Borderlands: The Handsome Collection ($60; PS4, Xbox One) debuted on March 24, and I've been pretty much unable to put it down since. The game is gorgeous, a bargain and a lot of fun. The whole package raises only one thorny question: Is it worth picking up?
Possibly. The Handsome Collection is targeting a very specific type of Borderlands fan (and make no mistake, it is definitely after fans and not newcomers). But for the intended audience, it's a great buy. If you're not part of that targeted group, you can safely give this collection a pass and stay tuned for the next major game in the series.
First things first: Borderlands: The Handsome Collection is a compilation of Borderlands 2 and Borderlands: The Pre-Sequel, with all downloadable content for those games included. For those who aren't familiar with the series, Borderlands is a first-person shooter mixed with an action/role-playing game. The franchise mixes huge, explorable landscapes with goofy humor and a strong focus on cooperative multiplayer (although playing the games solo is perfectly possible).
This is the first time that either Borderlands 2 (2012) or its sequel/prequel (The Pre-Sequel spans multiple points in the continuity), from 2014, has been available on a current-gen console. The original Borderlands (2009), for whatever reason, did not make the cut, and remains relegated to last-gen consoles and PCs.
As such, the games in The Handsome Collection have a few features that their last-gen predecessors did not. They run at 60 frames per second (under ideal circumstances — more on this in a bit) and display at full 1080p resolution. They also allow up to four-player split-screen. On last-gen consoles, only two players could play together locally. (On PCs, there is no local co-op at all.)
Beyond that, the games are identical to their last-gen forbearers. As such, if you already own the games and their associated DLC, there's not much reason to buy them again. If you have them on PC, you have had access to 1080p resolution and 60 fps (or even higher) all along, and really do not need The Handsome Collection.
I had about a week to play with the PS4 version of The Handsome Collection, and I was pretty hooked. I mostly played by myself, and dedicated most of my time to Borderlands 2. I had not played either game before, although I did finish the original Borderlands a few weeks ago.
Since both Borderlands 2 and The Pre-Sequel have been out for a while, it wouldn't make much sense to do full reviews of each game. However, I can say that they're both a lot of fun — if you have the right mindset.
If you want to play a funny game that offers a stiff challenge (especially if you play alone, as I prefer to do), and build up a unique character as you collect lots of interesting, randomized guns, grenades and shields, Borderlands is your series. If you have three friends, playing through the game together can also be a ton of fun, although expect a lot of downtime as you divvy up weapons and collaborate on strategy.
The shooting itself works well, and exploring the huge levels is fun (if occasionally confusing, as the level maps do not account for topography). But the character-building is where the games really distinguish themselves.
Borderlands 2 offers six classes; The Pre-Sequel has four. Each class feels distinct, from the traditional run-and-gun Commando to the newbie-friendly hail-of-bullets Mechromancer. Even better, each class has three discrete skill trees, so you can mix and match to make a character who feels unique to your own style.
The humor is hit-or-miss (some of the pop-culture references to Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles and Game of Thrones are hilarious; some of the adolescent sex jokes and misogynistic slang are not). But overall, it helps the planet of Pandora feel like a fun place rather than a super-serious one.
Furthermore, the asking price is very low. Even PC gamers, who usually get the best game prices on the market, would have to shell out well over $100 to get Borderlands 2, The Pre-Sequel and all associated DLC.
What Doesn't Work
The Handsome Collection is generally a clean, bug-free game, but that doesn't mean it's technically perfect. Playing at 60 fps is one of the game's big draws, but this frame rate only works under very specific circumstances.
Borderlands 2, in general, can maintain the frame rate pretty well during single-player gaming. The Pre-Sequel is not quite as clean, and it can drop significantly during heated firefights or other chaotic action scenes.
During local multiplayer, however, all bets are off. When four players share the same screen, they will have to make do with a much lower frame rate in addition to occupying a very small piece of digital real estate. (The in-game menus also fail to fit neatly into the split-screen, which is problematic, but expected.) This may be an acceptable trade-off for getting all your friends together on the couch at once, but it’s still worth pointing out.
Gearbox has advised that patches for these issues are on the way, but having four screens on a single system with an unerring frame rate could be a challenging feat to achieve.
Who Needs It? Who Doesn't?
If you're a Borderlands newbie, this probably isn't the right place to start. The story of Borderlands 2 relies on knowing what went on in the first game, so you're better off picking up the original game on PC, Xbox 360 or PS3.
At the other end of the spectrum, if you're a Borderlands die-hard who's already finished the two games and all of the DLC, there's not much for you here, either. The Handsome Collection has no new content, and the graphic improvements do not make or break the games. This is especially true for those who played the titles on PC.
If, however, you've played a Borderlands game before, enjoyed it and want to play more, The Handsome Collection is the way to go. It's an affordable way to acquire a ton of content, and will keep you busy for at least 50-60 hours — more, if you choose to take the adventure online or play as different classes. You can even pick up right where you left off by importing your save from the previous console generation.
I'm not sure how many people liked the first Borderlands, yet held off on purchasing the second or third games, but if you're one of those people, then this collection seems to have you in mind. Besides, with Tales from the Borderlands (a serialized adventure-game tie-in from Telltale Games) well underway, now is as good a time as any to take a trip to Pandora and see what all the loot-crazed, psycho-infested fuss is about.