The Borderlands Legendary Collection is one of the most fascinating Switch ports we’ve seen in a while – it’s like a technical roadmap for the series, starting off from the last-gen Borderlands, encompassing its sequel and rounding off with the cross-generational Pre-Sequel. Unreal Engine 3 is the core technology in all cases, but its utilisation evolves from game to game with some fascinating results in the transition to Switch – not least that the more ambitious Pre-Sequel looks better and even runs better than Borderlands 2.
Of course, access to the original trilogy also shows the evolution in Gearbox’s craft. Between 2008 and 2012, environments scaled up in complexity, the rendering pipeline improved, and more advanced effects were put to work in cutscenes – there was always a satisfying forward step. And the good news is that by and large, this Switch collection is a good match for the Handsome Collection on PS4 and Xbox One. Perhaps inevitably, the frame-rate target changes from 60fps to 30fps to achieve it on its mobile chipset, while the split-screen mode is also pared back from a maximum of four players to two, but on the plus side you do get Borderlands: Game of the Year Edition included in the mix here. For Switch owners, this creates a very complete package.
Let’s tackle each in turn, then. The Borderlands series has travelled a long road since its 2008 debut. The simple wastelands of the original classic, marked by thick comic-book style edges, laid a template for the series’ style and gameplay loop. Honestly it still has a lot of charm today, even if its environments now feel a little flat and simplistic. On Switch, that makes for a very straightforward port, with a native, fixed 1920×1080 resolution at 30 frames per second that rarely wavers from its target, plus a nigh-on identical experience at 720p in portable mode. There are some omissions up against the other current-gen console versions – anti-aliasing is removed entirely, for example, while shadow quality is pared back. Texture filtering is also of a poor quality, especially noticeable when playing docked.
A lot of these tweaks and compromises stay in place for Borderlands 2. In comparison with the Xbox One release, it’s also clear that post-effects like depth of field and bloom are missing on Switch – but all round it’s still great to see texture detail on enemies is a match for the bigger consoles. Borderlands 2 is the point at which Gearbox’s handling of Unreal tech really started to shine too: environments are bigger, more vertical. We have soft use of physics for flags, and a lovely crepuscular ray effect. Shadows streak around objects occluding the sun – even snowflakes. It’s a lovely effect, and it makes the cut on Switch too. It’s also worth noting effects quality stays at the same level as Xbox One – and that’s perhaps one area that the developer could have tweaked to optimise it further. While gameplay is mostly locked at 30fps, alpha heavy scenes see infrequent but heavy hits to frame-rate.
Last but certainly not least is the Pre-Sequel. Released in 2012, the team went all out to deliver a more narrative-driven game, and on Switch there’s a lot more going on visually. It’s cutscenes galore right from the start, but actual in-in-engine gameplay shows major upgrades over Borderlands 2. It necessitates the implementation of dynamic resolution scaling on Switch, with an 810p to 1080p window. Pre-Sequel also shines on Switch for adding more effects.
Yes, at last, anti-aliasing is fully enabled for this third game and so there’s a much cleaner look to it than the first two. Depth of field is also added at last, while shootouts have a blur to the background of the action that falls in line with Xbox One’s presentation. In actual comparison between the two, it’s surprising how similar the two look – besides the obvious cut in texture filtering. Another cutback on Switch that stands out is a 50 per cent reduction in resolution to transparency effects, creating obvious stair-steps around explosions. It’s not the case for the first two games, but Pre-Sequel – perhaps by necessity of it being more ambitious in its detailing of environments – takes a hit here.
There’s two separate approaches to the Switch ports: Borderlands 1 and 2 play it straight at a locked 1080p and 720p portable, but there is a sense Pre-Sequel is built with adaptability in mind. Enabling dynamic resolution and dropping the effects quality are drawbacks on paper but allows for tangible benefits: added depth of field, bloom, and anti-aliasing – and a better looking and performing game overall. In terms of portable play, it’s curious to see the resolution rarely deviates from 720p, suggesting that flexibility isn’t needed as much on the go. But the fact that flexibility is built into the engine by design not only produces a better-looking game overall, it also runs smoother than its predecessor across the run of play – a remarkable turn of events.
As an overall product, the Legendary Collection is a strong proposition. Perhaps by virtue of its age and its 30fps target, the first game poses no problems for the Nintendo hybrid, bar some fleeting, infrequent and most unnoticeable frame-pacing stutters – which actually manifest occasionally in all three titles. Borderlands 2 is the only game which exhibits any major performance challenges – and even then, only in areas heavy with transparency effects (and the hit to performance is actually reduced in mobile mode, again implicating bandwidth limitations). Borderlands: The Pre-Sequel isn’t perfect – those minor frame-pacing trills still kick off at points – but it’s still very well presented. And likewise the portable play simply flies through at 30fps, up to and including the Pre-Sequel with only Borderlands 2 presenting occasional performance dips. Even split-screen modes across the series hold up pretty well, but there are some understandable performance dips in heavy scenes, again more noticeable in Borderlands 2.
The overwhelming sense here is that Switch is more than up to the task of running all three games well. With a little retooling of Borderlands 2, it would be plain sailing across the board – but as a whole, the Legendary Collection impresses. That so much of the series gets crammed into one package, including all DLC, makes this a great primer before launching into Borderlands 3 – and it will be fascinating to see if Gearbox takes the bull by the horns and attempt to port over its most ambitious Borderlands yet. Gearbox transitioned across to UE4 for its last game, the engine is supported on the Nintendo hardware, and I’d love to see the entire franchise available to play on Switch.