Sunday, December 20, 2009

Bordering on Perfection

This is my first serious review of anything since March, so don't be surprised if I wander a bit.

Onto the review!

the gang

Some of you might recognize these lovable killers already, as Borderlands has been out for a couple of months. But as I don't have the resources or desire to buy each and every new game that comes out during this time of year, I'll be focusing on slightly older games for now.

The story in Borderlands is as simple as it could possibly be, you're a mercenary on a Pandora, an inhospitable desert of a world. You're there because of legends of a mysterious Vault that contains untold riches. You learn all of this information in what is basically the only cutscene in the entire game. The introduction is one of the best I have seen, the music, No Rest for the Wicked by Cage the Elephant, is perfect for the setting, a bus in which the driver is telling you about the vault.

When prompted to get off the bus you choose your character, Roland the Soldier, Mordecai the Hunter, Brick the Berserker, or Lilith the Siren. Each have different specialties and excel with different weapons. Brick is best with explosives and has the berserk ability which turns him into an unstoppable force that punches the crap out of everything. Roland is best with assault rifles and shotguns and can summon a turret that can be used for cover and upgraded to restore health and ammo. Mordecai is best with sniper rifles and revolvers and can use his pet Bloodwing to go after enemies behind cover. Lilith has no real advantage with any weapon type and her Phasewalk ability makes her invisible and extremely fast for short periods.

After you choose your character, you are introduced to the driving force behind the game's "story", the Angel. A mysterious character that helps those that seek the vault, she will guide you through the entire game. And that's pretty much the entire story. You'll meet some other people and do missions for them, but they don't really interact with you in a meaningful way.

But the beautiful thing about Borderlands is that it doesn't need a story. Even if there was nothing except missions handed out by a stick in the ground the game would still be fun as hell. You don't need an expansive tale of intrigue and deception to find joy in shooting stuff to see what it might drop. The comparisons to Diablo are 100% on the mark. If Diablo was set in a futuristic world with guns it would be called Borderlands. Granted that Diablo does have a bit more story, but it's still a background element to looting.

And looting is something that Borderlands does right. I think it might be even better than Diablo's looting system. Having played the game for many tens of hours, I have yet to see the same gun twice except for special drops from certain bosses. There are several different types of guns: repeater pistols, revolvers, combat rifles, machine guns, submachine guns, sniper rifles, rocket launchers, and alien guns. Assault rifles and machine guns fit into one category but they are different, assault rifles have smaller magazines and are generally more accurate while machine guns have large magazine and faster fire rates but sacrifice accuracy. And there's more too: each gun can have different elemental effects: fire, shock, corrosive, and explosive. Each element is suited to a specific task. Shock takes down shields, corrosive eats away armor, etc. And if, or rather, when you find a super-rare there will probably be a funny little sentence that makes reference to a piece of pop culture. But it's not only there for fun, that flavor text gives you a hint of what special powers the gun might hold, be it regenerating ammo or increasing the magazine size to ridiculous proportions to always immolating your enemies.

But besides weapons, Borderlands has RPG-lite offerings too. As with Diablo, each character has three skill trees. Each character has a tree that effects their action skill, e.i. Roland's turret, Mordecai's Bloodwing, etc. and can specialize in two other areas. Roland can improve his damage delt or he can become a field medic utilizing the much talking about healing bullets. The game works out so that you can't get to the top skill in all three trees by having a level cap of 50. You don't start getting skill points until level 5 when you unlock your action skill. This wouldn't be a problem except that once you have completed the game you can start Playthrough 2 with your acquired skills, guns, and money and harder enemies. If you want to get some of the better items you will have keep playing, but you'll probably get to the cap not long after starting Playthrough 2 leaving you to play through the rest of the game with almost no real gain except the chance of finding a better weapon. I hope that with one of the downloadable add-ons the cap is raised.

What is there besides looting and lite skill building you ask? Simply put, Boss Fights. The regular enemies don't usually pose much of a challenge as long as you haven't strayed too far from where you're supposed to be, but the bosses are almost always amazing.

That pic up there is of an actual boss. That's right, you have to fight that big ol' thing. Bosses aren't always as awe-inspiring as that bad boy up there, but they are almost always a challenge. And not just the main storyline bosses. The side missions offer some of the craziest fights in the game. Including a couple of Godzilla ripoffs that are fantastic.

The only boss that is really disappointing is the final one. In fact, my main problem with the whole game is the ending. The last boss is incredibly anti-climatic. I barely broke a sweat facing it alone. I won't ruin the ending, but it sets everything up for Borderlands 2 which is fine, but I wish they had gone about it in a satisfying way. I'm not saying it's as bad as Halo 2 but it is an extremely unsatisfying ending.

But that's just the single-player game! The real strength of Borderlands is the ability to go online and play with up to 3 others. It's not strictly coop or competitive, but a mix of the two. Everyone gets the same amount of experience and money, but only the quickest get the guns. And the guns get better the more people you have. The game scales difficulty as you add or subtract players in order to keep things challenging. You can get around this if you want, as long as you have a friend with a high level character and some free time. And if you feel that someone is being an asshole, you can challenge them to a duel. Duels aren't really all that fun as at higher levels they are over in a matter of seconds. The games greatest strength is it's downfall when it comes to duels. The overpowered weapons are great for mowing down hordes of bandits and taking out enormous bosses, but they suck as a 1 on 1 weapons.

Overall, Borderlands is an amazing game. From a loot system that ensures you'll always be surprised to bosses that are truly daunting I'm sure you'll find something to like about it. It's not perfect, but it's not far off.

8.8 out of 10
Good stuff
tons of guns
big time bosses
kickass multiplayer
Bad stuff
no story at all
Why?! stuff
level cap

1 comment:

bman said...

Yep. Looting is my absolute favorite. That's what I was supposed to like about Oblivion, but found myself just killing guards and stealing their stuff because it was better than anything you found out in the countryside.

So... I guess I'll see what Santa brings me.