Borderlands

27 10 2009

Hybrid games seem to be very popular of late. On second thought with how common RPG elements are in every genre these days hybrid might not be the best word for most “hybrids.” Borderlands is a trued hybrid and it manages to succeeds as an FPS with solid shooting mechanics backed by an RPG with character progression and a never ending stream of loot. After a short cutscene informs you that you’re a treasure hunter in search of  “The Vault” you’ll have to choose between 1 of 4 classes. Due to the fact that Borderlands is primarily a shooter there really isn’t a ton of difference between each class. A single action skill (modified by talent trees) is what you’ll have to decide on. The soldier is probably the most well rounded with a shielded turret that acts as a tank while providing cover with some useful ammo/health regeneration abilities. The hunter has a pet useful for taking out enemies behind cover while the Siren can stealth for short periods of time exploding upon exiting. Finally, Brick just punches things really hard.

The lengthy quest driven/open world campaign took me just over 17 hours to complete on my first playthrough taking me to level 36. There is an option to play through the game a second time, with more difficult enemies, to reach the max level cap of 50 anf of course get better weapons. My playthrough included the majority of side quests. Quests are fairly standard but are varied enough that they manage to stay fairly interesting without becoming frustrating. The presentation of said quests is somewhat disappointing after the initial hub with most being only text based. In fact there really isn’t much story wise at all. This was by far the biggest disappointent for me as there is some well written dialogue and interesting characters. Borderlands feels like a single player MMO and the often times lack of scripting, cutscene, and story can make things feel a bit monotonous. I usually took a short break at those points and then hopped back in shortly thereafter. Both are funny and over the top never taking itself it to seriously. I loved encountering the Claptrap’s along my journey.

I’m not entirely sure how to make guns feel “right” but apparently Gearbox Software does. Though you’ll be vendoring most of the guns you pick up there’s a staggering variety due to the amount of stats. It’s not just damage, recoil, and accuracy but also elemental damage, crit chance, infinite ammo, etc that keeps finding the next weapon interesting. There’s only one vehicle which handles very similar to a warthog and though it has two optional weapon attatchments I mainly used it to get around faster.

Borderlands has a unique visual style blending together cel-shading, black outlining, and realistic textures in a way that keeps the environments fresh despite being yet another wastland. Boss dungeons and the end levels are a little more unique but the level design is well done. What voice over work is there is awesome and though the music can get a bit repetitive it does its part. The frame rate drops substantially from particle effects but it’s never game breaking. There are some visual oddities with enemies getting stuck in terrain (I had to reload once from being stuck) and invisible walls but again nothing major.

The HUD is simple and clean featuring no mini-map. Enemy directions and waypoints are instead placed on a rectangular rotating compass. The one suggestion I would make would be the waypoint turning a different color or blinking when within a certain radius of the goal. Scrolling through the inventory and comparing items can be a bit tedious with a controller but the menus are also really well designed. The popup windows for dropped items could have been placed a little better or maybe even placed directly on the HUD. You’ll find yourself constantly look down to pickup loot and then have to look up a bit to see the stats. I could have sworn I read that there is a bank somewhere in the game but I couldn’t find it (there really should be one). Being able to set your own waypoints and see where other maps are would be nice.

Four player coop is supported and is an even better way to enjoy the massive amounts of combat. Surprisingly there is no roll system or trade interface so be sure to play with friends.  I kept thinking of how great a comparison Borderlands is with Fallout 3. Borderlands is first and foremost a fun shooter which kept me engrossed from start to finish. I hated the dice rollness and VATs system in Fallout 3 but the dialogue trees and narrative focus brought it an atmosphere that kep me playing. That lack of narrative and more highly scripted quests in Borderlands are the only major blemishes on an otherwise fantastic game. The character progression and constant loot will have you spending countless hours doing just one more quest.

score: 90% | metacritic: 85

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