January 27, 2010

Review: Borderlands

Having played Borderlands with all four characters for quite a good number of hours, I finally feel I can properly review it. The last game developed by Gearbox Software was Brothers in Arms: Hell's Highway, the series the company is known for. Like Obsidian, Gearbox is more known for its ports of games such as Halo for the PC, Half Life for some consoles, and for sequels to series nobody wants to continue such as Counter-Strike. Frankly, I wasn't expecting too much from Borderlands, but if you haven't gotten the idea from us giving Borderlands our Best Offering Of The Year award, it's pretty good.


Visuals: The change in visual style from this to this almost killed it for me. It still runs on Unreal Engine 3, but you'd never be able to tell. Sure, the game probably would have been just as fun in photo-realistic form, but it would have lost a lot of what makes it unique. The change in visual style really made the game stand out and probably significantly boosted sales. The game went from being a serious sci-fi epic to not taking itself too seriously and, honestly, it's a breath of fresh air. In a world of "next-gen brown" as people call it, Borderlands is colorful, and funny to boot.

Presentation: Not only is the game nice to look, but the world that Gearbox has crafted is also quite unique and colorful world. Colorful in more ways than one. The characters are crazy in this game. I mean they've got everything. Even flaming midgets. Yup, you read that right. But the NPC's are also fairly interesting individuals, some funny and some downright annoying, that pretty much cover the spectrum. The weakest thing about the game is the story, but you'll be having so much fun playing the game, you'll forget all about it anyway. Something about a vault. Where have we heard that before?

Seriously, though, the game is nothing at all like Fallout 3. Probably the coolest thing about the game is that the weapons are randomly generated. Besides mission-specific weapons, you'll never find quite the same gun twice. Basically, the programmers programed a crapload of weapon parts that the game randomly combines. Then, it randomly generates stats for the randomly generated guns ranging from damage to fire rate to clip size and elemental effect. There's plenty of variety of weapon types and you start to wonder how they programmed all this stuff and crammed it in one disk. The good stuff is usually stashed in weapon "crates" but never overlook dropped enemy guns. I've found some great stuff on the floor.

But then your mind is really blown when it comes to the map itself. This game is big. I mean big. It's a semi-open world. Areas are sectioned off kind of like in the original Fable, meaning there's some loading from one place to the next but these places are huge. So huge, some of them must be traversed with vehicles. The vehicles can be spawned at one of many "Catch A Ride" stations and can be customized with a unique color and  either a chain gun or rockets. The runners, as they are called, even look different from place to place. And, while you can just randomly travel the land and battle creatures, you'll eventually want to take on missions to earn experience and loot.

Then there's the enemies. There's a good variety that varies from area to area, but then each enemy type has subtypes. Each of theses classes of enemy are progressively tougher. Theres a lot of dudes to kill. And quite a few boss characters that range from wimpy to uber. Either way, they're all pretty unique personality-wise and most battles are uniquely different.

Gameplay: To me, the game plays like Halo, which makes everything that much more fun. But it's also an RPG. Let that sink in for a second. This game plays as if Halo were an RPG. The core gameplay is like any other first person shooter. Enemies attack you, you fight back with guns, grenades, etc. The difference here is that when you kill stuff, you get experience points. Experience points can then be spent in your character's skills. Each skill can be maxed out with five points and investing enough points in a set skill tree will unlock a new branch of that tree. For example, say I choose Brick, the game's Berserker-class character. Say I like Brick's "Tank" tree. I first invest five points in the "Hardened" skill which increases Brick's health 12% per rank, then another five in his "Safeguard" skill which sits next to "Hardened" in the first tear of of the "Tank" tree. I then unlock two new skills which I can invest in that tree. Each of the three trees has seven skills which can have up to five points invested in each. The seventh skill in each tree is basically the ultimate skill of that tree. The game has a level cap meaning that you'll never max out all the skills each of the four character classes has, so think carefully where you put them as it will affect the way your character turns out.  Luckily, you can reset all of your points for a minimum fee (don't worry, money is very plentiful in this game- though you loose some when you respawn). Because no two players are quite the same, my Brick may turn out very different from your Brick.

Each character also has a special skill. Using Brick again, at level five he unlocks his skill which allows him to annihilate things with his fists. These abilities can also be upgraded using skill points (characters have a tree dedicated to them) and can be augmented with elemental effects. The game also includes class modifiers, of which one can be set at a time, that can affect everything from just you to your whole team. Basically, everything in the game an be upgraded to become progressively better from grenades to shields.

Because the four characters are so different (soldier, berserker, hunter, siren) it becomes essential to upgrade your character to benefit the team. This game can be played alone but it is much more enjoyable with a friend. Things get tough, and they get tough fast. You'll need to use your unique skills and work together to truly survive. It's a pretty great formula that makes for some great gameplay. You can use your character to play through the game multiple times and the game will upgrade the enemies and loot accordingly. Awesome.

Controls: Not much to say on this front. The game controls very well. It's a mix of Halo and COD controls that FPS players will already be familiar with. Though it plays like Halo for the most part (recharging shields and all) there is a much appreciated sprint button. Also, the left trigger will always zoom with a gun's scope if it has one, otherwise it'll aim down the sight.

Sound: The sound effects are great. You'll always know when a psycho midget is coming up behind you, skags are on your tail, or there's gunfire off in the distance. But on top of that, the music is very well done. It fits the game world perfectly as a blend of old western and tribal music. Take a listen (it loops at 1:05):

Replay: Years, maybe? I don't know, it seems like the type of thing I'd keep on playing for a long, long while. It is the game to break out when friends are around. Or even if they're not, there's always online. The many choices and randomization of things makes the game still fun even if you've done it all before.

Final Thoughts: Borderlands is fantastic. Very worthy of being Game of the Year. It's just so damn fun to play that you can't stop once you start. You always want to find that once piece of equipment that'll make your character even stronger, and even if you play through it three times, the game makes sure it always presents a chalenge. It combines shooting and role-playing in a way many people thought Fallout 3 would. And it does it better. 


  1. YESSSS!! but on a side note, players be warned. what makes the game so extrordinarily fun also makes it extrordinarily addicting. last night when i should have been studying for a test, i was playing borderlands. but yea, a great game and i highly recomend it, just be carefull.

  2. This is, without a doubt, the most fun game to have come out this year.