Gearbox Software and 2K Games brings us a post apocalyptic wasteland known as Planet Pandora offering a gazillion combination of guns, rewarding multiplayer play and the general awesomeness of fusing Diablo loot mechanics with the action of a FPS. For those that wanting a multiplayer focused game and the thrill of discovering an elusive legendary weapon, this game is for you.
The overarching premise of the game is that there is a female voice in your head that keeps telling you to find the secret “Vault”, obviously laden with milk and honey and all the goodies one would expect from a vault in a post-apocalyptic universe. Along the way you visit quest hubs, pick up all the standard RPG type quests and head out to zones to complete them.
There are four “classes” to pick from, Roland the all-rounder soldier, Lilith a female scout, Mordecai the sniper and Brick, the meathead melee. As your player levels up they can spend skill points in three different skill trees, unique to each character enhancing their abilities to kill.
The single player experience felt like I was playing an offline MMORPG. Your quests pretty much follow the MMORPG formula: go to x, kill y mobs, return for reward, or go to x, pick up y things, return for reward. Character development is on par with a normal FPS that is, minimal and the plot is fairly weak. Characterization of NPC characters is distinctly south-western yokels. Did we somehow gather up all the rednecks and ship them off to Planet Pandora?
Breaking Borderlands into its individual parts, the first person shooter elements are done well, a good variety of weapon types, responsive controls and the action is fast paced. Aiming for the head gives you critical shots with the accuracy statistic determining if your bullets will go where your reticule is. There isn’t any limb damage in this game so shooting their arms is just as good as shooting their torso. The AI of the enemies is generally OK, but it isn’t as advanced as the AI in say Uncharted 2, where they will creep up on you, try to flank you and climb over boxes and platforms.
The RPG aspects of Borderlands is very basic, the loot system is heavily borrowed from the Diablo/Dungeon Siege series of auto generated loot with random stats and even borrows World of Warcraft’s item grading system, with white being the most common, green, blue, purple and orange indicating increasing rarity. There are a good number of side quests available and there are challenges (killing x humanoids, killing y enemies with a shotgun) that reward bonus XP. The dialogue in Borderlands is not very inspiring, there is some voiced dialogue but your character never responds so most cutscenes are one way conversations. Quest text can fly by fast and though they are written with a humourous slant, it can be skipped through quickly as players mash their confirm button to get their rewards. Though you can load up on lots of quests before you head out you can only track one quest at a time on your HUD which is a bit of a nuisance but at least important quest items are highlighted with a friendly green glow and a trophy icon to get your attention on the field.
Inventory management can be a bit of a pain though as weapons keep dropping like candy and vending machines to offload your items are spaced quite far apart. As your character keeps using a type of weapon their proficiency increases, making them more efficient and potent killing machines. Customisation of character stats is not available and your HP pool and damage resistance is directly proportional to your level. The only equipment you control is your shield generator, grenade modifiers and skill artifacts.
The main draw card of Borderlands however is the multiplayer aspect, being able to progress your own character’s single player campaign online, automatic scaling of enemy difficulty based on the number of players and enhanced loot rewards. Split screen co-op and LAN/Online multiplayer flesh out the package and they both work pretty well to augment the single player experience, I would even suggest that it is more enjoyable playing with others than grinding through this in single player, not to mention easier.
Overall the multiplayer experience is marred by a few balance issues namely, powerlevelling (gaining levels quickly on the back of a much higher level person) is very easy to achieve, low level players will gain enormous amounts of XP if they join someone that is much higher in level than them. The only downside is that you will die a lot but who cares when you are rocketing up the levels this quickly? The enemies appear to scale to the highest levelled player so low level players benefit even more from easy access to superior gear, easy money gain and easy XP gain. Although you won’t progress in your personal campaign quests, that aspect takes a backseat as you get dragged through areas that are too high for you for superior XP gain and loot drops. Secondly, enemies that are two plus levels higher than you in multiplayer games drastically penalize you in terms of actual damage output and accuracy percentage (ie. being able to hit the targets). On the other hand, enemy attacks deal massive amounts of damage and shred your shields and HP like butter.
The multiplayer lobby system itself could do with a few improvements; it is not possible to filter lobbies based on ping so it is hit or miss if you enter a game with fellow Aussies. Playing with Europeans or Americans there was noticeable input delay which really detracts from the action, not to mention your ability to aim! Voice chat has a few issues, mostly with garbled speech and at times just not working at all. It is not documented very well and there are no options to configure voice chat and no mention of it in the manual so I could not figure out why using voice chat worked in some lobbies but not in others. The friend list implementation also suffered from a few issues, I was not able to easily join my friend’s Borderland games and you need to reload the game for newly made friends to appear in the Borderlands friendlist. Also very lacking is support for keyboard chat making communication in a multiplayer game very difficult, especially with the unreliable voice chat implementation. There is no emotes in game so communication is practically non-existent when voice chat is not working.
Finally, the inability to set a loot distribution system does hamper the online experience, especially when grouping with other random people online, there is a very real risk they can come in, loot the treasures while you are killing a boss and disappear to another game. In multiplayer it is easier to earn much needed money to upgrade your weapons and buy ammo so if you are ever running short in the single player game, jump online, join a much higher level player’s lobby and watch as your XP and money rocket up.
Cell shaded graphics is used to great effect, the post apocalyptic wasteland is rendered without overdoing on the drab grey and brown palette like Fallout 3 and the art style adds to the comical effect. The various environments and caverns/dungeons you explore are detailed well and there are numerous barrels to explode and plenty of footlockers, chests and trash bins to loot from. Items are given a coloured glow indicating its rarity and hovering over an item will pop up the statistics just like in World of Warcraft. Sometimes there are small pieces of terrain such as tyres, jutting from the ground which causes your vehicles to get stuck which can get annoying. Enemy models seem to be very repetitive as you are killing the same type of thugs but bosses look very good and are appropriately massive. Blood and guts are all out for display and weapon effects are pretty good. There is some frame rate issues especially when you are online with four players and the action is getting heavy with weapon effects flying about.
Aurally the ambient music helps establish the mood though there are cases when brooding music indicates some monsters are about to ambush you to be false alarms but overall it does a very good job. The cries of psychotic midgets with axes rushing towards you can be very scary indeed. Your character makes quips occasionally though; some of them kind of funny but it can be pretty repetitive being constantly told not to make a mess of the floor each time you are revived. Though the Gearbox forums comment on various sound spluttering and anomalies, I did not experience the sound stuttering bug many players were complaining about.
The beauty of this game is that this provides a good shooter experience and taps into the grinding repetitive nature of an action RPG. Whether you are grinding levels, replaying the game at a higher difficulty for better loot or playing with friends online or offline there is plenty of hours to sink into it. Purely playing the single player campaign is relatively short but the multiplayer and gear grind really help to extend this games value. If you are one of those poor players without access to internet and friends to play with offline, the single player experience is a bit of a letdown and unless you are heavily motivated by loot, you could play through this very quickly and not touch it ever again.
As long as you can overcome the bugs and technical difficulties the Playstation 3 version of Borderlands has, this game offers a new take on the shooter genre, mixing the grind elements of an RPG with the action of a first person shooter. The multiplayer aspect really helps lift this game from a mediocre plot. The gazillion combinations of weapons available to collect is its main selling point and the leveling up process help entice players to keep sinking more time into this game.
AAG SCORE: 7.5/10
+ Gazillions of loot to be discovered and collect
+ Rewarding multiplayer experience, progress made also helps your single player game
+ Solid shooter with big environments to explore
- Voice chat is haphazardly implemented, which is very important for a multiplayer game without emotes or text input ability
- Single player experience is boring due to the weak storyline.
- Character data corruption and technical glitches impair the online experience.
Reviewed and Written By Danny Yee