2009 Reviews

Borderlands

  • Review Date: 2014-02
  • Release Date: 2009-10
  • Developer: Gearbox Software
  • Rating: 8.5

The game gets off to a great start. A stylish intro sequence where you're introduced to four creative characters fresh in Pandora to look for the Vault. Too bad that wasn't continued into the actual game. You hardly remember which character you picked since they're mute, never to be seen again as Borderlands is void of any cutscenes. The rest of the characters you didn't pick are but a distant memory (unless you're in co-op mode, I suppose, but my playthrough was solo). The story is told simply through the written word in mission logs, the odd journal entry and audio dialogue. Because of this you don't really feel like your part of a memorable story., but rather just doing random missions for random people. In the end [SPOILER ALERT] I wasn't sure what the hell was going on with all the women that had double-crossed me, then finally getting to the vault only for a big stupid blob of a boss to be revealed. After defeating that, it's time for the credits. Supposedly that's what the vault was, a prison for this beast, though it's not actually explained in-game, it just ends. A very disappointing ending, so don't play Borderlands for the story.

What you will play it for is good old first person shooter combat, and lots of it. The game kept me occupied for probably 20-30 hours. I completed all 47 main missions and about 60 or more of the 69 optional missions. Fortunately, the optional missions are never too long or boring. So that's a lot of gameplay for a shooter. The play area is broken up into a few different regions, sandbox style, which are unlocked as you play at a good pace. You won't spend huge amounts of time in the same areas and there are new levels introduced in each region all the time, such as a decent in caves, or attacking an enemy base. The first main area is Fyrestone and The Badlands, which is made up of small shantytowns. It does start to feel a bit bland and repetitive after a while but just in time you're finally let through to the other major areas of the game such as Rust Commons, which is much more populated. Huge mounts of trash and scrapyards, small towns, headlands, industrial complexes - it all becomes much more interesting from here. Just as well, because the game would have become far too boring if the visuals had stayed the same as at Fyrestone all throughout. Some of the highlights, at least for me, are the more linear sections of specific missions, instead of in large open areas.

I personally really loved the visual style of the graphics, done through cel-shading. Though I remember the game during development before it went to cel-shading and felt disappointed, it turns out fresh and didn't get old. However, I did find the game looked much better with the black borders turned off. It made everything slightly more realistic looking, especially because the borders were quite jagged and ugly at a distance.

But enough about the visuals because there's a lot to talk about regarding gameplay. Borderlands, like many RPG's, can be unbalanced. The earlier parts of the game I found the hardest. In particular around level 12-14, where it seems like it's an area where you don't level up fast enough to match the missions. As you do kills and missions throughout Borderlands you constantly level up, which is basically just a number. But enemies are also at set levels as you play, as are the missions. So I completed just about all the optional missions up to a point and found myself heading into the mission "Sledge: To The Safe House", which is a 14XP mission with only 12 XP. The only other option was completing the optional "The Lost Cave", at 15XP and I figured I'd get my ass handed to me. As it turns out, which I read afterwards, most people do The Lost Cave first, although it's very difficult, so they have enough XP to do the Sledge mission which is even harder. I didn't, heading straight into Sledge's mission and found it just about impossible. The very first batch of enemies had a Badass Raider which at 12XP and the weak weapons I seemed to be using was as tough as anything in the game, apart from perhaps the final boss. After sinking all the ammo from two different weapons into him, he was still alive and recharging. I died four times over, it was ridiculous. Eventually I just put god mode on just to get through this mission, and then left it off for the rest of the game. As a test, during this mission I came across a Bruiser, possibly even a Badass Bruiser and decided to count how many melee hits it takes, and it was over 50! Anyway after that mission my XP was up to where it should be, and completing The Lost Caves gave a big boost too. From then on out, I was up to 3XP above the missions I was doing throughout the rest of the game. If it's that damn tough when you fall below then you really should do all the optional missions in Borderlands. In that respect, they're not optional at all!

So that is a bit of a flaw in the early stages of Borderlands where you don't quite get your XP up enough to match the missions, but from then on out it got easier and easier. Halfway through the game when I got the Detonating Sniper, it was suitable for taking out anything until I got even better Sniper Rifles late in the game, including an Eridian Sniper Rifle. For the last few levels, there was really no point using any other weapon other than the powerful Snipers. While I did get some big powerful weapons, they were all only really effective at close range. The Sniper can pick enemies off with ease far enough away that they can't even see you. Combine that with mods to regenerate health and ammo. Fortunately I didn't actually realise you could regenerate ammo until the last few areas, so I was still playing with just about every other weapon for most of the game. If I'd realised earlier, it would have been nothing but Sniper for half the game, which wouldn't have been so fun.

Borderlands' biggest self-indulgance is just collecting weapons. There are hundreds, probably thousands, although overall there's probably about a dozen different kinds. It's just that they all have different pros and cons when it comes to accuracy, damage, recoil, fire rate and elemental damage. Different weapons are effective against different foes. But in the end you spend far too much time managing your mess of an inventory, which really badly needed some kind of filtering, to figure out what the best weapons are supposed to be. Early on I removed the inventory limit - it just seemed stupid to have such a small inventory for weapons although I still didn't keep too many at a time because it just becomes a chore sorting through them all. In the end, I must admit I was never truly satisfied. While the Snipers were great, I was still searching for a half decent SMG, Repeater, Revolver... too many are just too innaccurate. But overall the weapon collecting is certainly a high point for Borderlands and at a level no other shooter has come close to achieving. Another negative is storing only four at a time. Come on, there's 10 fucking number keys on the keyboard, why not let players have them all under quick keys so you're not CONSTANTLY going into the inventory swapping weapon slots.

What else... the driving can get a bit old especially with the weird mouse-only stearing. Every other game as the side-step keys stearing vehicles, why does Gearbox have to do it differently to fuck things up? It did take a while to get used to, but in the end I did.

The saving system is also very different. There's no quicksaves. If you die you have a chance to save yourself if you can still kill an enemy, which actually caused a few outbursts when you're killed and there isn't even an enemy on screen. But all good because otherwise you just respawn at a nearby post, usually not far away. The remaining enemies get their health back, which is a pain when it's against a boss, and you also DON'T get whatever items you used back. This caught me out a few times where I used up a tonne of ammo against a boss, die, then have to do it all again but where's my ammo?! You could get yourself into an impossible situation if you die too many times. But because the game isn't too difficult (at least if you keep your XP level up), I never really got in trouble there. I also never tried actually quitting and restarted after a death - I assumed it would still do the same thing but might even respawn a lot of enemies. So it would be better if there were real checkpoints or saving in Borderlands.

Overall, Borderlands got off to a slow start. The early stages I didn't enjoy so much, but as you move into the second two-thirds of the game with better weapons and better looking levels, it became much more enjoyable. That is a problem in that it loses replay value - but I'm not the kind of gamer to ever play a game twice. Especially not one that takes up to 30 hours. Unique, interesting visuals, fun gameplay - this is definitely one of the best sandbox games I've played so far.

Borderlands