Borderlands chronicles a group of treasure hunters on a dusty slog across the planet Pandora as they seek out the legendary treasures of a mysterious place called the Vault. From the moment the bus drops your player off at the deserted town of Fyrestonet, you best steel yourself because a lot of rootin-tootin’, lootin’ and shootin’ is about to be done.
In Borderlands, there are four characters to choose from: a burly, melee-skilled Berserker; a turret-spawning Soldier; a Siren, whose Phasewalking skill makes her fast and invisible; and a Hunter, who favors his sniper rifle and pet Bloodwing Falcon. Each character comes armed with dozens of customizable skills and the game packs in over a hundred missions to play through. Part first-person shooter, part role-playing game, a constant collection of Halo-esque recharging shields, stat-boosting artifacts, character class modifiers, grenade types, and “bazillions” of guns is much of Borderlands appeal. But the real star is its four-player, cooperative multiplayer mode.
Co-op is what Borderlands does best. Blasting off a jump in a vehicle when you’ve got a real-live partner in the gunner’s seat and two more that are clearing the road in front of you is just plain damn fun as hell. It’s nice that the game rewards tightly focused, well-commanded squads. When player skills and capabilities complement each other well, a good squad can churn through some of the games less interesting fetch quests, haul ass as a team to the next score, and power level each other in a blink. And contrary to popular multi-player shooter belief, slogging through Borderlands with a novice isn’t such a bad thing either. From personal experience, carrying the newbie quickly evolved into spot-on order taking and on the fly strategizing as the inexperienced player began to grasp the simple concept of team work/team reward versus wandering aimlessly and competing for loot drops. And that’s what this game is really all about: loot, loot, and more loot.
Borderlands has a quickly addictive reward system- from randomized weapons with elemental ammo to big bonuses in cash and experience for completed quests. This reward system kept the game going longer than I intended every single time I played. If you’ve ever played World of Warcraft, then you definitely are no stranger to the phrase, “Just one more quest, and I swear I’ll turn it off.” Borderlands elicits the same response. New loot, new levels, and new areas to explore provide constant curiosity as to what’s coming next. Tons of small quests with big rewards make it hard to put down. But besides being fun, Borderlands looks damn good.
The game’s “concept art” cell-shading adds personality to what otherwise might have been flat, barren stretches of desert land. A thick-lined, cartoon style makes the game look like a living graphic novel. Player characters and enemy designs are sharp. Awesome texture work makes a been-done-to-death, post-apocalyptic environment really eye catching. Effects, such as the way an enemy burns when dying from a fire attack, are also really cool to see… and hear. The game’s voice-acting is also really well-done. And while the game’s story may be nothing special to write home about, some of the things that the whacked-out characters of the wasteland say and the conviction with which they deliver them could be considered comic gold.
In short, Borderlands gets lots of things right. Balance is one of them. The shooting mechanics are sound, as are many of the role-playing aspects. But where Borderlands excels is in offering a functional four-player cooperative, loot-hoarding experience, with gorgeous environments to adventure in. The game feels like a Massively Multiplayer Online game that doesn’t require large groups of other players to enjoy. Borderlands is also one of those games that is so strong in certain parts that its shortcomings- barebones story, lackluster AI- can be overlooked without a second glance. When you’re with a couple good friends frantically trying to stay alive as your being swarmed by angry hordes of midget-psycho mutants, giant spider-ants, and three-balled hillbillies from another planet, you probably won’t care too much about that other stuff. Borderlands strongly succeeds where plenty of others have failed miserably. (Review written by Nick Creature)