Pandora doesn’t seem like a terribly great place to visit; I mean sure, it’s great if you’re either a deranged psychopath or a bounty hunter with the itch to kill deranged psychopaths, but there doesn’t seem to be a whole lot else for us normal folk. Everyone’s running around shootin’ one another with these crazy weapons that look to have been ripped from your eight year old brother’s imagination. And they’re all babbling on about this legendary vault with untold treasures; but bizarrely, your money and everyone else’s is worth squat here. Then again, maybe all of the reasons stated above are exactly why you decided to drop by this end of the galaxy; and if that’s the case, make sure you drag along some friends.
Your goal on Pandora is actually quite straight forward; yes, you’re looking for the Vault, but all that really boils down to is being told to go somewhere, kill someone or retrieve something. What makes these seemingly easy and possibly mundane quests interesting are the encounters and experiences found along the way. As one of four playable characters: the Soldier, Hunter, Siren and Berserker, your approach to various missions and engagements will vary greatly. Each of the four classes has a unique Action Skill and is proficient with a certain subset of the never ending arsenal of weapons found on Pandora. Despite their affinity to certain weapon types and play styles, each of the classes is highly customizable thanks to the ability to improve one’s proficiency with any weapon type and augment your abilities through a skill tree. If you’d like your Soldier to be a medic, that’s totally possible and if you’d rather try something completely different you can completely alter your skill point distribution for a price. This freedom is an excellent example of Borderlands’ flexibility, allowing you to create a brand new character without starting from scratch.
When you aren’t fussing with your Skill Tree you’ll be playing with one of Pandora’s eleventy billion guns. While wandering Pandora you’ll constantly stumble across unique weapons and although some might appear similar to the naked eye, their effects and uses will vary greatly. One shotgun might unload six shells at a time in under a second, while the next could shoot acid, possibly infecting the target and any other enemies in close proximity. At the most basic level, weapons are broken down into pistols, sub-machine guns, shotguns, combat rifles, sniper rifles, launchers and Eridian weapons; on top of that some weapons have added elemental effects or bonus attributes. Taking all of that into account, as well as the normal attack power, accuracy and fire-rate of any given weapon gives any Vault Hunter a wide variety of styles to clean up Pandora with.
Now with all those damn weapons it’d be a real shame if shootin’ weren’t any fun; fortunately, it is. Even with the preposterous amount of weapons in tow, Borderlands manages to make every weapon feel unique and pack an appropriately satisfying amount of punch. Just like any other FPS you’ll be running for cover or trying to flank your opponents. In fact the only blemish that mars the overall shooting aspect of Borderlands is the spotty AI. While most of the enemy behavior is serviceable, it’s not totally uncommon for an enemy to not see you or be unresponsive to gunfire if you stand far enough way.
Other then Borderlands’ core RPG and FPS mechanics, Gearbox has sprinkled the game with a number of smaller features that add to the longevity of the title. Upon completion you’ll have the option to carry your character over to a second playthrough that not only beefs up the loot, experience and enemies you’ll encounter but carries over all your progress, inventory and completed challenges. Challenges are a lot like in-game achievements that net you experience for various accomplishments like killing x Skags or Bandits. While it’s unlikely you’ll pay too much attention to them, you’ll occasionally notice yourself receiving a chunk of experience out of the blue for meeting one of the requirements. Coupling challenge XP with those received from standard missions, you’ll always find yourself not too far from that next level up which will keep you firmly placed in Pandora. Another seemingly small but completely awesome feature is Second Wind, which allows you to revive yourself by killing an enemy while you’re downed and bleeding out. It’s awesome not only because it allows you to revive yourself while playing alone but it can be used in a strategic manner when overwhelmed with enemies. Rather than simply killing everyone you can weaken a number of enemies so they can be quickly dispatched if you’re killed, thus allowing you a Second Wind.
While your search for the Vault can certainly be rewarding alone, Borderlands really flourishes in the company of others. While you’re jet-setting across the Arid Badlands with a friend or stranger, the lack of a compelling narrative or interesting NPCs (Patricia Tannis excluded) probably won’t matter much to you. You’ll likely be too wrapped up in squabbles over loot or tea bagging a dead Skag to care about such trivial nonsense. Who knows, maybe you’ll actually find a way to co-ordinate with your squad and even designate rolls to use each player as an effective unit; and if that doesn’t work, there’s always the arena waiting for that stranger who just won’t co-operate.
Although it isn’t exclusive to multiplayer, Borderlands does have a number of technical issues that range from slightly annoying to almost unplayable. The frame rate can suddenly dive when the screen is full of multiple players, enemies and special effects; and while it’s certainly not frequent, it can be a real struggle. On the less annoying side, the game has some rather long load times in between areas. When you do spawn, Pandora’s textures will still take several additional seconds to load, leaving your gun and scenery ugly and blurry for a few moments. It certainly doesn’t greatly detract from the experience but when the first thing you see in a brand new area is muddy textures, it’s a bit of a disappointment.
While the Pandoran locals aren’t terribly noteworthy and the scenery’s a bit rough; the combination of infinite weapons, solid FPS gunplay, sound RPG customization and addictive co-op should make the planet an interesting destination for every gamer. Borderlands is the bastard child of Mad Max, Halo and Phantasy Star Online; and yes, I’m aware that’s three participants.