Borderlands 2 is one of my favourite games of all time. It was a realisation that came to me slowly when I found myself, once again, thinking of picking it up and starting a new character. Despite a play through taking over 40 hours, I’ve probably finished it at least half a dozen times already.
It was when pondering whether to start playing Borderlands 2 again, I came to the realisation of just how similar it was to another series I’d put a lot of time into, and how it does so many things just that little bit better. I’m going to stop playing coy now, I’m talking about Destiny. It was kind of obvious, it’s in the title of the article, and Cayde-6 is just below. I’ve complained about and praised Destiny again, again, again and again. It’s a game I love to hate and hate to love, and yet I still play it all the time.
In fact, they’re both games that capture a lot of the things I value in video games: Individuality of character in multiplayer games, replayability, diverse upgrading paths, procedurally generated loot. These are things that draw me into not just playing a game, but to continuing playing it for years to come. Both games do these things, to varying degrees of success , but ultimately I think that Borderlands 2 does the better job. This is my case for that.
There’s a lot to cover here, but I’ve got to start somewhere. So based on the name given to this type of game; loot shooters, let’s start from there and talk about their loot. Both Borderlands and Destiny are games about brightly coloured baubles dropping out of other assorted receptacles, be it a chest or a scary monster you’ve shot repeatedly in the face. I’d argue that both games were on equal footing in this regard once upon a time, but with the removal of random stat rolls on gear in Destiny 2, I feel that I appreciate Borderland’s approach to loot more.
There is a finite limit to the weapons of Destiny 2, once you manage to get the gun you’re aiming for, that’s it, you own it. And if that weapon happens to be the top tier gun in the current meta, than everything else you get in that same bracket is trash. You end up waiting for a content patch to try and get the one or two good weapons added in that patch before going back to square one. Borderlands has a much more randomised approach to generating guns, while this means getting the “optimal”weapon you’re looking for might take a lot longer (forever in fact), but it also means every weapon drop has a potential to be something worth holding onto. I actually look at drops in Borderlands, I haven’t done that for a while in Destiny.
Comparing numbers isn’t everyone’s idea of fun though (you poor fools), so it’s a good thing that’s not my only point to bring up about the loot in Borderlands. I also love how much individuality and charm the variety of loot in Borderlands has. All weapons in Borderlands are associated with a particular, in universe, gun manufacturer. Destiny eventually did this too, but the weapons in Borderlands all have such a distinct style and cohesive style across the board that you often know what something is just at a glace as it bounces off a ledge, never to be seen again.
Jacob’s weapons, for example, all have a wild west style to them. They have a wood style finish and usually lack elemental effects, they tend to fire as quickly as the player can pull the trigger. These archetypes remain a constant throughout all of the guns from that brand, meaning that some weapon types benefit from them better than others. This can impact different player in different ways depending on their play style, their class or simply how they like to play. I’ll pull another example out of my ass; Tediore guns would be a good choice for the Gunzerker class early on because they all forgo a reload animation in favour of throwing the weapon like a grenade and manifesting a new one to replace it. I could give another dozen examples off the top of my head too. There is such a wide variety of things to pick from because of their random generation of weapons.
Destiny used to have a similar feel to this in the first game, but the removal of randomised stat rolls in Destiny 2 has removed a big part of what made the end-game of the first Destiny so repeatable. There is no surprise or unique feeling to anything when you’ve mostly got it all already. Where Destiny does have a leg up is in its Exotic gear, which are limited, but can have a dramatic effect on how you play your characters. My only issue is that in Destiny 2, Exotic gear feels toned down from how it was in the original game. Exotics used to feel weird and overpowered in a really fun way, but for the sake of things like balance in the game’s competitive modes I feel like the sequel really missed out.
Borderlands 2 doesn’t have to worry about this, as being over the top and bombastic is the game’s bread and butter. While Borderlands doesn’t have exotics exactly, it does have unique weapons that drop as quest rewards more often than not. Guns with set names and stats. While these guns aren’t always the most desirable for how useful they are, it’s their weird quirks that makes you want to keep them and show them off. Llike this cursed gun you chase around during one side quest, you hear a lot about it and see a lot of people feel the need to kill one another over it. As it turns out, it’s cursed because it screams at you in a shrill voice constantly, and makes you walk at a snails pace when you equip it. It’s still pretty strong though, and you get a funny story out of it.
These games don’t just live and die based on their loot though, as much as some dedicated You Tubers might want to make you believe that. One of the strongest things that both games establish for themselves are a robust and fleshed out worlds in which to play in. Given, one of them makes more sense than the other, but the worlds from Destiny and Borderlands 2 have a cohesive style throughout. Both have a lot of lore behind them, the thing that I think makes Borderlands superior though is that its lore is actually in the game. I’ll admit; it’s a low blow, but a lot of the original Destiny’s story was locked behind their grimmore cards that couldn’t be accessed within the game.
As much as I like Destiny and am interested in this world they’ve created, I never felt a desire to pour through those cards on their website. Most of my understanding of the Destiny world comes from throw away comments from friends who did read the cards and YouTube videos I’ve happened to click on when I was really bored. Borderlands 2’s world comes to the surface through the game’s main story, idle NPC chatter, side-quests and the fact that there have been four games set in that world at this point, all of which work to flesh some aspect of it out.
Given, the style of humour in Borderlands 2 isn’t everyone’s cup of tea. The meme-centric focus of a lot of quests and character dialogue can be off-putting to some, but it all still lends itself to the same central themes and tone of the game. It all feels like it belongs in the same world that they’ve established for themselves, as ridiculous as some aspects of it can seem. It feels like a much stronger package in terms of its story coming together, its characters being likeable in their own weird, messed-up way, the themes and style all seem cut from the same cloth.
Destiny, however, feels like it had a crisis of identity when comparing how it looks now to how it looked like at the time of the first game’s release. Although I’d admit that Borderlands 2 has a slightly different tone than the original too. My big issue with Destiny in this case is that it’s done a poor job of endearing me to any of its characters. There are too many individuals that seem to have the same wise-guy/smart-ass type that I’m getting tired of seeing in my media.
The characters in Borderlands are hugely bombastic by comparison. You could argue that they’re caricatures rather than genuine characters, but they all feel like different people with very unique quirks and backgrounds to me. Sure, the smart-ass character type is in there too, but where Borderlands succeeds is that it does a does a far better job of humanising its characters. As cartoonish as they can seem. Roland, Lilith, Scooter and even Mad Moxxi have their moments of levity within the story. While you’re running around in a Mad Max inspired hellscape, on a number of occasions, Borderlands will slow things down and actually have a number of serious character moments. Which work all the better because they’re coming from these larger than life people, I’ll admit a lot of these moments can be hit and miss, but I appreciate the effort they make all the same.
I mean, they even dedicated an entire game to humanising Handsome Jack. And while I’m no big fan of the “pre-sequel” and think Jack is an irredeemable piece of shit, the game’s attempt to bring some extra dimension to the character feels like far more effort than Bungie has tried to do with any of their characters. I never felt like Cayde-6 or Ikora Rey got moments of character development, it was almost there but I never felt like it stuck the landing.
Hell, Ghaul; the villain in Destiny 2, felt like the most fleshed out and interesting character in the game. But then all of his development, that takes place in cutaways throughout the main campaign, amounts to absolutely nothing as they seem to lose their nerve and sweep any development from him under the rug just in time for a run of the mill final boss fight. Then he’s dead and any crisis of conscious he seemed to be having regarding his place in the galaxy or the military force he represents is never mentioned again.
The final big point I want to make is about customisation in the game. Once again, this is something I feel that Bungie managed really well in their first game, but ended up bundling when it came to their sequel. While the skill tree wasn’t the prettiest thing to look at in Destiny 1, there was some real potential for creating unique play styles in there. Adding various nodes across the different customisable slots, combined with the unique effects of the various exotic gear, you could create some interesting effects.
Destiny 2 did away with this by making you essentially pick between two different sets of abilities per sub-class, removing the mix and match style of character customisation completely.
This ends up being personal preference for me, but I enjoy the freedom of customisation available to the player in Borderlands 2. While visual customisation is limited to certain head swaps and palette swaps, the real customisation comes from how you allocate your skill points into the three trees available per class. It’s in which mods you want to equip, that change the way you might play drastically, as the buffs they provide are very significant. Not to mention the freedom to use whichever weapon type you want.
Destiny 2 doesn’t provide much in terms of unique play styles, the exotic armour and weapons are very toned down from the first game as I mentioned before, and there is far less input on customisation other than how you look. Sure mods can add additional stats to certain aspects of your character but these buffs are so minimal that in practice very little noticeably changes thanks to them. I’ll admit that the ability to change your armour and its colour makes for a very individual feel, but it all ultimately feels like visuals changes more than anything significant.
And that’s all I’ve got pretty much. I don’t think I’m really going to sway anyone away from Destiny if I’m completely honest. This is mostly me blowing off steam. Sure, I’d like to get more people playing Borderlands 2, so I’d have one more excuse to pick it up again. But there isn’t a whole lot of social content to the game aside from levelling characters together. Destiny undoubtedly still is the better social experience of the two despite its shortcomings. In the end, I’m probably going to continue playing Destiny over Borderlands, as damn good a game as it is. But believe me, I have one beady eye focused hard on the horizon for when gearbox finally officially announce the next game in the Borderlands series, which they’ve all but said they’re making.
And guess what, rumour on the street is that whatever the next Borderlands game ends up being, they’re taking a lot of influence from Destiny. A game that combines the best aspects of both games into one? Sign me the hell up!