Welcome to the frontier planet of Pandora. Legends tell that somewhere on this planet exists an alien repository called the Vault, filled with enough alien technology and treasures to grant its discoverer immeasurable power. Maybe you are the person to find it? Maybe you should follow the directions of the woman that keeps appearing in your mind and talking to you?
Borderlands was developed by Gearbox Software and published by 2K Games. This review is based on the PS3 version, but the game is also available on PC and Xbox 360.
And so you begin your adventure on Pandora. The game begins with you hurtling across an alien desert in a bus. On the bus are four characters and the wise cracking driver. It is up to you to chose one of the four characters to be your in game persona. Each of the characters has different strengths and weaknesses, so choose carefully. Roland is an ex-soldier who is skilled with every weapon and can deploy turrets as his special ability. Mordecai is your sniper and happens to have a pet Bloodwing which can be released to devastating effect. Lilith is one of the last remaining Sirens in the galaxy, and has access to some pretty magical powers. Finally there is the massive Brick, tough as tough can be and able to go berserk and pound everything with his fists.
Upon departing from the bus, you will be greeted by Claptrap, possibly the worlds most annoying droid. Still, irritation aside, Claptrap will guide you through what is basically the tutorial and set you up with your first mission.
Borderlands is one of those games that crosses genres. It is primarily a shooter, with some role play game elements, and it even has a touch of MMO about it. Once you have worked through the tutorial, you will find yourself working primarily out of the town of Fyrestone, at least to begin with. Early on the missions will involve a lot of wandering around the same area, gathering certain items or killing a certain number of beasties or bandits. It may begin slowly, but keep at it. Once the town of Fyrestone is left behind, it becomes apparent just how huge the world of Pandora is.
The game revolves around quests that you carry out on behalf of the average joes that you meet on Pandora. You do not aid them out of the goodness of your own heart, however. You are primarily a fortune hunter, and any of these people that you help may be able to give you information regarding the location of the vault. The main quests will lead you along the storyline , but there are a huge number of sidequests available that will garnish your character with experience, and oh so much loot!
Throughout the game you will gather more stuff than you will know what to do with, let alone carry. You have limited space in your backpack, although it can be upgraded, and you will find yourself trading away items on a regular basis. Foremost in this vast array of swag are the weapons. With more weapons than you could shake a dead rat at, choosing which gun to keep and which to throw away becomes a difficult decision. The weapons work on taking a number of characteristics and combining them in a seemingly infinite number of ways. Shotgun with a sniper scope? Incendiary pistol rounds? The combinations of ammo, weapons and enhancements are endless. Besides the weapons there are a huge number of other items to find, such as shields and other personal enhancements.
As you progress through the game, your character will level up and acquire skill points. These points will allow you to unlock new skills. Each character has three different skill trees through which they can progress. Each of these skill trees represents a speciality and means that two of the same character can progress in drastically different ways, ending up as two completely different classes.
Borderlands can be played alone, if that is your wish, or it can be played co-operatively with up to four players. This can be done split screen with two or across the network with three of your buddies. As seems to be the current trend, players can drop in and out of your game at any time and join in your quests. Quests are classed by level, which means that if you try to take on a quest at a higher level than your character, then you will suffer a quick, and most likely painful, death. In multiplayer, this is solved by sticking to the quests of the least experienced character in the group. Throughout the world there are even special arenas where a bit of PvP can occur.
This game is huge and takes its available playing time straight from the RPG handbook. Hours will be spent just completing the game, collecting all of the goodies and doing all the side quests will consume more time than is healthy. On the subject of health, this is a difficult game and dying is part of the experience. Dying will usually involve re-appearing at the nearest regeneration station with an unwanted penalty. However, there is an alternative, which is possibly the best feature in the game. As you teeter on the brink of death, if you can manage to kill an enemy quickly enough, your character will get their “second wind”. This neatly enables the character to cheat death, at least for a while, and rejoin the fight with full shields. A handy feature indeed.
Lets take a moment to talk about the visuals. It may have escaped your notice, but Borderlands has quite a unique style to it. Its comic book style graphics with heavy outlining may not be to everyones taste, but you can understand the reasoning behind it. Firstly, the look makes the game stand out from the crowd, screaming fun in your face. Secondly, there is not a lot of interesting scenery on a futuristic alien world that looks similar to an Old West movie. Sand, rocks, the occasional building. At least by giving it a comic book styling, the world looks more colourful.
Borderlands is not without its problems though. One rather major issue is that, unless you are the kind of person who enjoys the monotony of doing very similar quests over and over in order to level up, the game is boring when played alone, at least until the later parts of the game. However, grabbing a couple of mates easily fixes this problem. When playing in co-op, the enemies are more numerous and also have more variety, and the loot drops are substantially improved, with more rare items becoming available. Overall, playing with friends is the preferred way to experience this game. That being said, playing it co-op locally brought up a slight problem for me. The screen splits horizontally, which does not work well on a widescreen tv. The menus cannot display properly, and the comic style graphics just made the game look too “busy” to be enjoyed. Also, the game takes its FPS gameplay very seriously, to the point of being quite difficult. Hardened fps fans will, I am sure, have no problems with this. However, people who come to this game looking to enjoy the RPG experience may well find this a bit offputting.
What Borderlands offers is an exciting, fun to play, fps/rpg hybrid, multiplayer game, with a slightly boring single player experience added on.