I’m going to start this post by saying I hate first person shooter games. Typically, they are full of people who aren’t very kind, and the gameplay mechanics are just a little too mundane for my tastes. As such, I didn’t pick up Borderlands for quite some time. There was a lot of hype around the game, however, and with a mention of a leveling/skill system, I figured I’d give it a shot. When I was finished with the game, I was very pleased I did. With the second game on the horizon, I felt a review of the first was necessary. Borderlands boasts ‘bazillions of guns,’ an RPG style leveling system, and a multitude of quests that make it one of the most fun and original FPS games I have ever played.
Borderlands stars four bounty hunters in Pandora, a desolate, run down land of deserts and caves that just so happens to be home to a secret vault. The vault only opens up once every two hundred years, and that time is now. Choosing the well rounded Soldier, Roland, the sharpshooter Mordecai, the ‘Siren’ Lilith, or the meatshield Berserker, Brick, the player must make a name for him or herself so that they may find where the secret Vault is located. There are plenty of side quests and main quests that keep the story up to speed, without too much ‘fluff’ that detracts from the missions at hand.
When the character gets off the bus, they are introduced to CL4P-TP, alternately known as Claptrap. He introduces you to the control scheme, and really starts to guide you in the world of Pandora. Fans of the FPS series will feel very comfortable with this control layout, as it feels very traditional. All of the buttons are used in ways that make sense, and never did I feel out of place, or felt that I was stretching my fingers to do something mid-game. The HUD was informative, but subtle enough that the screen still feels very clean, even with a large quest to accomplish. At times, the compass can get a little goofy to work with, but fortunately, opening the map is no big deal. I did find myself wishing there was a mini map to use, as I found myself opening my map quite frequently during longer journeys. The game does have a fast travel option, but unless the player is extremely familiar with the areas and what surrounds them, porting to certain places can be a chore, rather than an aid.
One of the selling points in Borderlands is the weaponry. There are countless amounts of guns that fall into seven categories: pistols, revolvers, shotguns, sniper rifles, assault rifles, SMGs, and Iridian. The game randomizes the ‘adjectives’ that each gun has, which is where the ‘bazillion’ comes from. By far one of the most unique features in the game, and in any FPS I’ve played. Each gun is made by one of several companies that give it special properties. For example, Vladof guns have poor accuracy, but shoot much faster than other guns in the same category. Aside from that there are four elements that your bullets can have while being fired from specific guns: explosive, corrosive, electric, and fire. Each of these elements have a number that determines the frequency in which that effect is triggered. In other words, a 4x electric weapon will have the bullet explode in a fury of electricity more often than the 1x electric weapon. With the combinations of elements, gun types, and make, as well as a small variance with each, every gun that the player obtains is unique in its own way.
Enemies in the game are designated a level, which means a whole heck of a lot in terms of where you can and cannot go. The developer’s made very little leeway between levels, so something that is more than two levels higher than you is almost completely unaffected by your bullets. Named bosses do not drop randomized weapons, so be prepared to get multiples of their drops if playing through multiple times. The game is made to be harder (giving the enemies more health and armor) when more players drop into the game. Likewise, that difficulty is reduced when players leave again. During the beginning of the game, I did find it difficult to keep up with everything that was going on, finding myself stuck in areas with no ammunition or being eaten alive by enemies that were a much higher level. Old school RPG gamers know that this can be fixed with a little grinding, but those new to RPG elements may find themselves struggling a bit.
The online multiplayer can be played either through the main story, or in the arena. The overall gameplay was flawless, letting players drop in and out without any kind of slowdown or pause in the gameplay. Whether a game has been started or not, players drop into the lobby first to choose their character and see what quest the host is playing on. This brings me to the one flaw that Borderlands has. Anyone who has turned this game online may notice that everyone seems to be on a quest called “Keep your Insides Inside” while every character is on random levels from 1-40. Gearbox apparently has a glitch that messes up your game if you join someone who is farther than you in the storyline. If the player gets past a certain point in the game, this glitch is nothing but a nuisance, constantly sitting in the quest log, unable to be complete. If the player triggers it too early, however, it will mess up the progress of the save file, and the game will become impossible to beat. It’s a sad fact, and one that, if fixed would definitely make this game a glorious game all around. The entire problem can be avoided if players either a) only play offline or b) only let people join their hosted games.
Graphically, the game is a hybrid between cell shading and animation. It’s really hard to pinpoint exactly what it is, but everything looks vibrant. All of the creatures that are fought on Pandora are ugly and illustrated nicely, and all of the characters are unique and full of life. As most of the game takes place in the desert, it is hard to really pull out any qualities that make it stand out, however the entire setting is very fitting for Borderlands. The world looks desolate, and the trashy towns of half-constructed steel and broken parts are very immersive. There is a day and night cycle, and it does get a little challenging to see at night in certain areas. While the game does not pull out any raw processing power of the PS3, the more simplistic game graphics allow a much farther viewing distance, which captures the sheer size of Borderlands.
Some of the tracks that play in Borderlands are really awesome, but the song that is perfect for this game is the intro song, “Ain’t No Rest For The Wicked.” If you are familiar with this song, you will enjoy the music throughout the game. Most of the music is soft, but it picks up heavily when your characters are under attack. Outside of the beginning and end theme songs (and of course, the Cage The Elephant song), there were no tracks that really stood out to me. What really strikes me is how this doesn’t pull away from the game one bit. I am a large advocate of a game having a good soundtrack, but Borderlands didn’t need one for me to enjoy it. Where the audio truly shines is some of the one liners that come from the human enemies’ mouths. There were quite a few of them that caught me so off guard, I had to pause the game to laugh.
Borderlands brings a new meaning to a hybrid game. Boasting the best features of most FPS games, with a great story and RPG elements, this game really shines at the top of the list. Having been out now for a couple of years, the DLC that is available only helps to further bolster the strength of this title. The countless amount of weapons that are available to use will keep each player engaged and surprised with every gun they find, and the quests are plentiful enough without being too overwhelming. I really wish the issue with the online quest glitch didn’t exist, because this game could have easily been a flawless game without that aspect. Still, don’t let that stop you from owning one of the best FPS games that consoles have seen to date. Originality was hard to come by, until we found the tale of the Vault in Pandora.