Tuesday, April 27, 2010

Borderlands - Review

This one has been a long time coming. I've been playing through Borderlands with a couple friends on a (mostly) once-a-week schedule. Last week we finally finished the game, so now it's review time. I've also played a little single player to try out each character class and get a sense for how the game feels without buddies backing you up all the time.

Borderlands is a sort of FPS/RPG hybrid. I guess one could say the same of Fallout 3, though that title resided more on the RPG end of the continuum while Borderlands is closer to an FPS. However, I don't think it would be right to compare Borderlands to Fallout 3, as it reminded me more of an FPS version of Diablo. In other words, it's less about story and character interaction, and more about slaughtering hoards of baddies to collect ever improving loot (largely in the form of guns).

In fact, progression in the game is almost exclusively driven by weapons. Defeated enemies drop weapons. You find weapons in chests and crates throughout the environment. Completing missions often yields weapons as a reward. It's certainly the case that gaining experience and leveling up through defeating enemies and finishing missions will improve your character. But the bottom line is that finding a powerful gun relative to your current level is easily the most important way to get a leg up in Borderlands. Finding a really powerful weapon that matches your chosen class is an enormous advantage.

There are four classes available in Borderlands: a frontline tank character, a sneaky backstabber, a sniper, and an all around weapons expert that doubles as the primary healer. Each class has its own skill tree, weapon preferences, and special abilities to use, but the four seemed well balanced to me. It's interesting to note though that the classes don't feel nearly as unique when you play the game single player. As an example, building up a great backstabbing character is of limited use when you don't have any teammates to distract the enemies. If you'll be playing by yourself, you'll need to build a more balanced character who can handle close-combat with a lot of enemies in your face. Otherwise, certain sections of the game can be quite difficult.

That's why I recommend Borderlands for people who prefer a multiplayer experience. Played with friends, the game offers a number of team strategies to exploit, and the various classes work together brilliantly. Our team had a tank to distract enemies and absorb damage, a weapons specialist to deal damage and heal the tank, and a sniper to rack up kills from a distance. We struggled a bit early while learning our various roles, but once we had mastered the various available strategies, the rest of the game was comparatively quite easy.

As for the other aspects of the game, plot is not a strong point. It basically boils down to a group of treasure hunters who have come to a wasteland world that may or may not house "The Vault", a secret cache of...something? The intro is intentionally vague and little information is given as you progress about the contents of this vault. I guess we just have to trust the game that there's good stuff to be had. Most of the quests are given through text boxes rather than spoken by the characters. On the other hand, I liked the "wild west on an alien world" feel of Borderlands, with quirky (sometimes batshit insane) NPC's that talk like extras from an episode of "Dukes of Hazzard". It was unique, rather than feeling like every other FPS set on an alien planet.

Of course, what would one of my reviews be without some griping? I felt like the interface for comparing weapons could have been a lot more clear. Every gun has a ridiculous number of statistics to consider, some of which are labeled in your inventory screen and others that aren't. How many bullets does it hold? What's the reload speed? Regular damage? Critical damage? Does it do elemental damage on the side? How much? Does it have a scope so you can zoom in while sniping? Sometimes the game would act like I just found a great weapon, yet it would be unclear to me why it was any better than the normal one I was already carrying.

For all the different guns available in Borderlands, the number of enemies to use them on is shockingly limited. The same enemy types repeat again and again, which can certainly get dull after a while. There's also the option to drive a car so you can get around the map faster, but the driving mechanics are pretty poor. Essentially you have to accelerate/reverse with the left stick while steering the car AND camera with the right stick (and possibly fire weapons with the triggers), which is an unwieldy system to say the least. On top of that, the car seems to snag on nearly invisible environmental objects and, in many cases, feels like it's practically weightless. It should be noted though that one of my friends adapted to the driving controls pretty quickly, so it's possible that I'm just being petty here. My biggest complaint by far is that Borderlands has a really crappy ending...I won't spoil it but I'll simply say that after working our asses off to find the Vault, my friends and I were pretty underwhelmed by the ultimate payoff for our efforts.

Minor annoyances aside, I absolutely recommend Borderlands. It's got enough action to satisfy the twitch game fans and enough statistical min/maxing and questing to satisfy RPG types. If possible, try to recruit some friends so you can enjoy the game the way it was meant to be played. Either way, give it a try...maybe I'll see YOU in the Borderlands!

1 comment:

  1. Of possible interest: Borderlands gets the WIN for best overheard comments whilst game is being played! Seriously. Best ever! I wish I had been recording them. I would simply make something up to give an idea of what they are like but I do not have the ability to make up anything as random and awesome as what I overheard.

    (I also snag on nearly invisible environmental objects. *sigh*)