Practically every developer promises that they will be supporting their game with DLC after launch. Few, if any, ever deliver on those commitments in a substantial or timely manner. For this, Gearbox is to be commended; they have released two full DLC packages within months of Borderlands‘ release to keep interest in their highly touted shooter-looter alive.
The latest DLC installment, Mad Moxxi’s Underdome Riot, comes hot on the heels of The Zombie Island of Dr. Ned to offer a heaping helping of arena-based combat to content-hungry Borderlands fans. Does the newest hotspot on Pandora offer challenging gameplay, or is it just a challenge to play? Hit the jump to find out!
Imagine you’ve sat down at a local restaurant and ordered a burger. You’re looking forward to the meal, but you’re not expecting anything too extravagant. Now, imagine that when your meal comes out, instead of a burger they bring you the most succulent steak dinner you’ve ever laid eyes on.
Your mouth starts watering as the smell caresses your nostrils. You carefully cut in and take a bite of the juiciest morsel of beef you’ve had in a long time. With an orgasmic sigh, you turn your gaze and utensils eagerly back towards your plate. This is what the first two hours of Mad Moxxi are like.
Gearbox continues their tradition of stellar presentation with the Mad Moxxi DLC. Stylish visuals are again present in the design of the Underdome, which combines the post-apocalyptic arena of death motif and a twisted carnival sensibility to great effect.
The music for this content is stellar. I found myself getting pumped up just from listening more closely in between rounds. The tracks are catchy and driving, and set the tone well for the frantic action.
And then there’s Moxxi. She’s one of the best characters in the Borderlands universe so far, combining a femme-fatale sexuality with a merrily twisted Mad Hatter vibe. Her commentaries during the proceedings are amusing without being overly intrusive. Her intro was extremely entertaining as well.
The basic gameplay premise in Mad Moxxi borrows from the co-op based arena combat recently popularized by Gears 2‘s Horde Mode, and Halo ODST‘s Firefight Mode. Successively, more difficult rounds of enemies are released against the players while they work together to survive. Challenges take place in three different arenas, and the content consists of a set of starter missions (five rounds in each arena), followed by a set of full challenges (20 rounds in each arena).
Gearbox, fortunately, brought some truly interesting twists to the “horde mode” formula with this DLC. Underneath the shiny coat of paint on Mad Moxxi lie some excellent ideas, which do a great deal to make the game mode fresh for players.
The structure of the rounds helps tremendously. While the number and strength of enemies predictably makes a steady climb as you progress through challenges, the game also throws a cycle of different enemy types at you. Each round consists of five waves (Starter, Gun, Horde, Badass, and Boss), which forces players to constantly be on their toes and aware of what enemies are coming next in order to adjust strategies and weapon sets accordingly.
As you get into the later rounds of challenges, different effects come into play randomly. Some effects nerf all but one weapon type, or provide additional dmg/HP/shields for your enemies, among other status possibilities.
I found this dynamic system of restrictions an excellent way of adding challenge to the mode without being cheap. These constantly changing effects force you to approach each round differently, and rely on a larger variety of weapons than what you might be comfortable with. This also allows for different players to take the lead role for each round, as they may be better equipped to deal with a particular weapon or status effect.
When a player is overwhelmed and cannot be revived by a team-mate in time, they are teleported to the “penalty box” instead of sitting and waiting to respawn. The penalty box is a platform over the arena that the player cannot leave, but can still shoot from. So, even though dying keeps you from being on the field with your teammates for a time, you can still contribute significantly by sniping baddies and calling out enemy movements.
As I played through the first set of three five-round challenges, I found myself delighted at the eye-and-ear candy, the trademark Gearbox humor and style, and the innovative twists on what could have been a stale imitation of a popular game-mode. I was hooked, but then it happened.
Go back to the restaurant. You’re still savoring that first delicious bite of steak, and reaching greedily with fork and knife back for the plate. However, just before you get another bite cut off, the waiter runs in and snatches the plate from right underneath your gaze. You wait in amazement for your meal to return.
30 torturous minutes later, the waiter brings your steak back out. Only now, it has been overcooked to the point of inedibility. Each bite is dry and tough, and it takes far too much effort to chew each bite. It’s the same meat as before, but now it tastes like burlap instead of heaven. This is how the rest of the DLC feels.
The first set of three challenges are very digestible. These five round affairs take around 45 minutes each to complete. The second set of challenges are another story.
With a well rounded four-man crew of level 50 players, it still took us a ridiculous 4 1/2 hours to complete ONE of the three 20 round challenges. The game offers no save points, and if at any point your entire party ends up in the penalty box, you have to start back at the beginning of round 1.
It bears mentioning that our 270 minute gameplay session included no do-overs. It took us that long to complete the challenge with no team failures. With no save points, this is an utterly silly time commitment to demand from any player in one sitting, let alone four players. Even Moxxi’s excellent voice work becomes grating and repetitive after the first 10 rounds.
After each round, Moxxi drops loot in a centralized location. While this keeps the focus on the combat, since the enemies provide no drops, it also ensures that all the players camp out near the loot point during the boss wave.
In 6 1/2 total hours of play, my party saw a total of two orange weapons, none of which were better than our equipped loot. There were no weapons unique to the DLC, and since the DLC offers no XP (to keep low-level characters from grinding in the arena), there are little to no rewards.
Mad Moxxi does offer players two skill points and a bank to store excess loot in as perks. Unfortunately, two skill points aren’t going to be game changers for level 50 players whose main means of improving is by finding better gear. When the DLC drops little worthwhile equipment, having extra space to store it is almost a slap in the face.
There simply isn’t much incentive for players to endure the ridiculous time investments required to complete the second tier of challenges. Mad Moxxi features no new enemy types – all of the bosses are recycled from the main game. Similarly, all three arenas are comprised of recycled art assets from the main game as well.
Gearbox set out to correct the complaint that the main game was too easy for veteran gamers, and they deserve recognition for acting on their community’s input. However, there’s a huge difference between good challenges and cheap challenges. Strangely, the Mad Moxxi DLC has healthy doses of both.
There are some great ideas buried in this game, and the initial challenge feels just right. When you factor in the absurd length of the later challenges with the minimal reward for your time, you have a DLC that starts well, but ends up being suited only for die-hard fans or achievement whores.
None of the friends I asked to play Mad Moxxi with me want to play it again after that first 20-round marathon. The challenge gamers wanted was in the gameplay, not in fending off carpal-tunnel syndrome. The irony is that they already had the steak cooked perfectly before they stuck it back on the grill and ruined it.
As a big fan of Borderlands, I hate to say it, but great ideas, good intentions, and a sexy NPC just aren’t enough to overcome the frustration present after the beginning of Mad Moxxi’s Underdome Riot. This one is impossible to recommend for 10 bucks.
Gamer Limit gives Mad Moxxi’s Underdome Riot a 6/10.