A great game, with a few issues.
What would happen if Diablo and Halo made love? A strange question, I know, but Borderlands, the cell-shaded loot fest from Gearbox Software, has tried to blend the action and gunplay from today’s First-Person Shooters with the experience, leveling mechanics and loot drops found in modern Role-Playing Games. The question is: Does it work?
After a short summation of why you have come to Pandora, a dirty and deserted planet, you choose one of four characters, any of which has unique talents and skill sets. Roland, the Soldier, can drop a turret to provide additional firepower and can be upgraded to heal members close by and even dispense ammunition. Lilith, the Siren, can become invisible to the enemy and sneak behind their defenses. The Berserker, Brick, can unleash a barrage of punches that render anything in his path a flesh blob, and Mordecai, the Hunter, uses his pet bird Bloodwing to keep enemies at bay while he shoots them from afar. Once you have made your choice, you are dropped off in the small town of Fyrestone, where you quest for The Vault begins, which is said to be filled with vast amounts of treasure.
That being said, the plot of Borderlands is pretty sparse through most of the game, with main story points dotting the landscape while you accomplish odd jobs for the locals in order to gain experience. Colorful characters thankfully provide some, at times, hilarious dialogue to counter the lacking plot. Much of the humor of Borderlands comes from its few characters, who provide funny quips and dialogue to provide entertainment. A couple characters that come to mind are Scooter, who embodies your stereotypical southern hillbilly, and Tannis, whose babble-filled recordings can be found scattered around Pandora.
But to be honest, the story is not the main reason to play this game. Borderlands really seems to be about collecting the coolest and most powerful guns you can find, and that is where I had wished more RPG elements had been implemented. The lack of any trade system, loot rolls, or form of external storage for the plethora of guns and other things you amass while playing is quite puzzling. Considering the game has been touted as having “millions” of items, it would be logical to add some sort of additional storage than just your backpack. Many times I had to throw away guns and other items I wanted to keep because I had no inventory space left. Also, when in co-operative games loot can be picked up by anyone in the party. That means if someone picked up an gun that you wanted, or you want to trade weapons with another person, you would both have to drop the items on the ground and trust one another (and anyone else in the group) not to pick up all of the items and leave. While in a game with friends or those you trust this may not be an issue, but if you ever happen to play with strangers you might end up getting swindled.
As for the look of Borderlands, I really liked the cell-shaded style, with its bold outlines and saturated colors that give off hand-drawn feel. A few areas really showcase this, like garbage-strewn docks of Treacher’s Landing, or the ransacked town of Old Haven. It gives the game a more animated feel while not looking like other cell-shaded games, which I think works well with the character and enemy designs. From facemask-wearing bandits, to giant spiderants, to the dog-like skags and bat-like rakks, you enemies in Borderlands are very detailed and plentiful. And it’s a good thing they are plentiful, because most of them either rush you or stand there, as if pretending not to notice you aren’t shooting them in the face.
Fortunately, plenty of replay value can be had in the game, with my first playthough ending with my character at level 35 and total playtime at around 24 hours. And with the level cap currently set at fifty, the player can then choose to go through the game a second time, with stronger enemies and better loot.
Sure, there have been other games that have attempted mixing first-person shooter action with role-playing elements, most notably Bethesda Softwork’s Fallout 3. And while Borderlands does succeed in combining these genres into a rather cohesive product, it feels like the game could have used a few more standard RPG conventions and more attention to the overarching story. Thankfully, the characters, gunplay, style, humor, replayability, amount of gear, and everything else make this game a worthy purchase for any loot fiend.