It’s no secret that Borderlands is one of this holiday season’s hottest titles, flying off of the store shelves in every store I’ve walked into. First praised for it’s mixture of RPG and FPS elements, Borderlands is a title that is truly more unique than anything we’ve seen so far. But how does this “World of Warcraft – Call of Duty” mix fair?
Borderlands is a unique game that mixes the RPG elements of World of Warcraft, the dungeon crawling/loot driven aspect of Diablo, and the first-person shooter experience of Halo/Call of Duty. The game starts off by showing us a beautifully crafted and very stylized introduction cinematic showing off the four players and classes we will be able to choose from. The game’s use of sound and cell shaded graphics add to the feel of this deserted wasteland players will explore in the game’s world, Pandora.
The plot in Borderlands is simple: You are searching for a mysterious vault, in which it was said lies great alien technology and treasures. You must get to the vault before any of the bandits and raiders in the land of Pandora beat you to it. Although this is an interesting concept and allows for a great deal of development throughout the game, the game actually almost never develops on the plot. There is an amazing lack of cutscenes in Borderlands, and the game starts to feel dry after a while, as you long forget why you’re in Pandora in the first place. Although the story is more than lacking this doesn’t stop Borderlands from being an enjoyable game. The undeveloped thin plot caused me to struggle turning the game on, but when I did turn it on I was not at unease, as the other aspects of the game allow the game to be extremely enjoyable.
The player is rewarded in Borderlands in a couple of different ways. The first of these ways being the loot system. There is a LOT of loot in Borderlands. It can be somewhat overpowering for the player to constantly struggle with loot, at first almost never having enough room in your bags. As you progress through the game however, you receive items to increase your backpack space. The ability to sell your loot to the vending machines scattered throughout the areas of Borderlands is not only helpful but somewhat required for you to be able to empty your backpack. You will never find the same items in the same areas of different games. When Sal and I played for the first time together we both had very different weaponry in our arsenal. He had weapons I had never seen in the game before, and I had weapons he had never seen, as well. It is a unique experience within each game of what kind of loot and guns you will see, because it is never the same twice.
Borderlands also rewards players through it’s character development system. Each of the four characters represent a different class, and each class has a different feature. The Soldier class can deploy a turret that acts as an ally to you for a short time. The Hunter class can call his pet to help take out hostiles. The Siren can phase into invisibility for a short period of time and the Berserker can employ a great amount of strength and use his fists to lay the beat down on enemies for a lot of extra damage. Each class has three different skill trees. At level 5 you receive your first skill point which you may use in any of your skill trees as you see fit. Every time you level up after level 5, you receive an additional skill point that can be spent to upgrade your abilities. Each skill tree deals with a different aspect of the character’s class, and will ultimately change the way you play Borderlands. The Soldier, for example can become very offensive and strike a great deal of damage to enemies, but if you choose to spend your skill points otherwise, he can play more of a Medic/Healer role. Character and class development is one of the most fun and engrossing experiences in Borderlands, and will offer the player a lot of variety if he or she chooses to play through multiple times.
Unfortunately, despite how fun Borderlands is by yourself, you won’t really be getting the full experience if you go solo. Borderlands is a game that will be even more enriching if you play it with two or three of your other friends. Since the character development system offers a lot of variety, there can be a lot of variety when you play it with other groups of people. When each player has something different to bring to the table, the game gets interesting in the way it challenges you to work together to overcome the difficulty of the game, and how the difficulty can affect different groups of players. Not to mention the fact that Borderlands is a huge game. It feels vast and empty when you are traveling by yourself. There’s no other feeling when traveling over the deserted wastelands in two vehicles with rocket launchers mounted by your friends. Popping small Skags open with a devastating rocket while crushing the other Skags underneath your wheels is very satisfying and provides for many laughs between your friends (there’s even an achievement/trophy for it).
Despite the great fun that will be had with your friends, the game lacks a real trade system, and can get very annoying when wanting to swap guns or items with your friends. Instead both players have to drop their items from their inventory so that the other can pick it up. This is not only bothersome, but can also provide extremely annoying when playing with people you don’t know, who can also pick up these items if you are not careful. A steal and an ‘exit game’ later and you will never see that purple rarity Sub Machine Gun with the Lightning Element Shock damage again. Not to mention there is no way to exchange currency or ammunition. If your teammate is out of ammo on the battlefield, there is really nothing you can do about it, except have him rush back to a vending machine to pickup ammo while you fight off some of the hordes of raiders or creatures that won’t always drop the right ammo you need.
Even though players can’t directly trade, they can still hold duels against each other. Melee your friend and they will be prompted with a message. If a player melees you back, then a duel is initiated. You are surrounded with a visual force field that shows you how wide the duel area is, and you may shoot at each other and expend your abilities to see who is the better player. Although the dueling system is just for fun, it provides no real reward and can be quite annoying because it doesn’t return your health to you. Borderlands can be a tough game, and you will need your health!
All said and done, Borderlands is an engrossing experience that will provide a lot of fun and reward. It is truly a one of a kind game that can keep you entertained for hours, but the game is held down by it’s lackluster story and somewhat lonely solo experience. If you don’t have two-three other people to play the game with, don’t hold it against yourself as the game is still extremely satisfying in loot, character development, and pure fun factor.
Borderlands was reviewed on PlayStation 3. It was played to completion. Borderlands launches for Xbox 360, PlayStation 3, and PC on October 20, 2009 for an MSRP of $59.99.