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Review: Borderlands

If you combine the wasteland ambience and role-playing aspects of Fallout 3 and combine them with the four-player cooperative features from games like Left 4 Dead, then add in some giant creatures and a good dose of splatter humor, you end up with Borderlands. The player travels to the world of Pandora, where there isn't much to survive on, but the promise of vast riches in an ancient vault built by a long lost alien species. There are plenty of obstacles in the way, but luckily, they can all be overcome with a little skill and superior firepower.

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Guided by an "angel," players go on missions, meet a cast of colorful characters, rise up the levels, pick up special abilities from a skill tree and upgrade equipment along the way - as expected from just about any role-playing game. Classes are dependent on specific characters, and can access skills from three different roles. Roland balances between offense and support and can summon a turret to his aid. Mordecai is the sniper who carries a killer bird companion, but he can also master the pistol for short ranged action. Lilith can enter a phasewalk mode that slips her out of normal space, making her the perfect assassin, and she can also get the most out of elemental weapons. Lastly, Brick can go into a Berserker mode to destroy enemies with his bare fists and can specialize in explosive ordinance. Players are allowed to use repeat character/classes for multiplayer games, which can be quite amusing if all four happen to select Brick. The characters can use any type of weapon and gain proficiency with them by killing things, but certain characters can pick bonuses for specific guns. Other than the basic melee attack and Brick's fists, there are no melee weapons in the game.

Borderlands boasts a weapon generator that supplies the game with a near infinite variety of statistically different guns. However, there's no system for players to craft custom weapons or upgrade existing ones. By the time we reached level 35 (out of 50), there was nothing that could stand in our way, and weapons that were significantly better than what we were carrying became incredibly rare, so we were able to burn through game's content at a pretty swift pace. There's also no personal storage system outside of the player's backpack, which can be upgraded with additional slots by completing specific side quests. It's handy to have access to the entire arsenal of weapons while playing, but having a place to put guns we weren't high enough level for would have been useful. We also wished there was a quick slotting feature so that we could change out all our gear with a button press to fill different roles.

Leveling up is relatively quick and there's a nice variety of quests. However, some of the mission markers - particularly some of the ones where you have to track down a collection of objects - are way off, causing players to waste time searching through the wrong area. Enemies continually respawn during the course of a mission, so taking too long to reach the end of a level could mean having to fight just as hard to get back to the beginning to make an exit, but at least it keeps things exciting.

While adventuring alone has clear benefits, like hording all the loot for yourself, Borderlands gains a new level of excitement in multiplayer, especially in the arena sequences. Enemies get bumped up in difficulty when there are other players around, and it's often more fun to be among friends than to go it alone, but multiplayer comes with a few major drawbacks. The most prominent is the loots system, which isn't designed well for multiple players. There's no way to reserve loot for specific players and boss creatures only drop one special weapon, so players have to rely on each other's good will to ensure that everyone is using decent weapons. It's too easy for someone to simply run in while everyone else is fighting, and grab up all the loot. Furthermore, there's no person-to-person trade system. Players have to drop items on the ground for the other to pick up, all while hoping that none of the other players are jerky enough to steal them. Borderlands also lacks any obvious way to give money or ammunition to teammates.

There aren't a lot of options for setting up a multiplayer game, like filtering out a specific level range. As it stands, anyone can jump into a public game. If they're too high in level, the game becomes too easy. If they're too low, they become a burden. Multiplayer is also handled through a peer-to-peer system, and players can potentially lose their progress if the host suddenly disconnects before reaching a save point.

Other issues we encountered with Borderlands were caused by some oversights in porting the game over from console systems. Not all the menus, like mission selection and rewards screen, are not completely set up for mouse support. Cut scenes can't be skipped, not even the intro movies or the lengthy cinematic when starting a new game. Driving in Borderlands is also clearly designed for a controller, since the keys only control moving forwards and backwards and the mouse for steering. It's doesn't take long to get used to the driving, but the system makes driving while shooting at enemies a little more cumbersome than it has to be.

Yet even with our long list of drawbacks, we couldn't pull ourselves away from the game. Maybe it's the art style or the joy of watching Brick go into a Berserker fury. Perhaps it's the peculiar satisfaction in watching damage number fly off an enemy has he bursts into flames and dies vaporizes while doing a little dance. Whatever it is, Borderlands has got style to spare, and we were able to look past the game's flaws and focus on the joy of shooting up the malevolent inhabits of Pandora.

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