By Neil McCormick
I wanted to like Fallout 3 , Oblivion etc, but the problem with RPG games for a person like me, is I find the dialogue, and the choose your own adventure elements of its play rather dull. I end up mashing the buttons to get through the speech bits to get on with the action. This results, in me only going so far and putting these types of game aside as I quickly get bored . So if only there was a game, which i could enjoy the experience of leveling up my character but still have a decent combat system like a FPS does and is designed that moves at a fast pace with no real choice system. Not much to ask for is it?
Finally thanks to Gearbox and 2K Games, I have found my gaming Nirvana. Borderlands takes the fun bits of developing a character, throws in some rather tasty guns and explosions and mixes in a decent FPS system. Resulting in a hybrid of the two game types, that you end of putting your controller down, with a grin on your face of sheer contentment. Then a feeling of puzzlement crosses your brow, as you ask yourself – why has it taken till now, for someone to do this. For by jove it works.
Borderlands opens with you looking in on a bus on the planet of Pandora. Inside the bus are 4 characters. At this point you choose which of the 4 Characters you would like to play as. Basically these 4 characters represent each of the traditional classes of characters you normally expect to see in a RPG game. There is Brick the Beserker, Roland the Soldier, Lileth the Siren and Mordecai the Hunter. Each of these characters come with their own unique skills , abilities and back stories. As your character progresses and gains experience points, at various stages you rank up to the next level. At this stage you receive a skill point and can assign it to branches of your character’s skill trees.
So what are you doing on Pandora? The back story is that when the colonists arrived on Pandora, they did not find the vast deposits of mineral resources that were rumoured to be there. Instead there were alien ruins, those that remained tried to make a fortune by trading in the alien technology. However things turned nasty when the planet moved from winter to spring and the alien creatures came out of hibernation.
Legend evolved that somewhere on a mountain in the planet is a mysterious Vault containing vast stores of secrets and technology. Your quest in all this is to try and find this Vault.
Progression is slow at first, the first world – Fyrestone seems to really serve as a kind of tutorial and to get your character at a high enough experience level to be able to progress without having any real difficulty.
At first you will only be dealing with very weak skags, the coyotes of the Pandora world. However as your character develops so to does the type of skag you come against. From mere level 1 pups till you face some very scary skag alterations, that fire corrosive acid or fire at you. That coupled with the odd low level bandits, really only serve to slowly boost your experience points.
In fact for a lot of the Fyrestone levels, you will feel some what detached and wonder what the fuss is about Borderlands. Because the skags appear at the exact same spots and you will encounter three very similar looking bandits coming from the exact same spot they came from last time. Was this Pandora’s answer to Ground Hog Day?
However, the game picks up its pace when you get to New Haven. This is the game proper, quests are more developed and demanding. I would seriously recommend doing as many side quests as possible and build up you character’s level. I found that if you approached the main quests when your character was at least an experience level above the experience level the quest was set at, it still gave an exciting enough of a challenge. It is a no brainer that if you are a level 12 facing a level 15 boss you are going to find it tough if not impossible
Borderlands is all about the loot and guns. You will be seeking dollars and changing guns and shields and grenades for those with higher stats than what you currently have. Given that you have up to 4 slots for your weapons, I reached the point where I assigned a slot for a sniper rifle, a shot gun for up close requirements and a elemental weapon in another slot and a decent combat rifle in the final slot. This meant I had at an easy press of a button a weapon to suit the environment and opposition. It felt at times the game could generate an infinite array of different types of weapons. Picture this, you pick up a revolver, it has a sight! Then you take aim and fire and a bullet blazing on fire pierces the skin of the skag in front of you. The inner red neck within you starts to grin as you gunlust is sated. There are apparently a potential close to 18 million guns in Borderlands, randomly generated by the game’s code. In fact to quote the Official Strategy guide there are “Sh#t loads of weapons”. The guns I find in my play through will differ from what you will find in yours.
Part of the fun of Borderlands is exploring every nook and cranny on the map, in the hope of finding a weapon crate with new weapons to pick up. However, I reached the point I had become a gun connoisseur and would not waste a vital storage space with a gun that offered a lower stat. One thing that irked me, my character was meant to be a soldier, so his primary weapon should be a combat rifle. Yet the majority of weapon crates I opened tended to throw up sniper rifles or shot guns.
As wonderful as the single player was, the game truly sparkled like a precious stone when played coperatively. Bring together three of your closest online friends. You will need to work as a team. From the simple thing of divying up loot, while money seemed to be shared, weapons are not. So you need to work out a system of sharing the weapons. We worked on the practice that if a dropped weapon was more suited to your class you had first call on it.
Another advantage of team work, is the second wind feature. This gives a player that has been killed a brief window to either kill an enemy before you dark out and come back into the game. It also gives a chance to be revived by a team mate. Dying in Borderlands is not as bad an experience as dying in a typical RPG. You do not lose experience points, you just feel it in your wallet as a proportion of your cash is given up to be respawned into the game.
The makers of Borderlands, deserve praise. When you consider just how big the maps are in the game, in the various nights I played this online we suffered no lag – the curse of online gaming. Producers of other games need to take a good look at themselves. How can Borderlands succeed in doing this when they have failed in a relatively small map or football pitch!
I hate reviews that feel the need to go into great detail about the graphics. I would far rather read about the game play. So it goes against my grain to be writing about graphics. However you have to comment on the fresh style adopted here. The use of Cel shading and the effect of painted on ink lines is magnificent. The level of detail of the characters, and the stunning visuals can easily lead you to think you are in a graphic novel. Quite frankly you can pack away your stunning texture graphics in Gears of War etc, i enjoyed the cel shading so much. I read some ridiculous reviews where the reviewer simply did not get what cel shading means and asked where are the textures.
Some missions felt ridiculously easy compared to others. The difficulty only really ramps up when you come up against the Boss Characters. I must admit I fell foul to some Hollywood style moments of beginning to think the game was too easy. At this point I would come up against something that would cause me to ask why I had just said that. It was as if the game had been listening and said ”Easy ?- think my laddie needs to come down a peg or too” One of the times was, when armed with a pretty devastating sniper rifle, that was doing 279 damage against bandits and was not too bad against Bruisers. I spotted a spider ant queen and unleashed what I thought was going to be an instant 1 shot death. However the actual damage inflicted was only 8 points. I can only assume I went a very pale custard colour as I realised I was about to have quite an interesting battle on my hands.
I did notice some frame rate issues, more so in the bigger battles, with explosions going off left and right. At times the screen would shudder trying to cope with what all it was having to produce on screen. This may have been the 360 processor, I would be interested to see if this also happened with the PS3 version.
Vehicles in the game disappointed me somewhat. I would have liked to have seen some form of modification as you character developed. By way of example, in the wonderful Crackdown, as your character improved so to did the vehicle, until you were driving some pimped up version. I would have liked to have seen some sort of progression, maybe extra armour or different weapons. Also it would have been nice to have seen the vehicles used better in missions, at times it felt it you were only using them as a means to commute from one destination to another. Look at how games like Gears of War used vehicles to tremendous effect placing them at the centre of the action as opposed to a means to an end. It had great potential, that i feel was a missed opportunity.
Something I did not get was the need for the Duel in the cooperative experience. By meleeing a co-op team mate if they agreed, you could enter into a duel and fight each other to the death. I felt this was tacked on and not needed. In fact to be truthful, it distracted from the game. I am sure it will be used but will it be just to grab the easy achievement points?
Lets be honest, if you are writing a review and the only faults you are mentioning are poor use of vehicles in the game , some frame rate issues and a duel system you do not feel was required, the game has certainly hit the mark. Borderlands deserves our praise for being so unique and offering a fresh perspective to two different types of games. If you want a game to play with some friends, this is the game, you will come out the other side, with some nice loot , shiny guns and a tale or two that no doubt you will mention with each other on other nights gaming.
I would not hesitate to recommend a purchase. FPS fans in particular will benefit from being able to develop your character. Rpg fans get a more immersive combat system at the expense of the RPG element only mainly being about acquiring loot, advancing through the levels and improving your stats. It has been an absolute privilege to play, from beginning to end.
9 – simply because it reinvigorates the FPS and RPG game types by offering a fresh approach.