Borderlands Review

Platforms: PS3, Xbox 360, PC
Release Date: October 20, 2009

Ideas come forth every few years that make me ponder why something like this hasn’t happened sooner. Borderlands was one of those brilliant ideas, nestling itself nicely within the center of a Venn diagram with Fallout 3, first-person shooters, and Diablo as its labels. This first-person shooter and cooperative loot fest is a well oiled machine, complete with just enough parts of each camp to attract nearly everyone.

Four vault hunters are drawn to the desolate planet of Pandora, a hunk of rock that is said to hold a mystical vault. That’s the beginning and the end of it, because that’s literally all you need to know.

Meet your four vault hunters.

And it’s basically all they tell you. To say that their is a story buried in here somewhere is to say that Duke Nukem is a deep, compelling character. It just isn’t true. Excluding the hilarious (and oft repeated) run-ins with the hilarious Clap Trap, interaction with NPCs is as sparse as the Borderlands themselves and as you near the end, nothing develops past “gather more keys.” By the time you reach the end and fight the stationary sorry excuse for a last boss, it becomes nearly impossible to reflect on anything that happened in the prior hours.

Thankfully, none of this actually matters. Borderlands is about the journey of shooting and looting, something it intelligently prioritizes far above the wafer-thin narrative. Even though you start out with a pathetic pea shooter and naked skill tree, it isn’t long until you delve into the game’s RPG well and awaken the depth Borderlands has to offer. After you choose from one of the four unique classes, you’ll soon get to witness their skill trees open up, letting you craft your own character to your liking. There are plenty of skill points to spend after leveling up, but you can’t choose everything, forcing you to adopt a certain playstyle (but respecs are available should you want to change).

Check him out! He’s dancin’! HE’S DANCIN’!

In conjunction with other players, you can craft a team that assists each other, creating an unstoppable band of loot hunters. It’s not a coincidence that cooperative play is where Borderlands shines. Adding more players gives the combat a certain dynamic as each brings something unique to the battlefield. If everyone plays their part and allows abilities to affect the entire team, everyone benefits and productivity skyrockets. You’ll need the teamwork too, since the game gets more difficult with each additional player. Knocking out the never-ending quest log becomes a way for everyone to collaborate and get in on the endless cycle of killing and hitting new levels.

Ol’ fashioned couch co-op.

Getting in on the action comes hand in hand with sharing the loot, a system that this game has become infamous for. With millions and millions of possible combinations, each randomized gun that drops from an enemy or chest possesses some unique feature or characteristic. Snatching new gear when it appears becomes a way of life in Borderlands, as each player desperately judges it as trash or the next hottest firearm. Constantly switching out and trading guns, shields, class mods (passive skill boosts), and grenade mods lends a sense of progression and adds a little bit of fresh paint to save the game from getting stale. Comparing items is simple and streamlined as well, as you can usually make snap judgments on which item is better or not.

Considering the playtime Borderlands has lined up for you, speeding up decisions would be in your best interest. The game runs at a healthy playtime, but really gains life and momentum on your second time through. The first playthrough is about learning the game and having fun, but the New Game+ allows for players to get shinier loot with better numbers and fight bigger badasses. Seriously. They’re called badasses. Challenge ramps up and the rewards follow suit. Playing solo also transforms Borderlands into a different game more akin to a single player RPG/shooter hybrid, making it feel like a whole new game when you’re the only one behind the trigger. Combining the New Game+, cooperative, and single players modes gives this game long legs ready to stretch out no matter the situation.

For every bucket of blood you spill, you’ll see scads of numbers to match.

Not everything is as beautiful as the art style, as there are a couple miscellaneous quirks that stick out. Dying in battle grants a revive if you can get a kill, but the screen goes far too dark and limits your aiming, slightly hamstringing a good idea. The map and waypoint system could also use some work, as finding your way to an objective can be a tad more time consuming than normal. Driving controls let you feel what it is like to drink and drive without the booze and actual danger. Who actually wants to solely use the left stick to accelerate? Rounding out list of nitpicks, picking up ammo and money is far too tedious; it should be automatic.

Plenty of hubbub has been made about the art style, but it deserves the high praise. The cel shading makes it stand apart from every other shooter and makes it stick out more than it would otherwise. Pandora may be overly brown, but at least it isn’t on the generic realistic side. The game still pops from its look, but it hides some of its less impressive visual quirks. Many environments and character models don’t hold up under close scrutiny, as they lack detail, but they rely heavily on that cel shaded art to mask the flaws. A smart decision that lets the game play to its strengths. The cel shaded doesn’t mask the obtrusive texture pop-in, however, since it happens after every loading screen.

A loot chest! Be sure to share.

It’s hard to go on and on about Borderlands. Its quality warrants your attention and time, but its ideas are a combination of many simple, classic gaming mechanics. All the systems come together fluidly and just work. The first-person shooter elements carry the game well from moment to moment, the RPG mechanics are easy to grasp, the loot adds an addictive nature, and the co-op is fantastic, all of which are easy-to-understand fundamentals that should sell or deter you right away. If you are opposed to raw fun, then I guess “deter” would be your soulless option.

+An absolute blast in co-op and extends the already long playtime and replayability
+Unique art style gives it an identity
+Quality blend of RPG and first-person shooter mechanics
-Texture pop-in is too prevalent
-Story is basically non-existent
-Small inconsistencies within gameplay

Final Score: 8.5/10

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