Well, if I muse in the comfortable folds of my ruby dressing gown, Borderlands’ appeal lies in the following shortlist:
- Visual design. The shanties, the strange jury-rigged mechanical contraptions, the enemies channelling Mad Max and Keith Flint etc. As well as the weapon designs. I love the wild, often Blomkampian aesthetic these boomsticks have.
- Guns with stats. Not in the cold statistical way a FAMAS differs from an AusSteyr, but just these strange takes on the conventions of firearms. The shotgun with shock-shot, or the SMG that increases its accuracy by holding down the trigger. The bizarre stats that govern critical hits. What’s more, unlike any other game, there really is a sense of conventional targeting and tangible feedback to combat that doesn’t feel like dice are being rolled under the covers. It’s a coup.
- Guns with stats: The Return. Having never really enjoyed “fantasy” tropes, the idea of getting a new sword isn’t particularly gratifying. To get a new gun, however, somehow fits the bill. It’s perhaps the techno-fetishist dopamine gland being wrung.
- Ambiance. Much in the same way STALKER’s grubby, roentgen-buzzed world had this forlorn sense of relentless oppression matched by the grizzled tenacity of its inhabitants, Borderlands has this cheeky wistfulness about it. I can’t speak to much of B2, but the frozen settlements on the edge of the glaciers in the sequel has it. The dusty wastes of the original had it. That frontier-inflected guitar strumming in the soundtrack does wonders for the wandering gunman traversing Pandora.
I enjoy the characters, and B2 is pretty much what the original game wanted to be in terms of adding personality, even though a lot of it is tongue-in-cheek or wonkily ironic (see: wrdsmth’s screencap), but it’s the world and the weaponry I turn up for. The ballistic possibilities and a comic-shaded yomp.