I’ve visited Texas a grand total of once in my life. It was hot, muggy, dusty, and full of interesting people who were carrying insane amounts of weaponry. Granted, that was just the airport, but I somehow feel like whoever designed planet Pandora, the world on which Borderlands takes place, simply imagined Texas and changed the name to avoid offending anybody. Borderlands is another newfangled shooter/RPG hybrid in the vein of Fallout 3, casting the player as a mercenary searching for Pandora’s legendary Vault. Slightly unfortunate word choice aside, the Fallout 3 similarities end there, as Borderlands unfolds into a fast-paced, frenetic, and goofy adventure.
There are four playable characters in Borderlands, each one corresponding to a different character archetype. There’s the Soldier, Hunter, Siren, and… Brick, which are all fairly self explanatory; anyone who has played an RPG recently will instantly recognize these Tank, Rogue, Assassin, and Barbarian doppelgängers. They have differing statistics that can be leveled up with skill points a la Diablo. These skill trees are entirely customizable, even going so far as to let players rearrange the points at any time. What these characters can actually do isn’t limited by their class, however; while a Hunter with maxed out sniper skills will most likely be best served with a rifle, he won’t be useless with a machine gun either. Borderlands is a shooter first, and an RPG second.
After giving players the whole spiel about The Vault and running them through a fairly lengthy tutorial, the story in Borderlands effectively dumps them in the world and leaves to go do something else. Outside of CL4P-TP, the adorable dancing robot assistant, important characters are few and far between. Characters in the game exist to dispense quests and quest rewards, until the occasionally story-related person appears to move the plot along. It’s hardly elegant, but it serves to make Borderlands feel more relaxed. Indeed, it’s not like the lack of serious storytelling hurts the game. Borderlands has its tongue planted firmly in its cheek, and the hands-off approach gives room for intended party of four players to breathe.
While the game is entirely playable and enjoyable as a singleplayer experience, Borderlands is a multiplayer game through and through. The four characters complement each other perfectly as a group, and blasting through Pandora with friends multiplies the fun exponentially. Alone, it’s just a good shooter; with friends, it becomes a good old Diablo 2 LAN party, complete with duels, party roles, and of course, bickering over loot.
Borderlands advertises itself as having over 87 bazillion guns. While that number is a bit of a stretch, it’s really not far off. The amount of weapons and other items in the game is staggering, especially considering the fact that a good deal of them look unique. While most guns are simply recolors, or have small bits added onto them, there are a large amount of special weapons that are beautiful and deadly snowflakes. Some of them are downright ridiculous, too: sniper rifles that set people on fire or shotguns that shoot rockets seem to be the norm on Pandora. The amount of crazy gear in the game makes treasure hunting worth the effort.
The offbeat pace of the game is aided nicely by the visuals. Borderlands is an interesting blend of wasteland browns and bright characters holding colorful guns. The effect is bizarre; while the landscape could fit into any old RPG, the people and monsters that populate the rough landscape look like rejects from a violent sequel to Viva Piñata. There are a few rough spots; textures aren’t always so hot, especially on buildings and other scenery objects. There’s also some slowdown when things get particularly frantic, especially when critical hit effects (like exploding heads) are popping up all over the place. The sound design is excellent too, with a bluegrass-infused ambient soundtrack that wouldn’t sound out of place on a Godspeed You! Black Emperor album – honestly, I never thought I’d see the day when I’d say that about a game. The presentation in Borderlands is, for the most part, stellar.
There are a few holes, however. Earlier, I mentioned that the game was designed for multiplayer. This becomes painfully obvious in some spots. Players in solo games will often hear bandits yelling “get them!” and other plural exclamations that make little to no sense. It’s also fairly amusing when an enemy screams “get him!” or some other male identifier at people playing the definitely female Siren. These minor issues extend beyond the presentation, too; while the shooting in Borderlands is excellent for the most part, the AI is dumb as a rock. Foes will run in place, or simply not notice players, and even get stuck on level geometry. As polished as Borderlands appears, not everything got enough coats of paint.
Still, none of this changes the fact that it’s a damn good game. Borderlands forgoes typical RPG seriousness and instead takes the concept of “Rednecks in space!” and runs with it. People may have a hard time swallowing the combination between Halo and Diablo, but it’s a match made in heaven – Borderlands is so far the best example of how to combine shooter and RPG mechanics. It’s rarely frustrating, always fun, and a total blast when it comes to multiplayer. While the story won’t change anyone’s life, the presentation and gameplay are more than enough reason to journey to Pandora.