There’s so much to like in Borderlands. For starters, it’s Diablo meets first person shooters — that’s a match made in heaven. And after playing Gearbox’s take on the seemingly tough task of marrying the two genres, I believe they’ve cracked it. This is how you add role playing elements to your shooters, people. But even though they got many key areas right, there were a few issues of repetition which reminded me of another original franchise which debuted earlier this console generation.
First and foremost, I played Borderlands on the PC (which happens to be the first PC game I finished on my new rig). I also played it with my Xbox 360 controller. It just felt right playing it with a controller which also highlighted how similar the controls were to that other popular first person shooter. The default control scheme was laid it out perfectly, but that’s not where the similarities ended. It was the way the weapons handled, sounded and felt as well. If you want to make players feel at home, mimicking one of the most popular shooters out there is a wise choice.
On the tech side of things, Borderlands was a bit of a disappointment. Since I was running at 1080p, I had to turn off ‘Dynamic Shadows’ and ‘Ambient Occlusion’ in order to keep the framerate as close to 60 FPS as possible. As disheartening as that was, the netcode and the reliance on GameSpy IDs was the real heartbreaker. Multiplayer didn’t run nearly as smoothly as offline and the voice chat was iffy. At one point, we had to go through elaborate set ups in order to get the game rolling along.
The Diablo influence was found primarily in the loot aspect of Borderlands. There were different colored items to denote rarity and there were plenty of great loot drops to be had. That’s something worth praising because it kept the game from being a monotonous grind for better gear. With the abundance of loot, managing inventory was a bit of a challenge with the interface they offered. I could compare my equipped gear with other equipment in my bag, but I couldn’t compare two items within the bag. It was also a damn shame I couldn’t compare weapons with other players.
Four different classes in four player co-op was a lot of fun. Each class brought something different to the table. Mordecai was more sniper rifle focused while the Berserker, Brick, was a monster on the front lines. I played the Soldier with his deployable turret/cover while my brother played the stealthy Siren. Leveling up was always a game “pausing” moment at first while each of us looked over our talent trees. However, once we got 15 levels or so deep, we knew what we wanted and we were going through the motions. It was a shame that skills in the late game did not induce as much thought and decision making as in the beginning.
Regardless if it was a four player co-op game or a single player experience, there was a lot of pausing in Borderlands. Pausing in order to gather loot is understandable, but pausing to look at a map due to the absence of a minimap is a bit dumb. It’s not a game breaker, but it’s one of those head scratching omissions along with the lack of trade interface.
I cannot fault Gearbox with the next complaint — since it’s in nearly every quest based RPG in existence — but I’m going to bring it up anyway. Text based quest summaries are too easily ignored. I tried to buy into the fiction of these fetch quests, but they were not worth it. I clicked “Accept” or “Turn in” and moved on. The only quests I paid any attention to were the audio log ones because the fiction was being fed to me as I was wiping out planet Pandora’s wildlife. The BioShock audio log approach would have worked better in Borderlands. Have an option to summarize the quest via an audio log — don’t stuff it all in text because no one is going to wait for me in a four player game.
I can forgive and live with the aforementioned issues, but I couldn’t overlook the repetition of the game. Everything began blurring together and repeating themselves over the course of the 25 hour game. It felt like I was doing the same quests over and over again and then suddenly I’m in the final area with a drastic change in scenery and enemy types. Every new area should have been a fresh experience filled with new wildlife, enemies and setting. Instead, I got wasteland after wasteland with very little deviation. It was all different shades of brown. It didn’t seem like they were able to mix it up — just like Ubisoft’s Assassin’s Creed.
And like with Assassin’s Creed, I’m expecting the sequel will knock it out of the park. With the tech and the feel of the game established, I’m expecting Borderlands 2 to offer more variety and bursting with content. Some people can live off that loot aspect of the game, but not I. I’m not a pack rat, so it takes a bit more than larger critical hit damage numbers to keep me playing. Still, Borderlands needs to be commended for its successful unification of first person shooters and loot based role playing games. Gearbox have established a great foundation, but now it’s time to build on it.
For more information on Borderlands, visit the official website.