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Borderlands Review Rewind


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On 08/26/2011 at 01:25 AM by Nick DiMola

Why does this game remind me of Firefly?
RECOMMENDATION:

For fans of FPS titles or dungeon crawlers.

I’m not sure what it is, but loot-based dungeon crawlers have an unbelievable ability to completely immerse me. I hate to say it, but they’re basically digital crack and I’m completely unable to put them down until I either reach the end of the game or hit the level cap. Borderlands is my latest indulgence, but it has a twist that you wouldn’t usually associate with the genre.

It’s a first person shooter, and the dungeons aren’t dungeons at all. Instead you find yourself in a futuristic world on the arid planet of Pandora and you must shoot your way through countless enemies and lethal wildlife to reach the Vault. While the story is paper thin, the typical tropes of RPG gameplay are strongly represented, but here you don various guns rather than swords, axes, and bows.

The combination of these two historically disparate gaming genres produces an extremely compelling result. Given its basis as a first person shooter, players aren’t totally reliant on their gear, level, and potions to defeat foes and conquer areas. All of this is still extremely important, but encounters also require real skill, which is what’s so great about the experience.

Given that you can play with up to three friends, it's nice to see four distinct character classes to choose from. Mixing and matching these characters proves to be an effective way to play the campaign, allowing for definite teamwork to play off of each character's strengths.

To its credit, Borderlands rarely requires level grinding. Its bevy of side quests provide a steady flow of fresh tasks in order to gain more experience. Each one will even suggest a minimum experience level so that it’s clear if it should be taken on at that moment. Sometimes you can take on quests higher than your current level, which will obviously net more experience points, but a much greater challenge.

If anything, the biggest detriment is that you must often travel great distances to both take on new quests, and return after completion to collect your bounty as the game progresses. Additionally, there’s no great way to tell if more challenges are available, short of visiting the appropriate locations. An in-game character will alert you of them if you are in the general area, but this isn’t an effective way to dispel such important information.

Despite the often-disparate tasks offered by the quests, most ventures boil down to crawling an area and defeating hordes of enemies until you either reach your intended destination or collect the requested items. Furthermore, the enemies are practically the same the entire game, with little variation. Once you’ve identified the different types of enemies, the AI remains consistent from beginning to end, leaving you little reason to improvise new strategies. Of course, a degree of repetition is always expected in a game of this nature, so it’s a bit forgivable.

Thankfully, you are so often focused on micro tasks the repetition doesn’t really sink in. Given the loot pick-ups everywhere and the copious enemy drops, you’re always doing something. If not fighting, you’re collecting or selling. Funny enough, the money you acquire from looting plays almost no role in the gameplay.

Drops are most often better than the stuff you can buy, and typically, ammo upgrades are the only real worthwhile investment. Even after blowing all of my cash on upgrades, I wound up with nearly $2 million at the end of the game. Most of the time, I spent cash on ammo, which was so cheap it was practically free.

Because money is almost pointless, you have little to work toward as the game progresses. There’s no super-duper weapon or armor out there that you can eventually purchase with enough money. This eventually leads to keeping a very static set of gear on hand throughout a large portion of the game. I’d say I used a single, random drop SMG for nearly the entire second half of the game before eventually picking up a replacement that outclassed it right at the end. Overall, the loot system definitely left something to be desired.

Design issues aside, Borderlands suffers from some technical issues. None of them are game breaking, but at times they have required me to completely redo missions because of events that didn’t properly trigger at the proper time. It’s astounding that these issues have persisted despite being re-released with all of the DLC.

It’s easy to nitpick Borderlands’ problems, but when it comes down to it, it’s obsession-inducing. Since picking up the game, Chessa and I have yet to miss a night of play with it. We’ve completed the mainline quest, all of the side quests, and have moved on to tackling the DLC one at a time. Co-op play is inherently enjoyable, but given the strong core gameplay, team dynamic, and varying abilities of each character, it’s much more than your run-of-the-mill co-op experience.

Clocking in at forty hours for the whole game, there’s plenty to conquer in Borderlands in just the first playthrough. After finishing, everything is kicked up a notch and the enemies and challenge level are increased for a second playthrough. If you have a friend to play with locally, or friends to play with online, Borderlands is a no-brainer for any gamer. Just don’t go into it as a single player -- this game is meant to be played with friends.

Review Policy

In our reviews, we'll try not to bore you with minutiae of a game. Instead, we'll outline what makes the game good or bad, and focus on telling you whether or not it is worth your time as opposed to what button makes you jump.

We use a five-star rating system with intervals of .5. Below is an outline of what each score generally means:


All games that receive this score are standout games in their genre. All players should seek a way to play this game. While the score doesn't equate to perfection, it's the best any game could conceivably do.


These are above-average games that most players should consider purchasing. Nearly everyone will enjoy the game and given the proper audience, some may even love these games.


This is our middle-of-the-road ranking. Titles that receive three stars may not make a strong impression on the reviewer in either direction. These games may have some faults and some strong points but they average out to be a modest title that is at least worthy of rental for most.


Games that are awarded two stars are below average titles. Good ideas may be present, but execution is poor and many issues hinder the experience.


Though functional, a game that receives this score has major issues. There are little to no redeeming qualities and should be avoided by nearly all players.


A game that gets this score is fundamentally broken and should be avoided by everyone.


 

Comments

Jason Ross Senior Editor

08/26/2011 at 02:46 AM

If I understand correctly, this game is for sale on Steam right now, with a very cheap "Buy 4" pack, valued around 23 dollars. That's only if I recall correctly. I'll add in some of my thoughts about the game tomorrow.

Edit for my thoughts: Nick's review is really great, and covers just about all the aspects of the game I can think of.

As someone who's made it no secret that I don't enjoy FPS titles, I've found that Borderlands can be fun, and it helps that it seems the classes have non-shooting special abilities to offer a little bit of variety.

That said, I'm a little less forgiving in terms of repetition than Nick is. I think the repetition, in this case, isn't a product of the RPG environment than it is of the FPS one: Deaths are quick, both for you and your enemies. Since most enemies can be killed in just a few shots with most guns, the game's solution is to spawn more enemies to take their places. This results in a limited number of enemies in a single skirmish that are nearly instantly replaced once they die. I think if Borderlands didn't limit itself to this type of situation, there would have been more opportunities to individualize a few more enemies.

In fact, I just reached an area where you fight a new type of nemesis, and I've found this to be exactly the case. This type of enemy can have shields, and one class can throw down a turret, just like the game's soldier. The change in gameplay is refreshing, since there were only a few classes of enemies before, but beyond that, these enemies take more hits than before, and from that, they require more thought in their approach.

I've also found that most bosses can be dispatched with almost the same amount of ease as a normal enemy. Sure, they take a few more hits and deal more damage, but often, playing the game with Chris, I'll be dealing with a few side enemies, then we'll kill the boss without even realizing we had found him or her. It's a little annoying, and I wish a little more variety had been put into most bosses, too.

I'd probably give the game 3.5 stars, since I see so many places that with a little change, the game would be much better, but also because I'm a little more negative about the repetition than Nick is, for the reasons above.

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