Borderlands is a unique first-person shooter (FPS) and role-playing game (RPG) hybrid from Gearbox Software. While other games combine a first-person perspective with a role playing game, or the other way around, Borderlands is unique among these. It combines a substantial set of main plot and side-quests, and other RPG mainstays, like character growth and advancement, with full-blown FPS gameplay. In addition to this, it incorporates a randomized loot system, similar to games like Diablo, or Torchlight. These elements combine to make a very engaging experience, but with substantial morally objectionable content to contend with.
Borderlands takes place on the post-apocalyptic planet of Pandora. Your character is one of four Vault hunters, seeking the unknown secrets and wealth contained within from the ancient Eridian race that used to occupy the planet. As soon as you arrive, a local merchant Marcus takes you and the three other Vault hunters on a tour bus to a local town called Fyrestone, where your adventure begins. There you meet a local robot, a CL4P-TP General Purpose Robot, or Claptrap, who leads you to town. On your way there, you soon come to realize Pandora is a very dangerous place, as bandits interrupt your leisurely stroll with cars and firepower.
And it\'s not just the human residents of Pandora who are dangerous. The world\'s long, hot days are host to quite a few rather aggressive local wildlife that don\'t appreciate your presence on their world. In order to survive, there is one thing needed above all others: guns. Lots and lots of guns. If this game is about one thing, it\'s about guns. There are a lot of various types, with incredible variation. According to Gearbox, there are over seventeen million possible weapon combinations. That\'s a lot of guns!
Guns tend to be broken down into one of eight different types. These include more typical weapons like Combat Rifles, Pistols and Shotguns, as well as the elusive Eridian weapons. Each weapon category, while sharing ammunition, also break down into sub types. For example, Combat Rifles include fully-automatic machine guns, burst-fire semiautomatic rifles, and single-shot assault rifles. Weapons can also be unique by accuracy, fire rate, magazine size, and so on. Guns can even have elemental effects like fire, shock, corrosive, or explosive. And there are even rare bonuses, like ammo regeneration.
Honestly, when it comes to weapon variety, there is so much that could be said. There is quite a bit of strategy involved with weapon selection, not to mention personal preference. Do you choose the more powerful bullet damage, or the elemental effect with damage over time? Do you choose the powerful, single shot or the low power, bullet hose? And the real fun part is finding those super powerful guns which seem to do everything right... until the next one comes along, or you level past its usefulness. Guns also feel right. When they shoot, they have a very satisfying kickback, and handle well. Also, various guns feel very different from one another. Sometimes, you pick a weapon because it feels right, despite what the specs say. Sometimes that\'s the most important part.
As important as offense is, defense is important, too. Borderlands comes through here in the form of shields. Healing damage taken to your body takes healing kits or other methods to recover from that semi-permanent damage, but damage done to shields can be recovered by not taking any damage for a few seconds, after which the shield will recharge.
Like picking a good weapon, picking a good shield really makes a big difference in survivability. Also, like the many weapons available, shields often have useful perks to help you. Some of my favorite bonuses are things like health regeneration to help the healing problem, or even 30% bonus health to really make you into a tank. Other useful bonuses include elemental protection, and various effects upon depletion. For example, when your shield is depleted, having a large explosion of flame engulf you can really turn the tide when you are surrounded and being overwhelmed.
Any character can use any weapon or shield and be effective. However, each character class has an action skill, and twenty-one other skills in three different skill trees to further customize them. There are four character classes: Berserker, Hunter, Soldier, and Siren, the only female of the group. The Berserker has an action skill called Berserk, where he goes into a rage and punches his opponents, all the while regenerating health and resisting damage. He also has skills that make him the ideal tank. The Hunter\'s action skill is to release Bloodwing, his pet bird, to attack enemies and gather loot for him. In addition, he\'s an excellent sniper, thanks to his skills. The Soldier\'s action skill is to deploy his Scorpio Turret, which is a weapon that both protects you with a forward shield and targets nearby enemies in front of it. He is also the support character of the group; he can supply ammunition, and heal other party members. The Siren\'s action skill is Phasewalk, which not only damages nearby enemies with a shockwave, but also makes her temporarily invisible with increased movement speed. She also can receive bonuses with elemental weapons.
If character class customization isn\'t enough, there are class mods available for each class that really enhance their power. You can get mods that enhance strong points, compensate for weaknesses, empower team members, and more. For example, with my soldier, I found that the Heavy Gunner class mod really made him shine; with even larger magazine sizes and drastically improved fire rates, he could take a weapon with a mediocre fire rate, or one with a very small clip but high damage, and turn it into something deadly. And yes, the difference is quite noticeable. Or if I am supporting a team, I can equip a Support Gunner class mod, giving my whole team a larger magazine size and ammo regeneration. Or, perhaps equip a mod that grants everyone health regeneration or even extra experience. These drop with the same kind of randomness that guns and shields drop with, so finding the perfect class mod for each situation is a mini-adventure in and of itself.
And an adventure it is. Borderlands has a fairly large game world, with large sprawling areas featuring twenty-four interconnected regions. Eventually, fast travel opens up, allowing you to traverse these many regions more freely. There is still a lot to take in. It took me about forty hours to complete the first playthrough, though I am a slow-paced player and completed everything. I\'m sure the average player could complete this in around twenty hours. But even still, it\'s refreshing given how short games are these days. And there is more to do. Once you beat the game, playthrough two opens up, with all enemies and loot scaled to a higher level. And once you beat that playthrough, a final playthrough is unlocked where, while you cannot play through missions again, most bosses respawn, and every enemy is scaled to your level for even more challenge. And you don\'t have to face challenges alone.
Borderlands is, at its core, a cooperative game. It supports up to four players, and it does not matter what character class everyone is – there can be up to one of each kind, or all four the same. Every quest done here, if you are the appropriate level, also counts towards your single player game, and vice-versa. It\'s incredibly well integrated, and a very seamless experience. The more players you have, the more enemies there are and the tougher they get. This translates into better loot – so there is plenty of incentive to play with friends, if you can. Once you are signed into GameSpy, whether you are playing single player or not, you can convert your single or multiplayer game into the other at any time. Your save, character, and quests are completely transferable between them. As a matter of fact, if you see a friend online while playing a single player game, you can invite him to your game, and he can just pop in. You can also request to join a friend\'s game if they are on your friends list. If you join a game where you have too low of a level, or have not gotten far enough into the story to play those quests, you won\'t get credit for the them – but you can still play and get experience. It\'s refreshing to see a co-op game that takes what the players want into consideration so well with the co-op experience.
There is minimal competitive play, but it hasn\'t been left out. At any time, two players can start a short duel by striking one another. If you are looking for more structured play, there are three arenas throughout the world of Pandora that offer a more intense player vs. player experience. You can fight in simple teams of up to two, or fight a free for all, with up to four players, of course. All competitive fighting is just for fun; other than gaining an achievement/trophy on Steam or consoles, there is no benefit. It\'s pretty basic: Borderlands\' multiplayer strengths lie elsewhere. It is nice to be able to see how strong your weapons really are, though.
While the gameplay of Borderlands seems to have hit many of the right buttons for this reviewer, the same cannot be said for the moral content. This game falls over in so many ways here. First thing here is that this game is violent. There is blood whenever someone dies from a bullet or explosive blast. There are also limbs that fly and pieces of bodies everywhere, when they explode. There is even more blood and gore when there is a head shot, as someone\'s head can explode. When someone dies from fire, they burn to death and scream. When someone dies from acid or corrosive contact, they scream and melt. When someone dies from shock, they are electrocuted. It\'s fairly graphic, though to me at least, it didn\'t feel nearly as real as other games like Left 4 Dead. The reason for this is the unique art style. Every character, and indeed the whole world, has a comic book style appearance. It\'s not quite cel-shaded, but it\'s close. I like the style, and for some reason, the violence felt fake, like cartoons battling, as a result. Bloody, violent cartoons, but still drawn creatures. That is not to say that it excuses the violence, but it softened its impact for me.
When it comes to language, this game fares even worse. Virtually every word in the book short of the f-word is used, including a**, b***h, b***ard, hell, s**t, and d**n. Depending on the character played, some of these can be heard fairly regularly during gameplay. Brick is by far the worst language wise, followed by Roland, Mordecai, and Lilith, in that order. Fortunately, voices can be turned off, so this part of the game can be avoided. However, some of the storyline quests also have foul language as a part of them. Most of it is written and not spoken, but it\'s still there. On another note, Claptraps in need or repair will sometimes say \'Oh my God\', and there is a song whose lyrics include \'Oh Lord\'. The intro song also references prostitution.
When it comes to sexual content, this game also makes huge missteps. One of the characters, Lilith, wears a low cut shirt, exposing her bosom. Honestly, I have seen much worse in games, and you will only see it if you are playing with her in a co-op team, and not playing as her, but it\'s there. While this is not a review of the DLC, it should be noted that Moxxi, from the second and third DLC, wears such a low cut blouse that I can\'t imagine how they don\'t pop out. As bad as that is, what\'s worse is that there are a few one-line jokes that are sexual in nature, and a few fake dirty magazines. Yes it\'s meant to be humorous, but still present. The two fake mags I noted were the fat porn mags, and the one titled \'Girls Gone Commando\'. There is also one quest where you have to \'rescue\' a man\'s dirty magazines from the trash, which are strewn about an area. When you turn in the quest, you note that some of the pages were stuck together. Another dirty joke to note is that one character seems to like to talk about his mother\'s girly parts; the first time suggesting you not poke them since they don\'t work, and the other time noting how someone hurt them. One character also notes how his cars \'put out\', obviously a play on words. In what I have played of the DLC so far, I have found a few homosexual jokes as well.
Other problems that I have had, not so much with appropriateness content, but just in general, is that there are some areas that feel a bit barren. As you are walking or driving by, there are some areas where there is little in your way. It\'s probably better than needless clutter, but there are a few open expanses with little to explore or fight on your way. Also, there isn\'t that much enemy variety. It\'s not so few to be boring, but considering the size of the world, I was surprised how little true variety there was. There are skags, scythids, spiderants, rakks, and crab worms for native creatures, and various types of bandits and Crimson Lance for human opponents, and few others. There are some boss and mini-boss variations on these, and some are quite creative. But after fighting skag after skag in the beginning sections, spiderant after spiderant in the middle, and lance after lance near the end, it kind of dragged on a bit.
There were few areas that really felt like a dangerous swarm on the first play through, though they were there, and were a blast. Some of the arena matches were a ton of fun. It\'s too bad you can only play them once per playthrough. From what I have read, some of the DLC offers more in this area. I would also love to see this game allow more than four players. Oh well.
Most of the gaming experience was bug free. Though I did notice the occasional invisible wall, you are allowed a lot of latitude for where you can go. If you go too far past the edge, you will be killed by a huge laser and respawn, which is a somewhat fun (though frustrating) way of dealing with map edges. One bug that did hit me was that while fighting the last boss, I died and defeated him at the same time. What happened was that the ending started, and then I respawned. I could not see the ending. I still got credit for it, but it really ruined the experience. In order to see the ending, I had to back up my save (didn\'t want to cheat), and modify my save with a third party save hacking tool to redo the last battle. Then I was able to see the ending. It still was a real bummer, though. It is also worth noting that the first two DLCs include SecuROM DRM; fortunately, that was removed for the third and fourth DLC.
As previously mentioned, the graphics are almost comic book in appearance. It\'s a style that I like, though others I know do not. I think that, while it\'s not the prettiest game ever, the graphics are stylized in a way that I enjoy and I never felt that it needed more detail. The sound effects are similarly effective, though I have heard it said that the rockets don\'t really seem to have much impact, and I largely agree, though they aren\'t that powerful either. A good sniper rifle is often more effective. The game does not offer field of view (FOV) adjustment in game, for optimum display on widescreen monitors, but there are .ini file tweaks that can be done to make it look better. The voice acting is well done, with Claptrap being appropriately high strung and annoying, and Tannis sounds, well, without spoiling it, you can tell how she matures. Other characters sound appropriately goofy. In general this game doesn\'t take itself too seriously, and the voice acting reflects that.
Borderlands is one of the more unique games that I have played in a long time, and as a mature gamer, one that I really enjoyed. Discussing this game with others who also got it recently, it seems to be fairly polarizing as well. It\'s either \'okay\', or \'fantastic\'. If my observation has any mirroring to reality, those who like RPGs and see this game as a high-action RPG really enjoy it, while those who are heavily steeped in FPS games found it to be so-so. I rarely play \'serious\' FPS games like Call of Duty, Medal of Honor, or Battlefield, so I don\'t have notions that a highly scripted experience, or frantic player vs. player action is the best way to enjoy a game. Because of that, Borderlands was a game that I enjoyed a lot. Some of my friends and family who feel differently thought it was just \'okay\'.
Borderlands is a game that I can recommend to gamers who are not bothered by the many appropriateness problems this title possesses. But even still, please look over the content section of this review carefully before making a decision. This game is definitely not for children. Also, this game has a very good chance of being addictive to those who are prone to that, so they may want to keep that in mind. Oh, and that includes me.