“Oh, there ain’t no rest for the wicked…”
“Welcome to Fyrestone!” the cheerful CL4P-TP robot chirps at you as you exit the bus. Borderlands begins in the town of Fyrestone, on a wasteland planet called Pandora. Promises of rich minerals brought colonists to this desolate landscape, but little was found. Fortune Hunters now come to the planet searching for a legendary alien Vault, hidden for eons and rumored to contain great treasures. You play one of these Fortune Hunters, traversing the planet in search of a myth.
“What made you want to live this kind of life?”
Borderlands is a title in the revival of a genre, the hybrid First Person Shooter / Role Playing Game (FPS/RPG). You select from one of four Treasure Hunters – Roland the Soldier, Lilith the Siren, Mordecai the Hunter, and Brick the… well, the Brick.
Each one of these characters has their own specialties, whether it’s sniper rifles, speed, or plain brute force. I found each of the characters unique with play styles most people can find comfortable.
Game play is in a first person perspective with twitch combat. The difference is experience gains through kills and missions completed, which in turn level up your character. Gaining a level gives more health and a point to spend in one of three different skill trees. You can get bonuses to skills such as gun types, health, damage, and special abilities with these points. This allows you to customize your character while the game progresses and gives a good sense of advancement and achievement.
“…and puts a gun up to my head.”
The big focus in Borderlands sits squarely on the weapons. With its own AI, the game randomly creates weapons found throughout Pandora. There are eight basic types of weapons with random modifiers to attributes like damage type, amount of rounds fired, and scope zoom level. The weapons are also arranged by rarity using a white, green, blue, purple, orange scale, with white as common and orange as legendary. The game creates some very interesting combinations, like a shotgun which loads one round at a time, but fires a rocket and explodes into smaller rockets, or a pistol that shoots three acidic bullets at once. It’s a looter’s dream coming across a chest or fallen enemy containing a better weapon than what you’re using.
I was walking down the street…”
Exploration in Borderlands is done either on foot or in a vehicle. Some of the areas can get quite large and having a quad with a mounted missile launcher can make traveling less arduous. Locations are handled with connected maps, selecting a zone activator to load in the next map. Travel between all zones is permitted at any time, so game progress is not only a forward linear path with no turning back. Environments range from deserted scrub land to street mazes in shanty towns with plenty of variety in-between.
Many were worried about the late change in graphic style Gearbox adopted. At first they were going for a realistic look, but chose instead to go more stylized instead. It’s a combination of concept art and cel shading, and it works well. I didn’t feel cheated in the graphics department at all.
“If you can pay the right price, your evening will be nice”
On the multiplayer front, Borderlands has co-op mode, but the game handles it a bit different. You are able to take your character with all of its levels and weapons into another player’s game. When more people join (up to a maximum of four), the game dynamically makes enemies more difficult, giving everyone more of a challenge. You can complete missions for everyone and swap weapons and other items by dropping them on the ground for players. You can choose to host a game, having other people drop in, invite friends, or use the matchmaking system to place you in a game with others within ten levels of your chosen character. This method of drop in / out co-op extends the longevity of the game and is a feature I hope more games use in the future.
“There ain’t nothing in this world for free.”
All of the style, story, and shooting aren’t without some downsides. There have been reports of people losing all of their skill points for no reason, or corrupted save data, which are both character destroyers. There have also been skills not working as intended, such as no damage coming from Lilith’s special ability. There was also an issue where weapon and item description boxes only showed four lines instead of five, cutting off a key effect description. Gearbox has issued patches for these issues, but the corrupted data is still reported. I noticed graphic slowdown when there were a lot of enemies and explosions on the screen, and I have also seen graphic collision issues as well. Those are more minor bugs, but they do pull you out of the game’s immersion. I have logged about forty hours with Borderlands and did not encounter any corrupt data or skill point loss, but still needs a mention.
“…oh yes we all seek out to satisfy those thrills.”
Borderlands is leading the way with the new FPS/RPG genre. It strikes a comfortable balance between real-time combat and character advancement. The randomization of weapons keeps you looking for the next big gun, and the drop in / out co-op will have you searching for the Vault with others for a long time. Even if the Vault isn’t found, fans of either genre will find what they’re looking for on Pandora.
* Section titles courtesy of Cage the Elephant’s “Ain’t No Rest for the Wicked”