The Evolution of the Borderlands Franchise

Feature sponsored by 2K. Spoilers for Borderlands and Borderlands 2, duh.


Making its debut in 2009—yes, it's actually been that long—the Borderlands franchise has evolved over the last five years to become Gearbox Software's flagship title and the model for online co-operative shooters, inspiring the design for modern online first-person shooters like Destiny. (Don't deny it, because it's true.) Now, 2K and Gearbox Software is bringing everything they've learned with the Borderlands series during this console generation in the upcoming Borderlands: The Pre-Sequel, which as its name suggests is a prequel to Borderlands 2 but still a sequel to the original Borderlands.


Don't blame yourself if you've forgotten or become muddled over the lore for Gearbox Software's Borderlands. It's been five years since the original Borderlands and with numerous story-based DLC installments for both Borderlands 1 and 2, comprehending everything that has led up to The Pre-Sequel would be a tall order even for Borderlands veterans (like myself). So let's delve headfirst into the last two games, set everything straight, and ponder about how the Borderlands universe will grow from here.


Borderlands 1

The original Borderlands, revealed all the way back in the September 2007 issue of Game Informer, came out with a bang. The poster, with the iconic Psycho raider pointing his fingers at his head like a gun, became a snapshot of what Borderlands is all about: exaggerated humor, a "don't take this too seriously" attitude, a universe that blends science fiction with old Western flicks, and nigh-psychotic but still highly entertaining gunplay. It was self-dubbed by Gearbox Software as a "role-playing shooter" that touted a loot-based gun system, a leveling system with a three-pronged skill tree for each of the four main characters, and four-player co-operative multiplayer.


Despite being an inaugural entry, Borderlands cemented the core elements of the franchise. It introduced four class-based characters with distinct dialogue and unique skillsRoland (Soldier), Mordecai (Hunter), Brick (Berserker), and Lilith (Siren). Earning experience through main missions and side quests through bounty boards would level the character, making it easier to handle the surrounding enemies in the level and allowing the character to equip high-level weaponry. New weapons, shields, and class mods could be purchased through vending machines, but the best equipment awaits within loot chests and drops from bosses and "badass" enemies who can spit out blue, purple, and if you're lucky, golden-orange weapons. It is, for all intents and purposes, Diablo with guns.


Exploring the arid planet of Pandora in search for a Vault rumored to hold vast, untold treasures, you arrive in the sandy town of Fyrestone where you're greeted by a projection of a woman who calls herself the "Guardian Angel" as well as the iconic robot "Claptrap" who can't help but have an annoyingly optimistic voice-over. After clearing out a few bandit leaders and grabbing one of the keys to the Vault, the slightly insane archaeologist Patricia Tannis alerts you to gather the other keys. But your progress is eventually impeded by Commandant Steele of the Crimson Lance from the Atlas Corporation who disables the ECHO network after you gather the third piece. This would not be only time that the Vault Hunters must fight against a mega-corporation in the Borderlands series.


Fighting your way through the squads of Crimson Lance toward the Vault, you discover that it doesn't hide any treasure but swarms of Alien guardians instead. Near a portal at the end of the dungeon, a giant tentacle monster named The Destroyer pierces through Commander Steele and it's up to you and your fellow Vault Hunters to eviscerate the monster. In the finale, you discover that the Guardian Angel is actually transmitting through a satellite owned by the Hyperion satellite. Hmm… just what is going on here?


Borderlands 2


Borderlands 2 continues the story and gameplay of its predecessor, picking up five years after the end of Borderlands and revealing the truth behind the Guardian Angel. The advent of a glowing purple mineral called Eridium has pushed Handsome Jack, the president of the Hyperion Corporation, into ruling Pandora by force. The original four Vault Hunters, however, courageously stand in his way by bolstering the defenses of Sanctuary and assembling the Crimson Raiders resistance. But they can't fight off Handsome Jack alone and that's where you come in.


The new four Vault Hunters replace the original classes—Axton the Commando, Maya the Siren, Salvador the Gunserker, and Zer0 the Assassinand begin the game riding a train that Handsome Jack is supposed to be riding, but they're tricked and the train explodes near a frozen wasteland. Serendipitously, the team is found by a roaming Claptrap and you shuffle off to Sanctuary, rescuing and meeting the other Vault Hunters as NPCs and series regulars like Dr. Zed, Scooter the mechanic, and Marcus the gun vendor. Soon, the team attempts to hijack a train with a supposed second Vault Key, but they instead find Wilhelm, a Hyperion cyborg… who is actually one of the main characters in the Pre-Sequel. Yes, drama.


One of most improved parts of the Borderlands franchise has been the connection between characters and the number of twists in the plot. In Borderlands 2, not only can you speak and interact with the original four Vault Hunters, but you witness their plights along the course of the story. Roland has the idea of using Wilhelm's power core to reinstate Sanctuary's shield system, but it turns out to be a trap. The Guardian Angel, under the control of Handsome Jack, deactivates Sanctuary's defenses but luckily you and Lilith manage to transport and transform the city into a flying fortress just in time.


It's soon revealed that Jack is attempting to open another Vault which houses The Warrior and that he's forcing Angel to charge the Vault Key. Though Roland understandably distrusts Angel, she tells the team that the Key is with her, prompting you to receive aid from Mordecai and Brick. To add insult to injury, though, Mordecai's pet bird Bloodwing from the original Borderlands is kidnapped by Hyperion, mutated, and forced to fight you as a boss. I'm not usually a sappy person, but this event is one of the saddest moments that I've ever experienced in a video game.


Even worse, once the team reaches Angel, it's revealed that she is in fact Handsome Jack's daughter and has been using her for his own ends. Angel requests you to kill her and despite Handsome Jack's pleas, you fulfill her request, sending Jack into a parental rage where he kills Roland and captures Lilith in his daughter's stead. Fortunately, with the assistance of Mordecai and Brick, you're able to find the Vault, kill The Warrior, and execute Handsome Jack.


This emotionally charged sequel thankfully gives way to several notable improvements. Completing various challenges will earn Badass tokens that can be traded in for passive bonuses for damage, cooldown rate, recoil reduction, and bevy of other stat boosts. Eridium bars as loot drops also replace annoying hide-and-seek backpack quests from the original Borderlands, and can be used to trade in for permanent increases in the capacity of various ammo types. The new slag element multiplies damage from other elements like fire, shock, and poison. Another nice upgrade is the introduction of Golden Keys, where players can enter special codes found on social media sites for rare randomized treasure.

Borderlands: The Pre-Sequel


Following the comical but intricate storyline of the past two installments, the moon-bound Borderlands: The Pre-Sequel by 2K Australia likewise features four characters that were previously NPCs. Fans of the Borderlands DLC, The Secret Armory of General Knoxx, will recognize the rogue assassin Athena who used to be a "top operative" of the Crimson Lance before defecting. When the original four Vault Hunters first arrive at T-Bone Junction, Athena provides information to you before being abducted by Mr. Shank but is eventually set free from Lockdown Palace by your kind intervention. In the Pre-Sequel, Athena can sling an energy-absorbing shield like Captain America and serves as the narrator for the events in the game as she's telling them after (yes, after) Borderlands 2.


The other three Pre-Sequel characters have their own past in the franchise as well, carrying through with Borderlands 2's plotline. Though they have no idea that the guy they're working for, Handsome Jack, will turn into the villain in Borderlands 2, Pre-Sequel's plot will revolve around the adage that every villain believes he's the hero. Wilhelm the Enforcer serves as the tank of the group and eventually (and regrettably) becomes the cybernetic boss in Borderlands 2. Nisha the Lawbringer, who's a significant other of Handsome Jack and becomes the enemy sheriff of Lynchwood in Borderlands 2, has a gun-oriented action skill like the Gunzerker. The final character, Claptrap, is the last robot of its kind and can use the randomizing VaultHunter.exe to summon, of all things, a disco ball that deals a ridiculous amount of elemental damage.


The main twists in the gameplay for the Pre-Sequel is based on the moon setting with the introduction of the ice-based element, laser guns, and oxygen tanks. Frozen enemies can be smashed into pieces using straight-up melee attacks or by jumping high into the air with the low gravity and slamming down onto the ground nearby. You can also sacrifice some oxygen in your jetpack for double jumps and hovering for long-distance gaps.


If the first two Borderlands are any indication, as well as the Season Pass that can be pre-purchased, you can also expect plenty of DLC campaign add-ons and extra characters. Like the Mechromancer and the Psycho Bandit for Borderlands 2, Handsome Jack's Doppelganger will be available as the first DLC character for the Pre-Sequel. The Shock Drop Slaughter Pit DLC mission will be available at launch as a pre-order exclusive.


From lowly beginnings, the Borderlands series has evolved into a triple-A franchise that includes an appearance in Poker Night 2, a cast of strong male, female, and LGBT characters, and will even be featured in a Telltale Games series called Tales from the Borderlands. As a more directed, story-based adventure, it will follow two Vault Hunters Rhys and Fiona after the events in Borderlands 2. So long as the developers are able to carry the humor and strength of the series, both Tales from the Borderlands and Borderlands: The Pre-Sequel looks to be in safe hands

For more information, you can check out Ryan Bates' preview and you can check out GameRevolution's multiple previews for Borderlands: The Pre-Sequel from Alex, Jessica, and yours truly. Borderlands: The Pre-Sequel will release on October 14 on Xbox 360, PS3, and PC, and Tales of the Borderlands is slated for late 2014 for Xbox One, PS4, PC, PS3, Xbox 360, and Vita.