Search the wasteland planet of Pandora for the legendary Alien Vault. Fight your way through bandits, discover native (and aggressive) creatures, and help the few settlers on the planet in your search for a Vault rumored to contain a great prize – if it even exists!
With about as much attitude as an angry grenade-wielding suicide bandit, Borderlands is a brilliant execution of style, gameplay, and humor.
As an intrepid treasure hunter, you’ve arrived on the planet of Pandora in search of an alien vault, the stuff of local lore and legend. The only trouble is no one really knows if the vault exists. On top of that, the moment you set foot on the planet you’re greeted by the voice of a mysterious woman who claims to be the vault’s guardian angel.
With a brief tutorial section involving a firefight to reclaim one of Pandora’s small inhabited towns, you are then thrust into an open-world adventure that takes you across multiple zones in your quest to find the elusive vault. Major story missions are linked to one another but numerous side quests exist that allow you to gain experience, earn money and win better loot.
However, the journey can get pretty lonely at times if you’re playing solo, considering that non-player characters (NPCs) speak to you mostly through quest descriptions in text form.
Still, with multiple quest types to be undertaken, ranging from taking down super-powerful boss characters to collecting bottles of beer, you can be sure that the things you do are never dull or repetitive.
There are four distinct classes available in the game, each with a unique power and upgradable skill trees. The Hunter employs a falcon named ‘Bloodwing’ that can be made to attack hidden enemies, slow them down and even pick up loot. The Siren can phase in and out of reality to slow down time and flank or stun her enemies.
The Soldier can deploy a defensive turret to mow down the opposition. Last but not least is the Berserker class who can activate a Berserk mode to literally beat the crap out of anybody foolish enough to be standing in his way.
Each class is further distinguished through three varied skill tree specialization options that scope down your style of play. For instance, the Soldier can specialize in Infantry for greater damage output, Support to better manage ammo, and Medic for more healing-based gameplay.
Also, each class specializes in a few weapon types and is able to do more damage when using these weapons. This allows for a lot of flexibility in how you want to play a class, and you’ll be spending quite awhile just to allocate your skill points and balance your arsenal to your strengths.
Speaking of arsenal, this game does a phenomenal job with its one-of-a-kind loot system. Basically guns are divided into your basic selection: pistols, revolvers, shotguns, submachine guns, assault rifles, snipers, missile launchers and laser weaponry.
Each gun is differentiated by numerous factors: manufacturer, magazine size, accuracy, damage, rate of fire, line-of-sight and other passive factors. What the game really does is to mix and match these factors; hence, you will never come across the same gun twice. This leads to some truly unique types of weaponry that are exclusive to your playthrough of the game.
On top of all that, some weapons are augmented with elemental abilities. The types available are fire, acid, electricity and explosive. Each elemental ability is useful against specific enemy types and can dish out some serious damage over a short period of time.
Some of the things I ended up with as a result of this random mixing-and-matching was a sniper that shoots acid, a shotgun that spews electric bolts and a revolver that shoots explosive rounds. As crazy as they sound, they’re incredibly fun to use!
Modifications exist even for grenades, shields and specific classes. It is entirely possible to have teleporting grenades, a shield that emits a devastating ring of fire upon depleting itself, and a mod that practically doubles your damage output.
Best of all, this in-depth level of customization is only limited by the number of items you possess, which actually encourages you to go out and hunt for better, more badass loot just so you can experiment with your gear setup.
However, there is no way for you to store what you cannot carry, which does mean you have to be picky with the gear you collect throughout. Thankfully, backpack upgrades provided at specific checkpoints in the game do give your inventory room to grow as you level up.
Later on in the game you’re given access to ride vehicles around Pandora. They feel a little floaty (Pandora’s lower gravity to blame?) but generally handle well enough for your needs. They even have a nitrous ability that is used up all at once when you hit it. A lock-on feature makes vehicular combat slightly easier, though not necessarily ideal.
In terms of customization, you’re given a choice of weapon (machine gun or rocket launcher) and up to eight colors to pick, but that’s about it. Additionally, if you’re not one for driving vehicles all around, a fast travel option is available upon completing the required quests.
One of the highlights of Borderlands is the ease in which you can play co-op. Friends can drop in or out of your game at any time as long as you’re not playing single-player, and it’s naturally more fun to run some of the tougher dungeons and quests with the help of companion(s).
If you’d rather slug it out with human opponents, there are numerous multiplayer arenas in several zones that provide the opportunity for huge gunfights, or you could just duke it out anywhere you’d like by melee-attacking your chosen opponent.
Though the co-op mode and online play is pretty robust, the game lacks a sophisticated loot management system akin to World of Warcraft’s, which fairly and systematically divides loot among players according to a previously agreed-upon method. In Borderlands, you have to do it manually, so communication is necessary to ensure that things are done fairly, especially where ammunition is concerned.
As the screenshots would seem to indicate, Borderlands is a gorgeous looking game with a distinct look of its own. Using hand-drawn textures rendered into full 3D, Borderlands plays out like a comic book. The style and feel of the game is distinctly cowboy-ish, with thick accents, (mostly) desert landscapes, tongue-in-cheek humor and ambient music that wouldn’t be out of place in a 50’s Western flick.
Though you are confined to the starting area for the beginning of the game, once you level past it the world opens up, with lush, detailed and varied environments such as a scrapyard, underground caverns and even a harbor area. Enemies are abundant in each area, and their death animations are quite funny to behold, especially when you deal the coup de grace with an elemental weapon.
However, sometimes textures take awhile to load completely, especially when you enter a new zone. Shadows are pixellated when seen up close, and water doesn’t ripple when you drive over it (!).
As far as role-playing shooters go, Borderlands does a great job of being a stand-out in its genre. Despite some minor flaws, it successfully combines the intense action of a first-person shooter with the strategy of a role-playing game to produce one of the most enjoyable and distinguishable experiences in gaming this year. If you’re game for a wild ride into uncharted territory, then saddle up and get ready to rumble!
Pros: Lots of customization possibilities, insane amount of guns and gear, large variety of quests, gorgeous graphics.
Cons: Lonely single-player outing, no multiplayer loot management system.