Known mainly for their “Brothers in Arms” series of games, developer Gearbox Software hit pay dirt last year with their original IP, Borderlands. Borderlands is Gearbox’s contribution to an entirely new genre: the first ever “role playing shooter.” As original as this sounds, Borderlands can be described as more of a homage to multiple genres than something entirely new.
The game begins with the narrator talking about the world of Pandora. Within this introduction you become acquainted with a mysterious woman who talks only to you, very much like Cortana in Halo 3. She gives you helpful tips and plants ideas in your head throughout the game. The game progesses after you choose one of the four main characters.
-Roland: Soldier class that favors combat rifles and shotguns. His special ability is that he is able to launch a Scorpio Turret, which attacks enemies while also providing cover for Roland and his teammates.
-Lilith: Siren class that favors using SMGs that deal corrosive, incendiary, and shock rounds. Her special ability is to Phasewalk making her invisible and able to move extremely fast.
-Mordecai: Hunter class that favors sniper rifles and revolvers. His special ability is that he can call upon his pet bird of prey, Bloodwing to swoop down on unsuspecting enemies and attack them.
-Brick: Berserker class that prefers melee attacks over anything else. But when he must use guns, he prefers explosive weaponry. His special attack is his Berserk skill which allows him to unleash a built up rage and deal massive melee damage to his enemies.
After deciding on your character the player has to sit through the typical heads-up display explanation from the game’s iconic character, Claptrap. The HUD displays a multitude of information such as health, shields (when equipped), enemy information, co-op player info, etc. that the Claptrap explains thoroughly. Once everything is explained you are on your way to fighting bad guys.
The first thing you will probably notice in the game’s presentation is the cell-shaded style graphics of the game. This was not the original graphical style as Borderlands originally had more of a Fallout 3 look. Why the switch? No one is certain but I can say that the game’s new artistic style suits it perfectly. A realistic apocalyptic style probably would not have meshed well with the sometimes silly and fun nature of the game.
The sound in the game is fantastic, if not repetitive. There is plenty of dialogue throughout Pandora from the bosses, the regular enemies and even your character of choice. The audio can be pretty hit and miss in certain aspects though. Specific things get annoying after hearing them over and over such as, “This is where the cars live, getchu one!” when you walk over to the vehicle depot. However, walking upon a bandit shouting “You’re dead meat a-hole!” always makes me laugh.
Being that Borderlands borrows heavily from role playing games, the enemies remain consistently at or a little above or below your level the entire game. So the Bandits and Skags that make up the majority of the enemies you fight in the beginning of the game are near your skill level. You will discover that the quickest way of disposing of enemies is to score “critical” hits on them, and this is achieved by headshots. More headshots mean more critical hits and thus the faster the enemy dies. But part of the fun of the game is discovering the various departures from this formula. For example: in order to score a critical hit on a Skag, you must shoot it in its open mouth. The game awards various experience points based on what type of enemy it is and how it was killed. There are different types of Skags and Bandits for example and so if you manage to kill a “Hardened Badmutha Skag” you will receive more XP than if you killed a “Pup Skag”.
Borderlands allows your character to have unlimited sprint which is a welcome addition. A lot of times in the game you will either be without a vehicle or the vehicle will be destroyed and so being able to continuously run is a good thing. Another positive thing is the Fast Travel stations located throughout the game. These points allow you to travel to the different areas in the game without having to run all the way there. Really nice when you are forced to go to a certain area on the other side of the game world to complete a quest and then have to go all the way back to turn it in.
The other main component of the game is loot. As any RPG fans know there is nothing more satisfying than finding or earning sweet loot. Borderlands identifies loot on a color scale: white-green-blue-purple-orange, with white being the most common and orange being the rarest. Gearbox has stated that Borderlands works off of a “random item creation” system for loot, and the official stance is that there are potentially over 7 million varieties of guns (although most likely the same gun just with slight stat mods or color). This “random” system has actually allowed for what some people are referring to as “pearlescent” guns; guns that have the common “white” name but actually have the rare “orange” stats. Borderlands offers up many an opportunity to try and collect as many different types of weapons as you can. Enemies randomly drop weapons, ammo or money when killed, and you can search “skag piles”, dumpsters, and of course the different chests found throughout the game. Pandora is essentially a loot factory, tasking the player with scouring every nook and cranny to find the best stuff. The best way of obtaining good loot is finding red chests which offer up some of the rarest and coolest weapons in the game. Having played through the game with all four characters and hitting level 50 I can attest to the fact that once you reach level 40 or so you will pretty much only care about purple and orange loot. In fact, the only green weapons I still carry in my inventory are alien weapons.
Speaking of alien weapons, this brings up my point about the story: basically you are spending your entire time looking for an elusive “vault” that is supposed to be filled with alien technology. As you progress through the game you realize that the cortana-like woman from the beginning and another lady you meet in the game are essentially using you to get to the vault, albeit each for their own differing agenda. I won’t spoil the ending, but as I said the story won’t be what keeps you playing anyway.
Having spent a lot of time playing “Phantasy Star Online” on the Sega Dreamcast, I immediately drew comparisons between that game and Borderlands. The quests are fun but essentially meaningless, worth doing if only to acquire better guns. Once you reach the level cap of 50 there really isn’t much to do other than collecting loot. You can go around to areas you have already beat and continue to kill enemies but there essential is no purpose to it. The co-operative experience of this game definitely saves it from being just an average game. When playing with other people, the game creates more bad guys and makes them even tougher. The up-side to this is that with tougher enemies comes better loot. Having from 2-4 people in a party is what really makes the game fun. You think up strategies for beating bosses and enemies that you weren’t able to do by yourself, and you work together to try and get to the next level as a group.
My final word regarding Borderlands would be the many, many pop culture references the game makes. Whether it is having characters called “Mad Mel”, “Chuck Durden” or “Bruce McClaine”, or naming ships that you have to destroy in a later quest “Righteous Man”, “Great Vengeance” and “Furious Anger”, Borderlands knows and appreciates pop culture. Finding and recognizing these references is just one of the many things that Borderlands has going for it. For someone looking for a stellar single player experience, Borderlands might not be the game for you. But for a really fun and outstanding multiplayer experience, Borderlands is definitely the game for you.