In a relatively short span of time, the Borderlands series has built up a pretty storied reputation. As the go-to “Looter Shooter,” it manages to walk a relatively thick tightrope between different genres. It’s this rounded appeal and wacky humor that has helped the Borderlands series of games garner a wide audience, and by proxy, appreciation.
Borderlands goes beyond the 3 main games that hold up the spine of the franchise. There are the antics of Handsome Jack, the exploits of Hyperion managers, and a companion app very few people remember or know about.
Here, we take a look at all the games in the Borderlands franchise and rate them on their Borderific merit.
What Makes a Great Borderlands Game
What makes Borderlands great is how it combines RPG elements with shooter action. The best Borderlands games offer the thrill of exploring a world, finding cool loot, and teaming up with friends to get through challenging areas.
Borderlands also has a unique art style that brings its characters and environments to life. Borderlands games are always full of vibrant colors and crazy enemies that make each mission an adventure in itself.
Yet, more than anything, the Borderlands franchise is focused on exploration, looting, building up character power and skills, and having a fantastic time with friends. When ranking Borderlands games, we take a look at how well these elements come together to create an enjoyable experience. We also look at the story, characters, and overall appeal of each game. Let’s get started!
All Borderlands Games, Ranked
10. Loot the World – Probably the Worst of All Borderlands Games
Loot the World may be a game in the Borderlands series many fans may not have even heard of. Understandably so in most cases, considering its purpose and release market.
Technically an app rather than a “game”, Loot the World was a free companion app related to Borderlands 2. Made for iOS and Android and only available in the United States, LTW allowed players to scan barcodes with the chance of receiving in-game loot items through their ShiFT account.
By scanning the bar and QR codes on products, you could unlock unique items like new character skins or special equipment. These would then be stored in your ShiFT account, and could then be unlocked by spending Stamps in Borderlands 2 actual.
While sort lived (shut down in 2018), it’s always cool when developers extend their reach into the real world by using tools like this. Being that it’s a companion tool rather than a full game, this is definitely propping up Borderlands’ other titles.
9. Borderlands Legends
A far cry from the regular shooting and looting of the main series, this mobile game was closer to an RTS than an RPG.
Developed by 2K China, Legends was a fairly lackluster foray into the mobile market. Here you control your 4 person squad of Brick, Mordecai, Lilith, and Roland from an isometric perspective.
Your objective is to make your way through the map and destroy all enemies in your path. Occasionally you’d be required to do an optional objective like protecting an NPC, but destruction was essentially the order of the day.
The main and apparent issue was that the gameplay loop was incredibly short and shallow. The feedback of “Play mission, go shopping, play mission” grew stale very quickly, compounded by the UX features.
The crowded nature of the screen and UI meant controlling characters and giving them commands was regularly difficult. A portion of the time, this was pointless as the best course of action was to just leave the Vault Hunters to their own devices.
Tried though it might, Borderlands Legends ended up as just another mobile tie-in game.
8. Tiny Tina’s Assault on Dragon Keep: A Wonderlands One-Shot Adventure
Downloadable Content that got its own release, the first “actual” game on this list is one of the adventures of the mischievous Tiny Tina.
Taking place in the world of “Bunkers and Badasses”, this fantasy setting is more or less a palette swap for Borderlands’ usual aesthetics. That said, it is a refreshing and welcoming one. In a love letter to Dungeons & Dragons, Tina serves as the “Bunker Master”, narrating the Vault Hunters’ quest to save Queen Butt Stallion from the Handsome Sorcerer.
Being that this standalone is repackaged DLC, it is obviously much shorter than the other main games. However, it did feature new weapons, enemies, and class mods to add a fresh but still fairly loose twist to the content.
The rerelease also had a number of quality-of-life improvements and adjustments owing to the fact it was no longer an addendum to Borderlands 2. A nice touch showing that Gearbox did not simply ship an eight-year-old DLC out the door without checking on it.
Dragon Keep falls down in that it doesn’t do a whole lot to entice new players or change much of what has come before; it is largely Borderlands 2 wearing a fantasy coat. For most, this is absolutely fine, and what they wanted. In terms of adding new material, it didn’t really blow too many people’s minds.
Speaking cynically, Dragon Keep was merely meant as promo material for Tiny’s upcoming main game, Wonderlands.
7. New Tales from the Borderlands
Fresh off the press at the time of writing, the changed-up narrative style for Telltale’s mix on Gearbox’s franchise has been good. That said, it’s not been great with regard to the second game in the spin-off series.
To clarify, this story of wordsmithery was not developed by Telltale Games. Instead, Gearbox themselves tried their hand at trading bullets and buckshot for metaphors and moral choices. Unfortunately, this attempt didn’t go quite as well as the first outing.
In this new string of episodic stories, you play Anu, Octavio, and Fran. After finding a treasure that the Tediore Company is looking for, the trio are hunted by the corporation for the relic.
The same mechanics from the original Tales From the Borderlands keep their place here. You’ll still be firing acidic words and verbal insults rather than ballistics. Gearbox’s lack of experience in the genre was indeed apparent this time around, though. The jokes and humor were both obvious and toilet based. Fine on their own, but the running jokes quickly fell flat and grew tiresome over the campaign.
QTEs also featured much more prominently. Many critics thought too prominently. New Tales leans heavily on this feature, to the point it became vividly formulaic. The Vaultlanders minigame, however, is a welcome feature that many players quote as a high point that breaks up the gameplay.
6. Borderlands: The Pre-Sequel
Often cited as the weakest game in the main series, the third technical game had a tough act to follow in the form of Borderlands 2.
In this outing set between the two main games, we see how Handsome Jack became president of the Hyperion Corporation. Set on a Helios moon base, it follows new Vault Hunters helping Jack regain control of the Elpis military structure.
There’s nothing inherently bad about The Pre-Sequel, but there’s just not enough that’s different. It failed to do anything to really set itself apart as a fully realized sequel in the way that Borderlands 2 did with the first game.
Had this been labeled as the official third game in the series, i.e. Borderlands 3, fans would more than likely have felt let down somewhat. It was essentially “more Borderlands”.
In relation to other franchises, this seemed to be in parallel with games like Assassin’s Creed Brotherhood. This has a feeling of being more like a large expansion than a whole leap of another full game.
The one that started it all, Gearbox’s original game sits firmly in the middle of the pack.
Kicking off the story of the Vault Hunters, the inceptive game lays the simple premise for the series. In a bloody race to the finish line of the Vault, it was up to you and your fellow hunters to reach the riches of Pandora before the nefarious Atlas Corporation did.
Players were more than familiar with loot mechanics in RPGs before Borderlands arrived on the scene. However, the breath of fresh air with regard to its humor, its arcade-style mechanics, and its focus on gunplay made formerly “hardcore” concepts palatable to a more casual or uninitiated audience.
Borderlands was also helped in its reach thanks to its range of downloadable content. The Island of Dr. Ned, Mad Moxxi’s Underdome, General Knoxx’s Armory, and Claptrap’s Robolution all develop the content well.
4. Tales from the Borderlands
Swapping weapons for words, Telltale’s version of the Gearbox series was a risky move but ended up paying off in the long run.
In this fresh take on the Borderlands formula, you play as Hyperion employee Rhys Strongfork and streetwise hustler Fiona. Together, they form a fragile alliance to track the Vault of the Traveller. This journey is split into 5 episodes, as per Telltale’s standard method of storytelling.
Proving themselves to be masters of narrative, Telltale certainly delivers on this aspect once again. For many, this is their favorite outing within the framework of TT’s interactive “choose your own adventure” format. The writing and voice acting in particular is of a stellar standard, again axiomatic of the developer. Laura Bailey and Troy Baker lead the vocal talent by example as the two playable characters with their emotional and hilarious performances.
The timing of the game almost certainly had a helping hand in its success. Instead of another Borderlands game full of guns and explosions, TFtB subverts these expectations tremendously.
A minor gripe is that in some instances, the QTE sections were made unnecessarily hard thanks to an odd camera angle or random difficulty spike.
The 3 Best Borderlands Games
3. Tiny Tina’s Wonderlands
Rounding out the top 3 is another spin-off game from the eponymous Tiny Tina. This time she features in a full experience rather than her entertaining but rather short DLC expansion.
Walking the same path carved by the Assault on Dragon Keep DLC, we journey back to Bunkers & Badasses. Once again, Tina is the Bunker Master detailing the events of the story as they unfold. Here, the Dragon Lord has been awoken, and it’s up to you and your fellow badasses to stop him.
The game also features some Hollywood comedy star power in the form of Will Arnett, Andy Samberg, and Wanda Sykes. The trio voicing the Dragon Lord, Captain Valentine, and Frette, respectively.
Similar in many respects to how Borderlands 3 handles its approach, Wonderlands cranks things up in a similar fashion. If Dragon Keep was an appetizer, Wonderlands is very much the main course.
To say there are just “more Borderlands” is both true and an understatement. It’s more of what makes Borderlands a good game, and why people like it. There’s the added element of the idiosyncratic tabletop elements, and the humor the medium involves.
The story, however, does not try to be anything more than what we’ve come to expect from stories over the years. You journey to the bad guy, and then you fight and defeat the bad guy. Fans of DnD will find much to their liking here, though.
For more details, check out our thorough review of Tiny Tina’s Wonderlands.
2. Borderlands 3
Wrapped in a degree of controversy prior to and during its release, Borderlands 3 came out the other side with a very positive critical reaction.
Set seven years after the events of the second game, BL3 follows Amara, FL4K, Moze, and Zane. They go up against the Calypso Twins and their cult in a race to uncover Vaults across various planets using their Vault map.
Borderlands 3 is unashamed in everything, which makes it the series that it is. It is unapologetically, unadulterated, excessive, boisterous chaos. Marketed as having a “Bazillion” guns, the math isn’t actually too far off. The core experience is most certainly here, and that is simultaneously its best and worst asset.
It provides a more polished and indulgent experience for the existing Borderlands fan. If you played and loved the shooting and looting games prior, you’ll find a happy home here. However, for the uninitiated, this excess could prove overwhelming and disengage those looking to get on board with the series.
Borderlands 3 makes no qualms about what it is. It’s about shooting people in the face, and it loves what it is.
1. Borderlands 2 – The Best Borderlands Game Ever Made
Taking the top spot is the original sequel, a game that took all the fun elements of the first game and cranked them up to 11.
In the sequel, you’re introduced to four new Vault Hunters: Axton, Maya, Salvador, and Zer0. Their mission is to hunt and kill the Hyperion CEO Handsome Jack, the self-proclaimed dictator of Pandora. Directed by a mysterious Guardian Angel, the team must also save the original Vault Hunters from Jack’s clutches.
The first Borderlands was mechanically sound. However, it lived and died almost solely on its hook of “kill things and collect their loot”. This was front and center, and there wasn’t else much that was given the same care and attention. Borderlands 2 corrects these areas.
The combat is refined to a better degree. The world is a much more engaging environment. The characters are more fleshed out. The weapons are more inventive and interesting.
The game takes everything established in Borderlands 1 and makes it better. And that’s exactly what a sequel should do.
Final Thoughts on the Best Borderlands Games
The Borderlands series is a great example of what makes looter shooters so addicting and fun. They feature exploration, looting, character development, and great gameplay with friends.
If you’re looking for your next looter shooter fix, then look no further than the Borderlands series. And if you’re wondering which Borderlands game is the best, wonder no more. We’ve ranked every single one of them from worst to best, and the top pick is clearly Borderlands 2.
Let us know what you think of your favorite Borderlands games in the comments section below.
For more great game series reviews, check out our review of the best Hitman games ever made!