Borderlands: The Verdict

Borderlands: The Verdict

There’s something rather special about a shotgun that fires rockets. Sure, a normal shotgun is all well and good for dealing with close range foes and packs a mighty punch that can knock lesser enemies off their feet, but it does not match the sheer awesomeness of a shotgun that fires rockets for one very good reason: it doesn’t shoot fucking rockets.

Borderlands 2009-10-28 15-01-16-23

Borderlands is a Role Playing Shooter that puts you into the role of one of four mercenaries with different skills arriving on the planet Pandora in order to search for a promised source of great riches called The Vault. Each of these mercenaries has a different set of skills roughly equating to four typical RPG character archetypes. Each one of these in theory requires the game to be played in four subtly different ways; There’s Lillth, who resembles the ‘Mage’ of the group with an ability to move quickly away from (or toward) danger with her Phasewalk ability encouraging a hit and run style of play. Roland the Soldier with his trusty Turret gun able to be deployed to dispatch enemies or provide shielding and healing as a support class, while Mordecai fufills the long range Hunter role being especially proficient with Sniper Rifles and being the owner of a trusty pet Eagle. Finally there’s Brick, the tough guy rounding out the foursome with his role as a Tank, able to absorb a lot of damage and his berserk skill making his fists as deadly as any weapon found in the game. The four characters can then be further customised in the RPG tradition of skill points, able to be spent on your character to go down certain paths and customize them to your needs like many MMORPGS. This provides some more welcome individuality to your character, and meaning you can really play to your strengths with your character. For example you could upgrade Roland’s turret in order for it’s friendly fire to actually heal your teammates.

So like an RPG, you accept quests from the locals to gain experience and level up your character while killing many bad guys along the way. However like an FPS you’re using shotguns, rifles, pistols and many more weapons to shoot your enemies. These enemies include Pandora’s native dog like creatures known as skags, angry bandits and a hybrid of spiders and ants known helpfully as Spiderants. These are then backed up by the rather tougher versions known as Badass enemies – more resilient emeies which can be tougher to take down and may more than once cause you to rethink your strategy of running and gunning. Luckily, despite these toughies, shooting Midgets in the face as they run towards you with axes in their hand never gets old. Bosses too make regular appearances throughout the campaign, although aside from getting a glitzy intro don’t often offer much in the way of variation. That comes from the weapons. Every container or gun in the game is randomly generated, throwing up awesome combinations such as the aforementioned rocket firing shotgun, or the spectacular lightning gun that makes skulls explode. Elemental effects and bendy bullets are possible and it really makes for some compelling gameplay. For those not used to the RPG staples of looking for guns with bigger numbers, Borderlands will certainly convert you as you face the dilemma of swapping out the gun that fires faster for the one that does more damage, or dissolves foes in a spurt of acid and critical hit notifcations.

He may experience a slight burning sensation...
He may experience a slight burning sensation...

Much was made about Borderlands new visual style when it was revealed late into production, many accusing Gearbox of trying to chase on the back of success of Valve’s TF2. Of course these accusations were unfounded. The look fits extremely well with the whole deep south feel and atmosphere to the game. The characters you meet are for the most part certainly kooky in their own backwater way, even if you yourself are never really explored much beyond being an interplanetary mercenary. But special mention has to go to the Claptrap robots, who will certainly provoke Marmite like reactions, especially after being exposed to them for a while. Pandora nails the feel of a harsh desert world, although after a while a slight complaint may be levelled at the fact some later areas feel rather similar with only really certain landmarks providing points of differentiation.

The other double edged sword with Borderlands comes in it’s other much touted feature of co-op play. The game can be enjoyed single player – or if you choose – you may fight alongside up to three other people. It’s rather interesting to note mind, that the game can be played with any combination of the four characters it also makes the game feel as if the characters don’t really have a need to compliment each other that well. While it makes sense on a practical level for this to be the case, it does feel like it’s a bit of a shame that the game doesn’t quite have that sort of reliability on your team mates that a game like Left 4 Dead has, and makes co-op feel more than an optional extra than a truly integral part of gameplay. Of course, your co-op experience is going to crucially depend on the people you play with, which also makes it a bit of a crying shame that, at the time of writing, the technical side of getting a co-op game running on PC can be a major headache. With people reporting having to mess with port forwarding, the inability to turn your microphone off without having to tweak system files and even things as simple using a mouse wheel in the mission descriptions it really makes one wonder what exactly Gearbox/2K were doing with the extra week delay reportedly for ‘optimising’ the PC version. It’s especially frustrating when the core game is essentially so much fun once you’re in there.

Vehicles are fun, but can be a little too effective.
Vehicles are fun, but can be a little too effective.

Like many games that try to be a Jack of All Trades, Borderlands also falls into the trap of being a master of none. The game simply does not have the storytelling punch to match the best RPGs, and nor is the FPS combat quite epic enough to stand among the best of that genre. It’s certainly better than most hybrids of other genres though, and it’s a very enjoyable game. Obviously the mileage you get from the game is largely dependant on how much you generally enjoy the style of game of killing a lot of things in order to gain a more powerful weapon. If not, one playthrough might be all you really get through. But despite it’s faults, Borderlands is a genuinely enjoyable game with a hint of spark that deserves to be recognised as one of the better games this year. There’s just a few minor flaws in the game’s schizophrenic nature that prevent it from becoming a classic.

A Pretty Bloody Good Game
On the borderline of greatness

11 thoughts on “Borderlands: The Verdict

  1. I love your site. Great, great work.

    Overall, I thought Borderlands was super fun, when conditions and weather patterns are just right.

    I just wanted to point out some of the glaring issues with this game that very few people are talking about, multiplayer leveling.

    I bought the game with 3-4 friends in mind that I wanted to play with. Connection issues aside -although they are atrocious, don’t really want to open that bag up- we are having an incredibly difficult time playing with each other. Two of us start up various characters, a third joins, he’s too low level. And so he follows us around, collecting loot because his crappy gun and level combination only does 10% dmg to these foes, so he is basically a loot vacuum. We finally get him leveled up to par, and I have to leave. They keep playing for only an hour, and now I’m too low level when I join back up. Why not just let me do damage to my enemies instead of turning them into gods because i have the wrong level? It’s just lazy. If I want to fight a level 10 when I’m level 1, then the stats should speak for themselves, instead of handicapping me on top of that.

    Back to the point, this problem could be rectified by them only playing their characters with me. Works on paper, but multiply the complexity of that by the many number of permutations that are possible with my friends, and I end up needing a million individual characters just to be near the same level as my friends. I suppose we could schedule a time when we could all play, promise each other that we won’t ever solo, but doesn’t that seem like a ridiculous amount of planning for a game that’s so… meh?

    Add to that the fact that if u do any of the side quests, you’re far too high level for the many quests. So finding a quest that isn’t trivial, and multiply that into our horrid leveling equation. Just not fun. Worst leveling system ever.

    The only point I’ll concede is that these words aren’t terribly well written, but I’m tired, and lazy… maybe Gearbox will hire me? I just thought it needed to be said. If my friends weren’t so fun to play with, then I think this game would be on the borderlands of awful. I think I’m going to go play Batman again.

  2. I haven’t played it much, got distracted by Torchlight amongst others, but from playing the early sections I have to say it is quite a fun little game which is undermined with that god-awful user interface. I think that is what puts me off what could otherwise be a very good game. Damn that UI!

  3. Don’t get me wrong, I think this review is pretty spot on. But what use is their amazing rocket launcher firing rockets, or an alien lightning sniper’s rifle, or 7 million other really sweet guns, if the stars seem to have to be aligned to use them? Try and get one character from 1 to 30 with four buddies and tell me how well that goes. If you manage it, tell me what scheduling software you used. Before I turn into a real live troll, I was just wondering if any other people who’ve tried this game have experienced similar levelling issues.

  4. I haven’t tried co-op, and I really doubt I will, I have heard the problems that people have been having with getting it to work, and stories such as yours Jekyll lend further credence to my thinking that co-op games are fine when like L4D or drop in/out without any RPG elements. Once RPG elements start, then you get problems.

  5. While I agree that the UI could be improved and the online connection issues are…ridiculous, I do thoroughly enjoy the game. I have to agree with the review. Dr.Jekyll, I don’t see what you mean about the stars needing to be aligned to use your sweet guns. I’ve found plenty of awesome crazy-go-nuts blasters, and I have thoroughly enjoyed using them to pulverize my opponents. As for levelling issues, while I have noticed that, at lower levels, yes, being a few levels apart can make a huge deal, it matters far less at higher levels. As such, I haven’t found the level variance being any more of a barrier to multiplayer gameplay than similar group-focused RPGs (i.e. Diablo 2). I’ve managed to level with some friends to about level 34 at this point, with our levels of course being fairly varied, but we manage to get around together and still have fun, with no one being useless. My one big issue is the complete failure on Gearbox’s part for PC Online support. Those issues are what have made me tell other friends NOT to buy this game, unless they really like single player.

    …Greg, what level were you when you found that rocket launcher?

  6. To further explain my point, the leveling issues are not just about coop issues, but single player.
    If you are level 15 and fighting level 20 baddies, you do 10% normal damage, which would already be little against a high-ranking foe. Don’t quote me on the numbers here, but it is pretty clear that there is something devious at work with the damage in these cases.
    Now, add this to the fact that you get levels extremely quickly, 5 levels between allies is pretty common. If I am level 20, fighting level 23 badguys, and you are 15, the game is going to be extremely boring for you because you will do next to no damage to them. So you are now my loot collector. Inversely, if we decide to go after level 12 baddies, then I’m going to be bored shitless.

    It’s not an amazingly huge deal, if the stars are aligned, but getting a well balanced coop game is a real effing pain sometimes. Oh well, off to bigger and better things.

  7. Yeah, I’m having problems with finding a balanced co-op game. I’m totally addicted to the game while my mates just tend to dabble so normally I’m overpowered and they’re feeling inadequate

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