6) Handsome Jack
Gearbox Software made perhaps the best decision of the studio’s history when it opted to completely overhaul Borderland‘s visual style. Once upon a time, the shoot ‘n loot RPG’s visual style was, for want of a less scathing description, awfully generic, and there’s no doubt in my mind that it would have attracted a far different reception than it did, had Gearbox stuck to its guns.
But then, it’s likely for that very same reason that the developer decided to pursue a visual overhaul at the 11th hour, a risky venture that eventually birthed the zany humor and identifiable cel-shaded style that we all now associate with the series. With that said, replaying the original today, it’s immediately clear that some elements of its initial, more serious tone remain, most evidently in the tame and bland narrative.
Not until Borderlands 2 rolled around three years later did it hit me like a stark slap in the face that what the original lacked, more than anything else, was a memorable villain. Nobody remembers Borderlands‘ Commandant Steele, largely because she’s a one-dimensional, poorly developed bore that exhibits little of the humor that would eventually go on to define the series. Handsome Jack, on the other hand, is the antithesis to all of that. The former employee-turned-CEO of the Hyperion corporation isn’t just the driving antagonistic force of Borderlands 2, he’s its undisputed star.
Rather than shy away in his villainous fortress on Pandora’s moon, twiddling his thumbs awaiting the final, inevitable confrontation, Jack revels in verbally bullying the player. That Gearbox penned his dialogue with the intention of poking fun at both itself and the series’ fanbase was a marvelously meta idea, too. Jack’s quite possibly the most obnoxious and hateable villain in all of gamedom, and he’d have it no other way.