Borderlands: No Rest For The Wicked
Developed by Gearbox studios, Borderlands stood as quite a new concept in the gaming world, boasting multiple characters, each with RPG-like skill trees, a pleasing cel-shaded look, a huge world, plenty of humour and ‘bazillions’ of guns for the player to access, all within an first-person shooter. Needless to say, it turned many heads, especially with its co-op. I missed out on the prime-time co-op community play, but even so, let's dive in and see just what in the hell we're dealing with!
The story is pretty basic, you are one of four different Vault Hunters, each of whom have different weapon specialities and skills: The Soldier has a deployable turret, The Siren has the ability to ‘Phasewalk’, turning invisible and moving very fast, The Hunter had his pet Bloodwing who he can send after enemies in cover, and Brick...can hit things and take lots of damage. The Vault is a special location somewhere on the planet of Pandora, where it’s said that there is an abundance of alien technology and money, as on another planet close by, the Atlas Corporation found a Vault which allowed them to access new technologies and weapons that advanced civilisation by decades. Oh, and now, the universe is pretty much ruled by Corporations, all of whom make weapons and shields that everyone has access to, for the right amount of cash. Anyway, the Vault Hunters are on a mission to...and this’ll surprise you...find the Vault! Guided by a mysterious Guardian Angel woman, the player must complete an array of missions and travel the length and breadth of Pandora in order to find the missing keys that open the Vault, for all of the riches that are inside. You then arrive in Fyrestone, one of the many locations scattered across the desert wasteland, are introduced to Claptrap...one of many you’ll interact with, along with rescuing whole rake of, and Dr. Zed, who gives you certain missions that help you progress through the beginning area. Pandora is pretty much in ruins after it was abandoned by the Corporation ruling it, so the people are screwed, having to defend themselves against the bandits and other weird and wonderful creatures spread throughout Pandora.
Missions are abundant in this game; don’t ever worry about not having enough of them. Each major town has a bounty board that fills up with a selection of missions following the completion of certain main missions and events, given to you by some of the more...colourful supporting characters during the game. Completing missions grants you experience, which you use to level up, get stronger, and after level five, gives you points to put into your skill trees, which gives you an array of bonuses. It’s a pretty simple and elegant system, however, I do have some gripes with it; many of the missions are simple ‘collect X amount of things and hand in’ missions...fetch quests really. Some boil down to killing a mini-boss or full boss character, but apart from main missions, you’ll have to slog through the same bandits, skags or weird spiders every freaking time. Now from a single person playing this experience...I found it abundantly annoying having to slog my way through reams of enemies with vastly superior numbers, weapons and shields every time I wanted to complete a mission and get cash for completing bounties...cash of course, which is freaking useless, its only benefit being that when you die, and you will die, a lot, you can come back for a percentage number of dollars at the closest New-U station...but more about this in gameplay. The game’s missions are solidly structured, the main missions have fun elements and locations to play around in, and the loot you get as a result if always rewarding.
Graphically, Borderlands is a pretty enough game, with vast locations and a variety of tones, all coated with an appealing cel-shaded veneer. There are huge wasteland areas, caves and coves to explore, each with locations which have an array of loot boxes which give you access to new weapons and upgrades. Enemies are distinctly detailed, with badass enemies having the more...well...badass look about them. However, there are some issues with the graphics in the game. Pop-in is a serious problem, as the maps will take a while to render once you’ve loaded a checkpoint, or entered a large area. Instead of detailed, cel-shaded areas, you get blocky, blank ground and skies while you wait for the game to catch up with what you’ve been doing. The framerate also suffers when the action really gets going and the gore can slow things down if you’re aiming down a scope. This can really take you out of the game, though it is not the only detail which can be attributed to that outcome. It also suffers from being too bland in too many areas, the wasteland is most certainly a wasteland in it's brown and gritty look, but even the towns look similar.
The music within Borderlands is...negligible. Really, it’s a mix of kind of techno with some rock undertones, but the only song you’ll take away from it is the theme song from the opening of the game. Voice acting is excellent however, with character like Claptrap delivering lines with a great level of conviction, although this is rare, because you’ll mostly be hearing the sounds of gun-fire and screaming enemies, or the sound of your shield’s emergency tone as it depletes to nothing. None of these sounds really seem to lend anything to the game, with many of the guns having generic sounds to what should be more powerful weapons. Enemies have little to no dialogue, and other than a few moments when you come across a broken down claptrap, or a mission with one of the main characters, there’s nothing really to hear in the game, in fact, I found myself playing it while listening to my own music, with the tv muted, that’s how inconsequential the sound can be to the game. It’s a sad development, and one that could have been changed had borderlands been even slightly tighter in its balance between settings and music.
Gameplay is the real meat and bones of Borderlands at the end of the day. Being a first-person shooter with some RPG and loot elements, it all comes down to how the game plays that really makes all the difference. While the experience is a fun one, with many different guns having many different effects...Borderlands has a few irritating qualities to get out of the way first before we get into the positives: the so-called millions of guns you can gain access to throughout the game can pretty much be viewed as an outright lie. There are, in summation, very few varieties of guns to collect throughout the game, ranging from assault rifles, sniper rifles, shotguns, pistols, revolvers, rocket launchers and the Eridian weapons that are rare, but each have their own unique damage output and energy capacity. While that seems like an amazing variation of weapons, and some may defend the choices made in the game, there are not that many new and exciting variations to the guns. Assault rifles break down into plain rifles with modest clip-size and rate of fire, to insanely big-clipped and strong rifles with high rates of fire, to scoped, tactical weapons with burst fire capabilities. I counted, at any one time, a slight variation of at least three varying types of weapons per weapon-type, and it isn’t that varied among the Eridian weapons, as I had at least 5 of them by endgame, and only really used the one that caused massive explosions, or the one that shot electricity at the enemies, as they were the only really useful weapons of that type available. Collecting the strongest weapons just comes down to luck, and you can save a pile of money by not buying the crappy weapons at shops, instead opting for completing missions and lucking out with the many weapons caches spread throughout the game. There are a whole pile of variations for shields and ability upgrades, and while many of them have great effects, you’ll usually stick with the ones that give the highest shield ratings, or the best damage output. It basically comes down to an RPG-like loot-drop style, which isn’t the best aspect of the game. Gunplay itself is pretty damn good, with some of the bigger weapons dealing huge damage and making you feel like some sort of Aries wannabe, but this only comes with the good guns, which are few and far between.
The travel happens by foot or by the teleporters, or the ECHO network, scattered throughout the many different areas, which you can avail of, but before that you’ll be discovering new areas with the vehicle you can spawn from the same locations are New-U stations are placed. Boss battles are pretty fun too, forcing you to move and shoot, while adapting to the varying methods of the bosses and their waves of minions, and it can really get hectic when you’re dealing with an open area battle, or a stage-based boss battle. Again, there are problems, as later in the game, all it’ll take to kill a boss is to hide behind cover and emerge at times, blasting away at him with your most powerful weapon in his most obvious weak spot, but overall, the diversity of the bosses makes the game more interesting. Artefacts can be used to power up the characters Action Skills, which can give the action skill an elemental capability, the more you have, the wider array of elemental damage your Action Skill has. Coupled with this is the Class Mod upgrades that are scattered throughout the game; they add to some of your skills in the skill tree, along with bonuses to certain aspects of your character, along the lines of damage, reload or ammo regeneration bonuses. With these systems in place, the players character can become evern stronger than they could with their powers maxed out, and this makes the game more interesting. There is also a last stand mode for when you die, you’ll have a limited amount of time, represented by a meter, to kill and enemy and gain a Second Wind, before you bleed out and get sent to a New-U station. While handy, it can often be completely pointless, as grenades you don’t see or bullets fired just before enemy death can kill you, and there’ll be no enemies around to avail of this ability. You’ll often have to utilise your weapons to gain the optimised amount of damage on certain bosses and enemies in the game, as some are resistant to certain weapon attributes, so keeping a diverse array of weapons and grenades is always a good idea. There are also enemies with the ‘Badass’ ranking, which means they’re bigger and tougher and can deal a lot more damage than normal enemies. They can be annoying when they come out of nowhere, but they drop some great loot most of the time, so they’re worth fighting for that along. Overall the gameplay is pretty solid, it allows you to tackle the wasteland and its inhabitants whatever way you deem fit, although it can be a little frustrating to kill the same enemies in the same locations over and over again, and the weapons aren’t nearly as diverse as was marketed.
Borderlands is a very strong title, and one that comes highly recommended if you have friends to play with, as you get better loot...and that’s really what the game is about, loot and shooting shit up in increasingly insane weapons that seem impractical, but actually turn out to be amazing. Its fair share of problems aside, Borderlands is fun for the sake of fun, and is worth a whirl whenever the chance arises.
· Cel-shaded graphics look pretty
· Voice-acting is superb
· An interesting array of weapons to choose from
· Classes are nice and diverse
· Enemy designs are interesting
· Supporting cast is fun
· Tone is full of humour and it lends itself well to the harsh setting
· Elemental weapons are interesting in what they can do
· Badass enemies up the challenge and grant more interesting loot
· Action Skills are a nice addition
· Skill trees give the player the ability to make the character they want
· Lack of weapon customization is a downside
· Bosses are annoying more than difficult
· Can sometimes hit a slump in terms of progression
· Some areas can become far too difficult, too fast and aren't very varied
· Missions are pretty much fetch quests
· Mission-granted weapons are pretty useless compared to drops
· Slogging through the same sets of fast-respawning enemies over and over again is repetitive and annoying rather than fun
· Weapon variation is extremely limited in the grand scheme of the overall game.
In the end, Borderlands is just one of those games that is just damn good. However, it doesn’t escape without a few glaring flaws coming to light. It’s an interesting title that works the humour angle well and is still an excellent title, and well worth the price to pick it up.
WTF? Moment: ...just...just so many things...3 Balls...