll on my little gamer heart.

And we're right in the action. BOOM. Shooting Skags. BOOM. Driving around the wasteland. BOOM. Fighting tentacle monsters. ALL in the first person. I was intimately participating in the action. I was following and engaging a story through my very eyes. And I was leveling up and getting dat treasure. The RPG experience I enjoyed from games like Fate, was suddenly beefed up into a first person, immersive, non-stop action, shooting range, and I was the main character.

Putting an RPG into this real-time, FPS made all the difference. 

Action-Paction Screen shot from Borderlands: The Pre-Sequel

It engaged me in a way that a 3rd person version couldn't. There was more involvement than just clicking or having the right ultra-staff of wizard powers. In Borderlands, I could sometimes even get by with a super low pistol against a Bad-Ass Boss and manage to walk away with his shotgun, if I played my cards right. I had more opportunity to use my skill to my advantage, rather than relying on my stats. But in the end, this level of immersion, simply with it being FPS, was enough for me to continue playing and want more.


The third, and simplest, reason is that Borderlands opens up to cooperative multiplayer. Sure I could pal around with a bud playing WoW, but I couldn't while playing Bioshock, could I? There's really not much else to say than that Borderlands totally gets their audience when they have this option. I want to be able to take on the world of Pandora, with a friend. I mean, isn't that what some self-deluded lunatics wanted from the Elder Scrolls Online? A co-op Skyrim?

But instead, ESO is another MMORPG with average graphics, a semi-immersive world, and tons of people we don't know. I'm not bashing the Edler Scrolls Online, because MMORPGs are fun in their own way, but I wanted something greater. I wanted to really share my first-person experience. I wanted to lose my friendship from arguing over an ultra-rare sniper rifle. I wanted to face death and defeat,  only to be saved by a shotgun blast to the enemy at the last-minute from my faithful buddy.

I wanted Borderlands.

These are all my friends.

We played it and it was fun.

So what did we learn today, class? We learned about shapes and stuff.

Also, we learned why the Borderlands franchise is so successful. It combines elements from our favorite RPGs and arranges them in a way that kicks so much ass that we couldn't handle the sheer force of enjoying the game itself. But we played it anyway and it was fun. Gearbox has shown that they really know the player and the audience and made a game just for you.

That's right. Just for you. Wasn't that nice of Gearbox? You didn't even ask.

I'm dancing! I'M DANCING!

The final reason is Clap-Trap.

D'ya like dubstep?

Published Oct. 5th 2015
View Comments
  • Ashley SSS
    Associate Editor
    I really doubt the Borderlands series will be remembered in 15+ years. The humor is too reliant on today's idea of comedy and even references memes, not to mention the gameplay itself is honestly nothing to write home about. Better, less puerile lootfest games will come along and they'll be better written and more fun to boot.

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