November 5, 2009

Can a mish-mash title that steals from many different genres succeed in being better than the sum of its parts? Borderlands asks this question by blatantly borrowing the theme from Fallout, mechanic elements from Mass Effect, multiplayer aspects from Team Fortress 2 and character progression from World of Warcraft, all while being a solid first-person-shooter with role-playing characteristics. 

Welcome to the world of Pandora, a desolate wasteland of a planet that nobody in their right mind should come and visit, unless you are looking for wealth beyond your wildest dreams; seems there is a legend surrounding Pandora and a lost vault full of alien technology that will make its finder powerful, rich and cooler than anyone else in the universe. Naturally this brings out a lot of treasure hunters and rogues looking to make a quick buck or die trying on this lawless rock. Fresh off the bus, you step in the shoes of one of four treasure hunters looking for clues to this mysterious vault, making potential allies to aid in your quest or killing anyone who gets in your way. 

From here the game gets harder to describe as standard first person shooter mechanics are tweaked by class specific special attacks and talent trees that vary depending upon how you spec your character. For every level you get past level five, you can spend points to improve talent branches that tend to help your special attacks or increase weapon damage. For examplem you could spend points to increase the hunter’s bloodwing attack damage, or use it to get bonus drops whenever the same attack is used. While these mostly are extras for the single player mode, they quickly add up in multiplayer as the soldier can spec into a medic tree to have his turret heal others when it is out. Regardless the game allows you to respec, for a small fee, and try out different branches of the talent tree to find what works for you.

Each character is supposed to have a specialty with particular guns, such as the siren’s affinity for sub-machine guns, but every character can use and build up any gun skills the more they use a particular weapon. The benefits gained from using a specific class of weapon range from increased damage and reload times to the more helpful sniper gun bonus of stability, but you are encouraged by the plethora of weapons to find something that works for you without limiting you in the least. Adding to the already mind-boggling different types of weapons you can also find, there are also weapons with additional stats such as elemental attributes and explosion/corrosive natures that are just fun to see pulled off; for the longest time I kept a lower damage incinerator machine gun just because I loved seeing my enemies randomly catch on fire. The game is built for fun, whether you pop the head of an enemy from a distance with the sniper rifle or are running head-first in the fray with a shotgun.

Leveling up is accomplished by completing and turning in quests that are sometimes stringed to together but the game is very unforgiving with bosses who may be higher than you. For such cases grinding may be required to finish off a level or two to be comparable, but if you are diligent completing side optional quests and aren’t teleporting past enemies a bunch this shouldn’t be too much of a factor. In addition to the grind and questing route for experience the game introduces a nice side mechanic called challenges which are sometimes linked to achievements/trophies. Completing any of the 100 challenges nets you experience and can be completely addictive as you drive over enemies to get the “blood on the tires” achievement/challenge or continue to run over enemies to get the “school bus driver” challenge and experience. After seeing the same enemies over and over again, you may just want to put that challenge high on your list to do.

While driving may be a slight presence in the game, the multiplayer and co-op options are not. One of the best implementations of multiplayer in years, you can play split screen with a friend on your couch, grab a team of 4 online to head out and quest in the wastelands, or just go for the throat and enter team multiplayer matches. With the first two options the game ups the ante by increasing the risk/rewards with harder enemies and better loot drops, in addition to you keeping the experience you gain as you head back into your single player mode. As mentioned above, your spec can really make or break a team in multiplayer, and if you really feel like your spec is better than another’s you can challenge them to a duel in the arena to prove it.

Borderlands is a game that succeeds in stealing other games’ elements to create a unique experience, from its beautiful cell-shaded graphics to its accessible yet involved gun and item system and unbeatable multiplayer, it is a game that satisfies on many different levels. 

ESRB: M for plenty of head-exploding cartoonish violence and language

Plays Like: Stylized mish-mash of Fallout, Mass Effect and WoW

Pros: Fun wasteland adventure, with awesome co-op and multiplayer options

Cons: Repetitive enemy types

Score: 5/5

Questions? Check out our review guide.