Brilliant fundamentals make for bazillions of good times
Calling Borderlands a "slow burner" is probably not entirely accurate, but it does spend a little while meandering before really opening up its charms to you. Like an MMO, Borderlands starts you off in moderately dull areas doing menial tasks fighting respawning enemies, and it's tough to shake the feeling that Gearbox staff have serious WoW addictions to deal with. The story is paper thin, often told through dull text. Quests, more text, conform to the "Go here, kill that, pick up this, then go back" variety. Picking a class and a first look at the skill tree can also be disappointingly familiar, with skill upgrades offering what appears to be series of slight adjustments rather than dramatic improvement.
Then again, like an MMO, things start to click, and you understand that the story and questing is really only there to keep you busy. You start to understand that every single thing about Borderlands is designed around two things; To keep you shooting, and to keep you digging for loot. And what shooting and loot!
Borderlands, like Torchlight, really shows that a game doesn't necessarily NEED a world of context and depth, as long as the fundamentals of the gameplay really sit right. Borderlands is a shooter's shooter. Controls are sharp, guns are satisfyingly crazy, enemy feedback to gunfire is perfect, and you practically always have a new combat scenario to work out. As every satisfying fight nets you more money, loot and experience, this never feels like the grind it actually is, and actually made me take a hard look at some MMO genre tropes. In Borderlands, the grind is fun.
If it isn't clear yet, you can probably imagine Borderlands as WoW restructured in the context of a strong first person shooter, and with a big helping of Diablo-style loot showers. The world feels large, almost intimidatingly so, and it feels like there are constantly new areas to explore. Often the game feels almost too generous, and it's easy to feel rushed through the game content if you don't take the time to explore and play the game your own way, of your own volition.
The game world feels absolutely littered with pickups. There is rarely a moment when something isn't up for grabs, and the constant dilemma is whether what you're picking up is better than what you're dropping to make room for it. Found guns will have randomly tweaked stats, and while the majority of found guns are relatively mundane, sometimes you'll get a hold of something that feels absolutely nuts, like a high damage multiple-warhead rapid fire rocket launcher that causes acid damage across a wide area. Wielding a ridiculous weapon like that, and being rewarded by hilariously perfect acidic death screams (and more showers of loot) is an experience that feels almost entirely unique to Borderlands in the shooter realm.
Awarding any game a perfect score is a hard decision, and Borderlands certainly has some problems. Mechanically, the PC user interface is awkwardly and obviously ported from the console versions, and the hilariously idiosyncratic choice to employ GameSpy as the online middleware strikes me as almost post-modern. The simplistic vehicle combat serves mostly as a way to travel through the world faster and at lower risk than on foot, and if the spectacular gun battles wrapped up with Piñata loot showers aren't drive enough for you to keep playing, the story sure isn't going to help you along either.
But when the game goes out of its way to keep you having fun, with a near perfect challenge level throughout with a near constant sense of reward, those minor annoyances quickly fade into the background. That the game is drop dead gorgeous to look at even on a mid-range PC certainly does no harm either. This is one of the best realized cel-shaded games i have ever seen; Not up to Wind Waker or Okami obviously, but it certainly infuses the world with a distinct personality of its own.
I can't recommend Borderlands enough. I haven't played a shooter in a very long time that feels this generous and fun-spirited, or one that has given me as many big stupid grins. Here's hoping for a perfected sequel!