Review by capgamer

"Best enjoyed in short bursts."

What do you get when you cross Diablo-style loot and skills with a first person shooter? Well, apparently you get something like Borderlands. A game focused around making your character the most overpowered mamma jamma you possibly can.

Graphics: 7/10
Graphics in Borderlands have a unique style to them that makes them interesting to look at and gives a great sort of glow to the game that makes the experience of playing it a little more enjoyable. There are copious amounts of cartoony blood splatter and gore done for the sake of hilarity. For instance, by killing an enemy via corrosive (acid) damage you see them screaming in agony as their body melts away, leaving nothing but a gas mask and a gun behind. The general quality and humor of the graphics is a great thing.

However, there is one major strike against the graphics: everything looks the same. Almost every area has a burnt out desert-y look, a look that you may find yourself tiring of by the end of the game. This made it difficult for me to become immersed in the world because things seemed so empty and samey, at least most of the time.

The enemies too were lacking in variety. There are only maybe 5 or 6 different types of enemy groups in the game. Probably 9 out of 10 times you're fighting some sort of bandits as you're playing the game. It would have been nice to have more variety in enemies, even if some of those enemies had the same basic AI and combat abilities.

Story: 3/10
Honestly, I didn't care the slightest bit about the story in Borderlands. If you asked me what the whole point of the adventure was, I'm not sure I could tell you. Well, all right. I'll try.
You've landed on a planet called Pandora in the hopes of finding some secret vault hidden on the planet with caches of lucre and alien technology. A strange “guardian angel” starts speaking to you telepathically, guiding you around in seemingly arbitrary ways so you can gather some keys to open the vault. Oh, and you kill a couple million bandits somewhere in there. I sure remember doing that.

I'm not sure if this qualifies as story, but there are some rather humorous cutscenes strewn throughout the game, often right before you're about to fight a bandit leader. They were kind of amusing I suppose.

Sound: 10/10
Sound in Borderlands is fine. The enemies sound unique enough that you can tell immediately what sort of enemy is attacking you from behind. The various gun types have their own sounds and subtleties. For instance, when I fired a rocket launcher with corrosive damage it would make a big acidic sploosh mixed with an explosion whenever it hit the ground. No real complaints here.

Music: Completely forgettable/10
I had to take a minute and try to remember if there even was music in this game. After thinking for a bit I seem to recall that occasionally during a particularly big battle a little bit of music will kick in. I can't say it really added anything to the experience for me, in part because I was too distracted speaking with my teammates and killing bad guys.

Gameplay: 8/10 as a multiplayer experience, 6/10 as a single player experience
In Borderlands there are a total of 4 classes to choose from. The first is the soldier, a rifle toting everyman leader character who specializes in defensive abilities and team-aiding skills and can spawn an auto-turret. The second is the hunter, a Dark Tower's Roland wannabe who can send out a hawk to attack enemies and specializes in snipers and revolvers. The third is the siren, a specialist in SMGs and elemental damage with the ability to turn invisible for a few seconds to run away from a firefight or sneak attack some enemies. The final character is the brick, an explosives specialist and part time berserker with ridiculous melee damage.

The variety in playable characters is a nice aspect of Borderlands, though at the end of the day I must say that I would have liked them to be a little bit more specialized than they are. For instance, my first time through the game I played as the soldier. Rather than use combat rifles or shotguns (meant to be the soldier's primary weapons based on his skill tree) I found myself having exponentially more fun with rocket launchers, SMGs, and pistols. The game did not penalize me at all for completely ignoring the soldier's skillset and choosing these other weapon which was a bit urksome for me. What's the point of having specialized weapon skills if you can just use anything and succeed almost as well (or better in my case) as if you had used that character's specializations?

The skills themselves left something to be desired also. I think maybe I've been spoiled by games like Diablo where the skills weave together in a glorious pursuit of ideal skill placement resulting in nigh-invincibility and outrageous damage. Borderlands isn't really like that. The skills you invest in do help, I just wish they helped more. I can throw down a turret at level 5 that shoots for about half a minute or so. At level 50 I can throw down a turret that shoots for about half a minute or so. There's no change. I felt like my character didn't really develop significantly apart from his equipment and weapons. No matter how you slice it, it's still a single turret that lasts 30 seconds.

Fortunately, equipment and weapons make the game. Well, maybe more so the weapons. There's something about the pursuit of the perfect gun that's inexplicably addicting. Once I had a rocket launcher I wanted a high fire rate rocket launcher. Once I had a high fire rate rocket launcher I wanted an elemental damage high fire rate rocket launcher. Once I had that, I wanted an elemental damage high fire rate rocket launcher with a huge clip and the ability to fire 5 rockets at once. And darn it, I got all of them. I HAD to get all of them. It was my calling, my one true desire. Since you eventually gain the ability to hold 4 weapons that brings even more searching to the table. No longer did I just need the best rocket launcher, I needed the best SMG, the best pistol, and the best sniper rifle.

Equipment collection, although partially interesting was also somewhat bland. Your character can in total equip a shield, a class mod, and a grenade mod. The purpose of shields in Borderlands is to provide a buffer area before enemies start chipping away at your health. They're graded based on capacity and recharge rate: the amount of damage you can take before your shield break and the amount of time it takes your shield to come back. Often shields also have some special but insignificant quality like a burst of fire damage when an enemy destroys the shield. Shields were kind of boring.

Grenades were really boring. Throughout the game you'll find 7 or 8 different types of grenades. That's it. The only difference in grenades at higher levels is how much damage they do. Lots of wasted potential here.

Class mods though were the saving grace of the equipment side of things. They were almost as addicting to collect as weapons. A class mod provides extremely useful advantages like boosted health, boosted melee damage, boosted fire rate, etc. One of my favorites added 50% to the size of every clip in my inventory (meaning that I had to reload much less) allowed me to constantly regenerate ammo, and added 6 or so points to my character's skills.

The item generation system in Borderlands, by far the greatest thing the game has to offer, brings one point to light: Borderlands is not meant to be a single player experience. Yes, you can play it single player. In fact, a character created in single player can be carried directly over to multiplayer without penalty. What I often found myself doing when I couldn't play with my friends was booting up Borderlands for a few minutes and checking all of the weapon shops to see if there was a cool weapon I could buy and mess around with/show off later. But that's it right there.

If you can't show off your awesome weapons to anyone, then it begs the question why you're trying to find awesome weapons in the first place. You can easily beat the game by snagging a boring but powerful SMG and going to town on every enemy you meet. For me, enjoyment of the game required that someone else was there to play it with me. Someone to jack all the loot from and race to the weapon caches. It was all but required for me to enjoy the game for more than an hour at a time.

Replay value: 8/10
After completing the story mode of the game once you unlock a “Playthrough 2” feature which allows you to keep all of your equipment, levels, and sends you through the game again with beefed up enemies and improved item drops. To be honest, I've only begun the second playthrough the day before writing this review but it seems like the enemies are genuinely more difficult (not just raised stats) and the item drops are more interesting and diverse than on the first playthrough.

There is also of course the ability to play through the game as another character specializing in other weapon types and abilities. And of course, since all of the guns are randomly generated, you can attempt the endless quest for a perfect gun… though essentially that's your goal throughout the game anyway.

Overall: 8/10
Borderlands at the end of the day is a game that left me wanting in some areas, particularly in enemy and landscape variety. That said, I have gotten a lot of fun out of it and the weapon finding aspect provides a lot of enjoyment. I'm glad I purchased Borderlands.

Rent? Buy? Burn?
If you have a chance to play it at a friend's house or otherwise, I do recommend you try it out before you make a purchase as your tastes may be different than mine. However, if you're a fan of Diablo-like loot systems, don't mind first person shooters, and you're looking for a good coop experience, you can certainly do worse than buy Borderlands.

To recap:
The Good:
+Good replay value
+Addicting loot system
+Enjoyable coop multiplayer
+Decent length

The Bad:
-The enemies need more variety
-The areas need more variety
-The story is forgettable
-The music is forgettable

To sum everything up in three words:
Enjoyable but unpolished.

Reviewer's Rating:   4.0 - Great

Originally Posted: 11/09/09

Game Release: Borderlands (US, 10/26/09)

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