Borderlands Reader Review

I havenít tried either of the expansion packs yet. Its not that I dislike DLC, I just donít know if I like Borderlands enough to invest more money in it. Frankly, I donít know why I shouldnít like Borderlands. It boasts elements from rpgs (good), fps (good) and sci-fi (ambiguous). It also gave me a reason to bring the Playstation in range of the wireless internet. Sadly there is an awful lot to dislike about Borderlands, and people need to consider carefully whether they are willing to forgive slack story and some dreary gameplay for the sake of a good multiplayer experience.

Thematically, Borderlands is a rather sterile union of the Fallout universe and Joss Whedonís Firefly. You are one of four mercenaries who travel to desert planet Pandora in search of Ďthe Vaultí; a giant survival shelter built by vault-tec... wait, thatís the other one. This Vault is a fabled treasure trove of vague description. And, er, thatís it. As settings go Pandora is pretty staid, full of stereotypical backwater hicks constantly spouting humour akin to an episode of Chucklevision. The game introduces characters and bosses with tiresome bombast and puerility (three balls you say? How interesting). Honestly, it makes you wonder if the average gamer really is a late twenty-something. Or perhaps Iím just an elitist old fart.

Even if the story were gold-plated Frank Herbert though, it is still too disjointed to make sense. Some exposition is presented via audio clips mid-mission, but far too much of it is presented in lengthy textual descriptions at the start and end of quests. As a result, you can easily miss important bits, especially online when quests are often handed in by your team mates .

Of course, the story is only there to string the various quests between the beginning and end of the game, and to its credit, the gameplay is mostly delivers. It reminds me of Blizzardís original Diablo. You spend most of your time running around the landscape murdering the local wildlife (along with various bandits), gaining XP and picking up randomly generated loot . This is an FPS of course, so rather than clicking away repeatedly youíll be holding down L2 to line up the sights, and R2 to empty your gun into any given monstrosity. In line with every FPS in the last decade, you also have regenerating shields and grenades to play with. Each class also has a unique action skill which is activated by pressing L1. These range incredibly useful (deploying an auto-turret for extra firepower), Not very useful (Becoming invisible and running around for some reason, then doing some AOE damage) to the odd (Getting angry and punching everyone like its 11:30 on a Saturday night).

Character progression is what youíd expect. A skill point is earned each time you level up, which you spend on one of your characterís 21 skills. These include standard fare such as improving health, and increasing damage dealt with certain weapons, to more indie renditions like the the ability to regenerate ammunition, or heal team mates by shooting them.

The other side of progression is loot. The game boasts "bazillions of guns", although these really boil down to eight different types, pimped out with numerous combinations of stats, scopes, elemental effects and so on. Aside from guns, you also customise your character with different shields, grenade augmentations and more. When it gets down to it, there is a good deal of character customization to be had, and very little of it feels cosmetic. None of it is permanent either. You can purchase a skill reset at any of the new-U stations, which double as the gameís checkpoints, so you never get stuck with a poor combination of skills or equipment.

Multiplayer is the mainstay of Borderlands, and to their credit 2K have created one of the most engaging co-op multiplayer games on console to date. So long as youíre hooked up to the internet you can jump straight into any of the public games. If you prefer to be in the driving seat, you can start your own game with other players reliably joining in. You also have the option of setting up an invitation game, restricted to your PSN friend list, or else opt for two player split-screen . The ability to communicate and plan tactics adds a nice layer of complexity to the game, although from my own experience, online parties arenít paticularly hampered by the lack of communication due to the simplicity of the quests. Yes, pretty much every mission is a variation of "go here and fetch/kill everything", and are, for the most part, helpfully waypointed on the map. At time of writing Iím still not sure if this is to the gameís credit or not.

If thereís one constant issue with anonymous parties its loot assignment. Apart from the quest rewards, loot isnít instanced or reserved for specific players. So, In spite of the loading screen pleas to share and share alike, loot grabbing is an absolute free-for-all. Players will frequently pick up everything they can before anyone else gets a look in. This is pain in the backside, especially when upgrading your equipment is so fundamental to character progression.

If youíd rather go it alone, you can play the game game in single player, in much the same way you can eat stale bread for lunch instead of a cheese and pickle sandwich. On your todd, the game is a lobotomised version of itself. Quests which could be comfortably played through on multiplayer suddenly become painful and annoying. The lack of a second or third gun to manage the mobs makes you keenly aware of your magazine capacity and action skill cooldown bar, even with the scaling difficulty. When you get killed, the "fight for your life" section, which allowed players to revive you before you died, becomes little more than a taunt. The constant respawning, and sitting behind cover while your action skill cools down makes the action slow, flow-breaking and not as much fun as online.

Even online however, the game isnít going to appeal to everyone. Borderlands is an MMO-style grind-box. Go raiding, get the loot, get the XP, level up and do it all over again on the next raid! Even the story admits as much. Yes children, forget your wishy-washy cures for cancer or quest to save the universe. Weíre out searching for t3h Phat l00t.

Frustratingly for a multiplayer game, many of Borderlands most glaring flaws are due to its multiplayer component. Some are probably unavoidable; you can log into a game advertising a climactic boss mission only to find it completed and wiped out of your characterís log! Another game resulted in my log being flooded with quests from areas I hadnít unlocked, full exposition I didnít want to know about. Perplexingly for a party-based game, There is no way to filter characters based on class or level! As a result, you can find parties unbalanced by characters several levels higher than everyone else, or on the other side, games getting flooded by low level characters incapable of contributing to the fray.

Visually, the game is a rather gritty art-style a few shades away from being cel-shaded. It lends itself to the pseudo cartoonish feel of the action. The PS3 version had noticeable texture pop-in, with textures failing to load at the beginning of a new area. The sound and voice work isnít anything to write home about, but it does the job for the most part.

The problem with Borderlands is that itís inconsistent. As a multiplayer experience it is reliant on the unknown quantity of the internet. On a good day with a competent party, with decent loot drops, youíll be playing for hours at a time. On a bad day, with a party full of imbeciles getting killed every few minutes, your patience wears thin in no time at all. I definitely prefer playing in an intimate circle of friends, preferably using VOIP, or via split screen. But you can essentially forget the single player.

Verdict:

If you canít or wonít do multiplayer, thereís nothing in Borderlands for you. Otherwise, a solid enough game if youíre willing to forgive some inconsistency. Worth a go!

7 / 10

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