The Blurry Barrels of Borderlands 2
Last year’s Ultra HD update broke a common texture
On the eve of last year’s Borderlands 3 release, publisher 2K pulled off an impressive goodwill PR gesture. In short, they released free “Ultra HD” texture updates for Borderlands 2 and Borderlands The Pre-Sequel, available for immediate download to any owners of these older games. These updates work on the Xbox One X, PS4 Pro, and PC, and add entirely new redrawn artwork to the game alongside tweaks to the visual settings, bringing these earlier titles more in line with modern graphics expectations.
The only thing awkward about this is the required manual download. You’ll have to click through your digital game store of choice to find and install each pack, and they weigh-in at about 8 additional gigabytes of data per game. I did this when they first released last fall, gave each one a quick look…then sort of forgot about them. I’ve already poured hundreds of hours collectively into the Borderlands series, and although the update was nice, they got placed on the digital shelf inside my brain for another day.
Last week, Epic gave away these two games for free on their highly divisive digital storefront, and a friend of mine was game to play Borderlands 2 with me. An hour or so into our session, I noticed a terrible- looking barrel sitting among the pristine visuals. At first, I dismissed it as a texture loading issue and kept going. The Borderlands series runs on the Unreal Engine, known for sometimes exhibiting texture streaming errors.
But then, I saw the blurry barrel again. So I asked my friend over voice chat “Hey, does this barrel look horrible to you?” He said it did. And so began Barrel Quest 2020. Here is what I found.
If you have the Ultra HD texture pack installed, whether you’re on PC, PS4 Pro, or Xbox One X, certain barrels in Borderlands 2 will be blurry. These PS2-era barrels are in the same locations on each machine, and are dotted about in multiple zones throughout the first few hours of the game, and possibly all the way into the endgame zones…though I haven’t reached far enough yet to say for sure.
I mention that it’s certain barrels because others have the correct pristine new Ultra HD textures. That rules out my theory that this one piece of artwork is broken. Instead, something about this specific barrel prop is messed up in certain locations, and it’s loading in a very basic texture instead of the full resolution artwork.
This same issue isn’t present in the recent Switch version of the game, which uses textures based on the original release. It’s also not present in those original releases; I loaded up my old Xbox 360 copy just to check. So, this isn’t a bug that was present in the original Borderlands 2, but rather it’s a new issue that was somehow introduced in this Ultra HD update. Solving it would probably require hand-identifying every broken barrel in the game, and fixing whatever line of rendering code is causing the problem.
It’s a real shame, because the Ultra HD update for these games is otherwise exemplary. It’s probably part of the reason that some gamers found Borderlands 3’s much more technologically-advanced graphics a little underwhelming at launch. The Borderlands art style is stylized, expressive, and aging more gracefully than other games from the previous generation. Most of the textures in this new update have detail that shines on a 4K monitor, so it’s jarring to see a cruddy-looking barrel in the middle of all that.
I’m not sure if this bug has been in the game since the initial launch of the Ultra HD pack or whether it was recently introduced. It seems like the sort of thing even a basic QA pass would have caught…though I’m skeptical of 2K’s quality assurance processes after the disastrous recent release of the Mafia II Definitive Edition.
This blurry barrel bug isn’t quite a deal-breaker, but its identical presence on three different platforms suggests a fix on one will fix all three, and I think the series is popular enough that it deserves another patch.
If you’re an absolute stickler for visuals, you’ll notice these barrels immediately, and each time you see one throughout the game it will irk you in the back of your mind. If you need to absolute-best visual consistency and you’re on one of the affected platforms, you could always play the game without the Ultra HD pack installed. But then you’ll be missing out on all the other great artwork and tweaked effects. The new Switch releases also hilariously offer a perfect and consistent visual presentation right now in spite of their lower average rendering resolution and slightly reduced shading complexity.
I know it’s a reality that games, especially big ones, ship with bugs. I’d imagine it was a daunting task for the internal 2K studios that worked on this Ultra HD project to quickly redraw and remaster every piece of art in these massive worlds. I’m sure that the budget and timeframe were short. Still, it’s one thing to leave in some obscure glitches that only a few players will notice, and another to leave a blurry asset in prominent sight all over the game world. And even more baffling that in some places the barrel looks properly majestic.