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Ranking the best Borderlands games, from Common to Legendary

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(Image credit: Gearbox)

The best Borderlands 3 Legendaries - Guns, shields, grenades, and more

Ranking the best Borderlands games is no easy task. There's only six titles in the series so far, for one thing, so moving any of them up or down a single entry can have a big impact on the overall picture, making the sometimes negligible differences seem like more gaping chasms in quality. What's more, evaluating the mainline series alongside the likes of Borderlands Legends, a mobile RTS, and Tales from the Borderlands, a point-and-click adventure, is like comparing skags to Psychos, but both are officially licensed Borderlands titles nonetheless. 

Even so, I've thought long and hard about how to rank the best Borderlands games from the worst, but I think the following list is a fair approximation of each one's relative status and import within the franchise's decade long history. Everyone has their own opinion, of course, but hopefully each game's position in the list won't cause too much offence to any veteran Vault Hunters. Not only that, but with Borderlands 3 finally out in the wild, it's the perfect time to run back through the history of the series at large, with all its highs, lows, and middling in betweens. 

6. Borderlands Legends

(Image credit: 2K)

You've probably never even heard of Borderlands Legends, but those who managed to avoid it should count themselves lucky. This mobile tie-in to the original Borderlands game isn't… terrible, but it's far from the kind of experience you'd normally expect to see from the series proper. Controlled from a top down perspective, you'll look after all four of the original Vault Hunters at once in Legends, taking on missions from a Bounty Board to fight bandits and outlaws in Borderlands' best impression of X-COM.

Sadly, the RTS format isn't a great fit for Borderlands, as the series' sense of speed and chaos is lost via the genre's more strategic paradigms. The game's impressive graphics do a pretty good job of replicating Borderlands' iconic visuals for the small screen, while there's almost just as much loot to be found as that of the mainline title (albeit in a more simplified format), but, nevertheless, Legends is still the weakest entry in the series so far, even if that's essentially by default.

5. Borderlands: The Pre-Sequel

(Image credit: Gearbox)

The only mainline title to not be developed by Gearbox directly, Borderlands: The Pre-Sequel feels like a somewhat inconsequential "filler" entry in the series, released primarily as a way to tide fans over until Borderlands 3. But more Handsome Jack is always a good thing, as far as I'm concerned, and getting to explore the man behind the mask made for an interesting "fall from grace" story that wasn't afraid to get dark in charting the character's transformation into the villain we know and love today. 

That being said, while there's fun to be had in exploring the new setting of Pandora's moon, Elpis, the Pre-Sequel's low gravity environments lends a floatiness to combat that takes the edge out of its shooting mechanics, and the less said about some of 2K Australia's in-game jokes, the better. More than anything, The Pre-Sequel feels like an expansion to Borderlands 2, rather than a full game in and of itself. Perfectly enjoyable, yet lacking a certain sense of relevance and panache, especially when you consider the events that come to pass in Borderlands 3. 

4. Borderlands 

(Image credit: Gearbox)

The original Borderlands will forever have a special place in fans' hearts, as the game that started everything all the way back in 2009. More than that, when you consider the history of how Borderlands came to be, and Gearbox's last minute decision to switch to the series' now iconic art style, you'll be even more impressed with the game's achievements for its time. 

With its scrappy nature and unique "FPS meets RPG" elevator pitch, Borderlands instantly captured our attention, and there's still something alluring about it's off-kilter space western vibe. Sure, the story is threadbare at best (with a near unforgivable cop out of an ending), and Gearbox's now famous formula for infinite guns is at its most rudimentary here, but all the most successful strands of the series' DNA made their debut in the original Borderlands, and for that, we're eternally grateful. 

3. Borderlands 3

(Image credit: Gearbox)

Borderlands 3 improves upon almost every line of the signature franchise recipe, but seems to forget about some of the most important ingredients in the process. The game is a bit of a poorly optimised mess, for starters, especially when playing on PC or in local splitscreen, and though Borderlands 2 was just about able to get away with its unique sense of internet humour in 2012, that same brand of juvenile comedy just doesn't quite land as effectively seven years later, especially with two villains – The Calypso Twins – nowhere near as memorable as Handsome Jack. 

Still, when it comes to gameplay, this is the best Borderlands has ever been. Shooting feels fast and furious, and every weapon somehow manages to appear handcrafted despite the procedural generation working away behind all those delicious loot drops. Gearbox also took the time to listen to its fans for this sequel, delivering on long requested features like separate loot instancing, talking protagonists, and level scaling for drop-in/drop-out co-op. It's just a shame that a few blemishes hold Borderlands 3 back from being as truly exceptional as its older sibling. 

2. Tales from the Borderlands

(Image credit: Telltale)

While Tales from the Borderlands is far from your typical Borderlands experience, it does more than any other entry in the franchise to flesh out the world of Pandora and make you care (like, really care) about its inhabitants. Telltale's point-and-click adventure spinoff is an earnest and hilarious wild goose chase of a story, chronicling the escapades of four unconventional Vault Hunters in the wake of Borderlands 2's dramatic climax.

Telltale's smart writing and lo-fi visuals prove to be a perfect fit for the Borderlands universe, yet the studio leaves its own mark on the series while still remaining faithful to Gearbox's original vision. It's not just the funniest Borderlands game in the series so far, it's one of the funniest games you'll ever play. Despite a few technical hiccups here and there, Tales absolutely deserves to be sat among the best entries in the series to date.  

1. Borderlands 2

(Image credit: Gearbox)

Love it or hate it, you can't deny that Borderlands 2 marked an important turning point for the franchise, one where Gearbox whittled away at the contours of its sleeper hit to land on something wholly self-assured in its own identity. The resulting product spawned an entire fanbase of franchise faithful, even as it alienated those who had enjoyed the original game, but weren't so fond of the sequel's amplified sense of humour.

Even with its polarising tone, however, Borderlands 2 still exemplifies the best of Borderlands, and is largely responsible for why the series is still so beloved today. Gorgeously rendered locales, compelling class combat, and a genuinely interesting story with an all-time classic antagonist in the form of Handsome Jack, this is a Vault Hunt that's still being played and replayed by thousands of people today, and for good reason. Sure, parts of Borderlands 2 have dated in all the worst kind of ways, but this is still an exceptional adventure for its time, and one that continues to be the touchstone for the series at large. 

Check out our full list of Borderlands 3 Shift codes, or watch our Borderlands story recap video to catch up on everything that's happened so far.

Alex Avard

I'm GamesRadar's Features Writer, which makes me responsible for gracing the internet with as many of my words as possible, including reviews, previews, interviews, and more. Lucky internet!