borderlands vs fallout

Borderlands vs Fallout – Franchises Compared

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We are now in an era that the typical RPG fan is spoiled for choice. There are so many great games on sale within this genre that it can be tough to decide what to play next. This, of course, is because the genre has grown in popularity over the years thanks to the massive success of several key franchises. 

Games franchises such as The Elder Scrolls and Fallout, which have been entertaining RPG lovers for nearly thirty years now, have helped to create their own market by increasing the fan base for their games with each new launch.

Therefore, with this runaway success, it was only a matter of time until more RPG franchises started popping up, trying to weasel their way into this market to make a quick buck. 

There are many RPG franchises like this at the moment, but the one we will talk about today is Borderlands. More specifically, we will compare Borderlands as a whole to one of the big old dogs, Fallout, and the entire oeuvre that comes along with it – including the 1600 studios that have seemingly had a hand in producing the titles over the years. 

In this article, we will be looking at everything that lets gamers like me enjoy my time in Fallout but also look forward to a session on one of the many Borderlands titles.

Then, when all the niceties are out of the way, we will look at what separates the two – possibly throwing in a judgment about these differences as well for good measure. Let’s stop mucking around and get into the good bit, comparing these two monolithic franchises. Let’s go!

Main Differences Between Borderlands vs Fallout Franchise

The main differences between Borderlands vs Fallout Franchise are:

  • Fallout takes place in an alternate reality version of earth wherein they discovered the secret to nuclear fission far too early, leading to the world’s destruction in 2077, whereas Borderlands takes place on the fictional planet of Pandora.
  • Fallout has a character creation system, whereas Borderlands insists you choose one pre-set vault hunter out of a lineup. Each has its own unique skills. 
  • The player can create their own playstyle as they move through the Fallout game, whereas Borderlands locks you in from the start after you pick your class-type character.
  • Both have open-world aspects, whereas Fallout tends to focus on this aspect much more than Borderlands. 
  • The player is usually given much more choice regarding quest completion, whereas Borderlands are a lot more linear in this regard. 
  • The pacing in these games is entirely different, whereas Borderlands and the entire gunplay system in it are much faster than Fallout. 
  • The player is actively encouraged to explore the map much more in the Fallout franchise, with considerations regarding area leveling versus player freedom being made in each game, whereas In Borderlands, however, the player can travel around the map, but there isn’t as much emphasis placed on this. Neither are there area leveling systems most of the time.

Writing and Narrative

fallout writing and narrative

Fallout

When discussing the Fallout franchise and its focus on writing and narrative, I am faced with a difficult task. After all, the IP has been in the hands of three separate design studios over its lifetime.

Therefore, the goals and end product of these studios have affected how we, as avid fans of the franchise, see the franchise at large, and this all comes down to when you get into the Fallout universe. 

For example, if you landed in the post-apocalyptic world of Fallout during the ‘glory days’ of one and two, you would see Fallout as an almost entirely story-driven game with a few bolted-on mechanics to keep the more fidgety players engaged.

However, when Bethesda takes the reigns, this focus on excellent writing, pacing, and narrative seemingly disappears as they routinely sacrifice writing quality for spectacle.

With this in mind, I cannot really talk about the franchise as a whole as being one wholly concerned with excellent storytelling, especially considering that it looks like the IP isn’t leaving Bethesda’s hands anytime soon. 

Thankfully, however, for players like myself, the running narrative of this franchise has been unchanged since the beginning. No matter which game you play, you will always wake up in a post-apocalyptic world, destroyed by the nuclear conflict between the United States and China at the end of the Sino-American war in 2077.

The United States, throughout the Fallout franchise, is completely desolated, with very few sparks, or ‘milk’ of human kindness or ingenuity, managing to keep the lights on. 

However, one thing that does set the Fallout IP apart from Borderlands regarding story and narrative is the franchise’s insistence on giving a player choice, or, at least, the illusion of choice. 

Fallout has always been a game about choice – actions and consequences. For this reason, many of the games have karma ratings that affect the world around the player and how the NPCs treat them.

The player can choose which side to fight on in New Vegas and decide whether or not they or Sarah Lyons should sacrifice themselves at the end of Fallout 3. This design philosophy, therefore, trickles down throughout the game, down to the silliest of things. 

Borderlands

When I first played through the original Borderlands game, I thought the storyline was just some contrived piece of writing to enable all the fast-paced action, something akin to your run-of-the-mill superhero movie. However, as the games continued and the lore behind the game continued to expand, I was surprised. 

I will admit that you will have to put in some crazy hours to understand what is going on in this franchise and how deep the lore runs. However, the same could be said for games like Fallout and Skyrim.

Once the player completes all the games, DLCs, prequels, spin-offs, and Pre-Sequels, you should begin to get a grasp of the overall storyline before the player even lands on Pandora for the first time and into the future.

With this in mind, should you drop into Pandora for the first time, expect to miss any deep meaning or complex lore systems on your first playthrough and enjoy the experience and the seemingly surface-level plots, especially in the first title.

The main missions are often fun and engaging as the developers really spent a great deal of their time on level design and enemy creation. 

As you travel through this alien planet, you will find an environment unlike that found in Fallout. The planet itself is not exactly friendly, with many environmental elements willing to kill you at a moment’s notice.

However, Borderlands seems like a much more lonely experience overall. As someone who doesn’t enjoy playing co-op games, I was often by myself as I explored Pandora, with Claptrap appearances few and far between.

Presentation

borderlands presentation

Fallout

When the Fallout franchise first started, the developers were hampered by the technology at the time, forcing them to spend most of their time on story and writing, something that I would argue was a blessing in disguise.

However, as technology has improved over the years, I would say that the Fallout franchise has always maintained a couple of steps behind the curve, with each game being released with marginally disappointing graphics for the time. 

Take Fallout 76, for example; when I first played this game, I was shocked by how difficult even the simplest movements felt. My character was not at all fluid, and the number of mech collisions and bugs of this nature found in the world was alarming. Returning to the title now, years after launch, the same problems are still present. 

However, outside of all these flaws, the games inject some great artistry in little pockets of brilliance. I love the feel of the world, the pre-war relics which scatter the streets, and the representation of a world that cracked nuclear fission. 

In the past, these games always shied away from verticality, leaving the overall experience of a Fallout game rather flat, with only a few buildings standing above three stories to be found in the entire game.

However, in more recent games such as Fallout 4 and 76, the player can often spend hours walking through desolate and flat areas, only to stumble across massive settlements and skyscrapers.

Another thing I enjoy about Fallout and the world the creators have developed is how each settlement feels different and unique, complete with original architecture and solutions to issues. In Fallout 3, the player can spend the entire game thinking that every settlement is akin to Megaton or Rivet City.

However, you will eventually find Little Lamplight, a whole underground community operated by children, complete with homemade defense systems and walkways for them to scarper around the cave on. This juxtaposition and ability to have a laugh is something that permeates the overall presentation of the Fallout franchise.

The overall atmosphere of the Fallout franchise is something that truly deserves an entire article on its own. The way that the developers manage to change the entire vibe of the area on a dime is truly amazing and something that has been consistent throughout the series.

At one moment, the player could be walking through Sanctuary Hills without a care in the world, and the next, you could be exploring the depths of Vault 22 in New Vegas, discovering how people were literally taken over by spores and turned into nightmarish monsters.

Borderlands

When Borderlands first dropped all those years ago, people fell in love with the feel of the world and the characters therein.

The art style was something a little bit new and different in the genre, and it helped bring a degree of levity into the game, something that was much needed when you remember that the entire game takes place on a planet that can only be deemed as mildly hospitable. 

In an interview released around the same time as the first game’s launch, the developers over at Gearbox talk about how the art style is not simple cel-shading like many people originally thought.

According to Gearbox, “The new technique uses hand-drawn textures, scanned in and colored in Photoshop, combined with software that draws graphic novel-style outlines around characters and objects, sharpens shadows to look more like something an artist might create, and even draws lines on hills and inclines.

Finally, the character models were all revamped with more exaggerated proportions, creating the appearance of a detailed comic book in motion.” For more on this interview, you can check it out here.

Within this style, the developers tended to focus more on fast-paced action sequences rather than intricately designed staging/base areas in their earlier editions of the series. Although, as mentioned earlier, a great deal of time has clearly always been spent on level design for these combat areas.  

This left the overall world feeling a tad empty and devoid of life that wasn’t trying to kill you. However, as the series evolved, settlements and built-up areas filled with NPCs became the norm.

Although, I think it is only fair to point out that these areas are still miles behind in terms of complexity and vibrancy when compared with the Fallout franchise.

Speaking of vibrancy, Borderlands comes into its own when we look at some of the weapons available to the player throughout the series.

While Fallout mostly sticks to a set of basic weapons and a couple of special edition versions of said weapons, the Borderland creators seem to let their coding hair down regarding weapon design. 

The enemies the player will encounter throughout the Borderlands franchise are wide and diverse. Like Fallout, one can expect to come up against all sorts of creatures and humanoid enemies, as well as some insane boss fights along the way, something that Fallout ignores as a concept.

Lastly, I want to comment on the verticality of Borderlands and the world. One of the great things about this series, when compared with Fallout, is that the developers love to play with their landscapes, creating amazing highs and incredible lows, keeping the world’s traversal experience fresh and fun.

Audio and Score

fallout audio and score

Fallout

One of the best things about both games is the audio and score unfolding as you explore their respective worlds. In Fallout, we have the common eerie OST that you would expect from any post-apocalyptic game of this genre.

However, these standard base tracks are kicked up a notch when combined with past music. As Fallout is designed with an IRL 50s aesthetic in mind, the developers decided to use this music as the background jingles of their post-conflict hellscape. 

I cannot tell you how many hours of my Fallout playing life have been spent exploring the wasteland while passively whistling, singing, or tapping my feet to the songs on these tracks.

In particular, the soundtrack which goes along with New Vegas is particularly excellent, bringing together artists such as Frank Sinatra, The Ink Spots, and Dean Martin. All of these songs help the player immerse themselves in the gritty post-war Vegas landscape while keeping some of the eerie feelings due to the songs’ old and antiquated nature. 

However, I do have to give particular merit to the opening title screen of Fallout 3, and their use of ‘I Don’t Want to Set the World on Fire’ by The Ink Spots.

For me, this may be the best audio selection for a game of all time; it perfectly sets the theme of the Fallout franchise and immediately readies the player for the difficult adventure that they are about to embark on.

Borderlands

I understand this may be a bit controversial, but the base OST for Borderlands stands quite a few inches higher than that of Fallout. While nobody can argue that Fallout wins the overall war with its amazing soundtrack, I think Borderlands wins the atmospheric OST battle repeatedly. 

As the team at Gearbox did not limit themselves to a certain/dated style of tonal music, the highs and lows are much more intense in Borderlands. The beats that drop mid-gunfight are amazing and really do set the pace for the game as a whole, spurring the player forward and slowing them down as and when needed. 

In Fallout, I always felt like this piece of game design was slightly lacking. The intensity of the OST would kick up seemingly at random, forcing the player to step back into a fighting stance, only to be confronted with a Brahmin or some other harmless creature 50 feet away.

In Borderlands, however, once the music shifts from upbeat or eerie tunes into something you could expect to find in Doom, you know it’s about to go down. Gearbox executes this element of game design perfectly.

Gameplay and Core Mechanics

fallout gameplay and core mechanics

While these games both place the player in less-than-ideal worlds and face you off against myriad enemies with nothing more than a couple of guns and your own witts, the way that the two games deliver this experience is very different.

Both of these games are trying to achieve something very different from one another; however, a couple of elements consist throughout. 

Fallout

In the world of RPGs, the gameplay one finds in the Fallout franchise is rather typical. Begin the game, find the first quest, and progress through these quests until you complete the game. However, there are some interesting systems and tidbits along the way.

Fallout Gameplay

As I already mentioned, the core of Fallout games is the main quest line, the thing that everything else in the game hangs on. However, as you move out of the starting area in any Fallout game, the player is confronted with the opportunity to immediately cut their leash and head off in any direction of their choosing.

Should you simply move through the main quest as intended, the player will slowly progress in leveling, which, in turn, will allow the game to gradually rank up the quests’ difficulty. In most Fallout games, the competent player can expect to complete the main quest in a matter of 10-15 hours.

Most guides you find online will put this number somewhere in the 25-30 hour mark, but as someone who has completed these games numerous times, I can tell you that this is an exaggeration.

If you decide that the main quest is a bit boring or predictable, you can strike out on your own and walk down the path less traveled, picking up some of the myriad side-quests that the developers have littered across the wasteland.

Some of these missions will be simple fetch quests, whereas others will completely take over your psyche, quickly becoming your favorite game aspect. This ability to completely shock the player with bonkers and amazing side quests made me fall in love with the Fallout franchise all those years ago.

Games such as Borderlands through all of their best stuff at the player along a linear path, ensuring that you have to come across it to complete the game, but Fallout tends to tuck things away and make you work for the better pieces of content. 

Outside of the main and side quests, there are also myriad unmarked quests in the Fallout franchise. These quests operate in the background and will only update the player when completed.

Because of this, many of these quests go unnoticed by some players. A lot of these unmarked missions are simple fetch quests, such as the Bobbleheads of Fallout 3 and 4 or the Snowglobes in New Vegas.

Regardless of what quest you take on and complete in these games, the player will be rewarded with some sort of materialistic gain, whether this is bottle caps or weapons/armor, depending on the quest. Depending on the game, you will also gain some XP to help with leveling and perhaps come karma score. 

Fallout Core Mechanics

One of the best things about Fallout is that you can create and set up your player character to play through the game in whatever way you like. This means that you get to assign specific skill points and perks as you progress through the game, building yourself a character suited to you.

Therefore, if you like your character to avoid as much combat as possible, you can build a very charismatic character who likes to flirt with their opposition to get out of scrapes. Alternatively, you can also build a character who loves to raise hell. 

As mentioned, the perks or traits that you pick throughout your game will also change how you experience Fallout. Each has its own merits and is suited to your desired playthrough. 

One of the unique mechanics in the Fallout franchise is the VATS system. This system allows the player to target specific sections of the enemy in a slow-motion or time-stop fashion, feeding off of the player’s AP to power the system.

The player’s chance of hitting their target in the VATS system is linked to a myriad of factors, such as other perks, luck, etc. 

One thing I must note when talking about the core mechanics of Fallout is that the player cannot move at any more than a light job until Fallout 4. This shouldn’t bother players who have been invested in the series from the beginning, but it can be jarring for those going backward from Fallout 4/76.

Borderlands

borderlands gameplay and core mechanics

The Borderlands franchise is one completely filled with FPS tropes wearing the skin of an RPG title, making the core mechanics and gameplay slightly interesting.

Borderlands Gameplay

When I play Borderlands, I really do not engage too eagerly in the side quests or myriad little objectives scattered around the place.

They aren’t that interesting to me, never mind the fact that the earlier games seem to push you through the main story at breakneck speeds in a rather linear fashion. For me, this is why I look at Borderlands as much more of a funky FPS than an RPG. 

While there are several side quests in the later games, this tendency to push you through the main story is still around in the Borderlands franchise. These missions will give the player unique rewards in the form of weapons or other useful things. Of course, you will also get a bit of cash along the way.

Borderlands Core Mechanics

The combat is really the most notable thing about the entirety of Borderlands. The fast-paced FPS nature of the title and the myriad enemy types keeps you on your toes and your blood pressure worryingly high throughout. 

The main difference between the leveling systems of Borderlands and Fallout is the inclusion of modified co-op-leveling Borderlands. In early games in the franchise, players simply leveled agnostic of each other, quickly facing either too hard or easy enemies, depending on your current level.

However, with the newer titles, players can expect to level together and for areas to change along with the high and low levels of the party. 

Outside of this common XP-based leveling system, the player is encouraged to continue increasing the rarity and, therefore, the effectiveness of their weapons via purchasing or looting them as they progress.

In terms of weapon mechanics, the player is also encouraged to build a character’s weapon profile using each weapon type’s unique abilities, allowing the player to build enemy-specific arsenals.

Lastly, each character the player can choose from in the Borderlands games has their own unique abilities and traits. For example, as The Soldier class, Roland is best fitted with combat rifles and shotguns and is able to deploy automatic Scorpio Turrets.

Whereas Lilith, The Siren, is better played with SMGs and has the ability to phase walk – temporary invisibility.

Which is Better

This section is, of course, down to your own opinion; nobody can really say which of these two franchises is better or more enjoyable to play.

However, I will say that I have to give this one to the Fallout series for one simple reason: The best Fallout game is miles better than the best Borderlands game. Essentially, New Vegas is better than Borderlands 2. 

The overall feel I get from New Vegas is just so much deeper and rooted in who I am as a gamer and what I love to find in my games. While Fallout has some major bugs as a franchise that don’t seem to be leaving anytime soon, I will happily put up with these to engross myself in that post-apocalyptic world again. 

At the end of the day, I think that Borderlands, in terms of movement mechanics, is a far more interesting and dynamic game, but I am not always up for such a fast-paced experience, whereas I can always jump into a game of Fallout.

Best Alternatives

horizon zero dawn

If you have already completed these two games and cannot get enough of the worlds and feelings that they give you, I recommend checking out these titles that should scratch that same itch.

Fallout

  • Elder Scrolls franchise
  • Metro franchise
  • Horizon Zero Dawn
  • The Outer Worlds

Borderlands

  • The Outer Worlds
  • Wolfenstein franchise
  • Doom
  • Destiny

Frequently Asked Questions

Question: Is Fallout Multiplayer?

Answer: While Fallout 76 actively encourages the player to jump on with friends and play together, the rest of the games in the Fallout franchise do not support multiplayer. 

Question: Will there be a Fallout 5?

Answer: While it has not been officially confirmed, I would bet my bottom dollar that a new Fallout game will be with us sometime in the future after the release of TES 6.

Question: How Long is Borderlands 1?

Answer: The first Borderlands game will take most players an average of 22 hours to complete. 
While I definitely have my favorite when it comes to these franchises, I really do have to say that you cannot go wrong if you decide to buy and play either game series; they are both fun and rewarding.

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