[Feel free to check out Shawn Evan's review of the PC version.]
First person RPGs seem to be the industry’s new trend, especially with the success of such critically acclaimed titles like BioShock and Fallout 3. In Fallout 3 the emphasis was clearly on the roleplaying elements involving choice and heavy focus on narrative, while the FPS aspect was, at best, mediocre. BioShock was intuitively crafted, boasting both wonderful gameplay and an engrossing story, but it felt as though something was missing within the roleplaying realm.
Gearbox Software hopes to achieve the ultimate balance of gameplay, roleplaying, and narrative with their latest endeavor, Borderlands. As seen in previous, successful efforts, this balance is hard to achieve. But with superb run and gun gameplay, seamless drop-in, drop-out multiplayer, and a freakin’ bagillion guns at your disposal, Borderlands should not be passed up.
Though it’s not the perfect first person RPG, Borderlands is pretty damn close. Focusing more on combat, customization, and loot rather than a memorable narrative, the game sets a lightning fast pace right from the start. Bullets and explosives will zoom by your head as soon as you enter the world of Pandora. It creates a hectic yet undeniably exciting atmosphere as you set forth on your adventure, whether it be by your sad, sorry lonesome or with a group of three of your so-called friends.
The story behind Borderlands, while sufficient enough, isn’t too compelling, nor up to par when compared to the rest of the game. You play the role of one of four distinct mercenary classes charged with the mission to unlock a Vault on the planet of Pandora that opens once every 200 years, that is only accessible once you’ve collected all of the pieces of the key. You”ll have the help of a “guardian angel” in the form of a recurring vision that will help explain your main goals at hand, a la Atlus of BioShock fame. Now, would you kindly move on to the next paragraph?
Although the story may be forgettable, Borderlands thrives because of its sidequest, loot, and combat mechanics. Controls mimic every well-polished console FPS on the market, with a few tweaks to account for the game’s unique spin. While you’ll be running and gunning down most of your enemies, each character class has a special combat skill to them on your quest to uncover Pandora’s Vault (really?).
The four classes, the soldier, beserker, hunter and siren, hold much different abilities from each other, giving each merc a true, individualized feel. Mordecai, the hunter, holds a direct damage falcon-esque bird of prey, Brick, the beserker, charges his foes in a brutal rage with nothing but fisticuffs, Rolands, the soldier, deploys a turret that will fend off enemies while also providing cover, and Lilith, the siren, “phase walks,” which grants enhanced speed and releases an AOE burst of energy. Even though much of your time will be spent behind the gun, player skills are an intuitive addition to the very solid FPS action that the game offers. And once fully upgraded, they are invaluable and a blast to use the psychotic inhabitants of Pandora.
As you make a bloody mess of the planet and gain experience, you’ll be able to customize your character’s abilities, as well as the effectiveness of their class skills. Much like other loot-driven RPG’s, your set of skills are divided into three separate trees. Each of the three sets are unique to the four mercs, and offer a great amount of customizing that will keep even the most nitpicking of us content. Your skills can be modified to deal more damage, grant better and more frequent loops drops, regenerate ammo, amongst many other enhancements. However, because of class stereotypes established by the game, abilities pertaining to weapon types may pigeonhole your character to certain weapon types.
Each class can specialize in two different weapons, and while you’ll be able to boost your proficiency level for each weapon type, you’ll only be able to gain unique abilities for two specific weapons, which depend on your class. For example, choosing the hunter will allow specialization in snipers and pistols, but if you favor the combat rifle, you may want to choose a different class. The skills system has minor problems, but ultimately is a great aspect that you’ll find quite pleasing. Especially since you can remap your skills at any time for a very low (in game) price.
Though the combat and skill system are a great deal of fun, the game’s major pull revolves around loot and the ungodly amount there is to collect. There are literally over 15 million randomly generated weapons within the seven archetypes: combat rifle, rocket launcher, SMG, sniper rifle, revolvers, repeater pistols, and shotguns. To accommodate numerous styles of play, each weapon deals varying damage, holds different sized ammo clips, has a faster rate of fire, or slower reload times. You’ll be hard-pressed to find the “perfect weapon” because each weapon has their own up and downsides, and the simple fact that, chances are, theres a better weapon waiting to be found.
However, once you’ve decided what weapons best suit you (a total of four can be equipped), you’ll want to stick to them. The longer you use a weapon, the more proficient you become with said weapon. The better proficiency with a weapon, the more accurate you are. It adds both a better sense of realism and customization that’s rarely seen in an FPS, for if your weapon proficiency is poor, the damage you deal and how accurate your firing is will suffer.
Now, Borderlands is not without its flaws. The general landscape remains relatively unchanged throughout most of the game, as stylish and pretty the artwork may be. It gets a little dull staring at the same exact wasteland as you traverse from area to area. The unmemorable narrative certainly does nothing to help with the barren landscape, particularly since the huge number of sidequests usually offer more interesting stories: you should also prepare for what is possibly the worst ending of all time. While the game warrants multiple playthroughs, you’ll have most likely reached the level cap well before the end of the second one, which hinders motivation to continue. Unless your itchin’ for some high level loot, there’s no real reason to keep playing once you’ve reached the max level.
With monstrous titles looming over its head, Borderlands has gone above and beyond expectations, and justly deserves to sit among the big boys. Though it may be short on narrative, it more than makes up for it with slick combat mechanics, great customization options, and the always awesome ability to jump in to your friends game, over Xbox Live or splitscreen (only two player) anytime you want. Trust me, if you don’t have friends, go make some: Borderlands only gets better with the more people playing. And with The Zombie Island of Dr. Ned DLC making its way to a console near you November 24th, you’ll need all the help you can get.
Though the wasteland gets dull, the stylish artwork mix very well with the quirky, yet serious tone.
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With well polished controls and a great combat and ability system, it's hard to find something not to like.
The bullets whizzing by your ear and the explosions booming in your face sound great, as does the impressive voicework.
While it does promote multiple playthroughs, you'll reach the level cap too quickly, which takes away some of the desire to continue.
When a game has such vicious combat, an intriguing skill system, and full co-op capability, a mediocre story can be overlooked. Borderlands is a necessity for any fan of the FPS and RPG genres, or just down-right looting fun.