Borderlands is a game trapped between two worlds. On the one hand, it’s a cooperative first-person shooter. On the other, it’s an online role-playing game. While it would seem like elements from both genres could easily meld to make one cohesive game, Borderlands is not that game that does it. Though Borderlands certainly looks and sounds great, it delivers neither a compelling first-person shooting experience nor an interesting or unique role-playing experience. Borderlands thus serves one purpose: giving fans a taste of something that they crave (a compelling online first-person shooter with strong role-playing elements) as they wait for another company to come along and do it better (or at least a refined sequel).
Borderlands casts you as one of four misfits who’ve traveled to the planet Pandora in search of a treasure – The Vault. This galaxy-famous treasure that has put Pandora on the map and after colonists realized there wasn’t much more to the planet beyond the treasure and killer skags, the only people left after a while were frustrated treasure hunters and those earning/stealing a profit off/from them. You have come to the dusty rock and a strange voice in your head instantly throws you into the treasure hunt. As soon as you take control, you’re attacked by the first of many enemies that you’ll feel absolutely no connection as your violent relationship is never explained.
You’ll end up defending a lifeless village you won’t feel an attachment to despite the fact that it serves as your home base for a bulk of the game. Here you’ll buy your weapons, receive missions and fight with the awkward inventory system that drastically detracts from the experience. You’ll find that doing simple things like comparing two weapons to find out which one is best or dropping several items at once are things you cannot do with the limited inventory system. Add this to the fact that you’re given an incredibly limited space for loot versus how much you’ll acquire and the slow pace at which your inventory expands and you’ll find you’re quickly frustrated. First-person shooter fans will be frustrated by how difficult it is to know which weapon is best out of the available inventory and loot-loving role-playing fans will be frustrated with how few items they can carry versus other games.
The game very quickly breaks down into a seemingly endless series of fetch quests, each sending you deeper into Pandora but not really offering any diversity beyond a farther walk (eventually drive) to the quest and back again. A vast majority of the quests in the game involve going to a location, shooting a group of enemies, coming across a boss, collecting something from the dispatched boss and then returning to collect the quest reward. Even quest givers that don’t require you present anything tangible to them still require you come and tell them you completed it in order to get the experience. This adds a lot of time wasted to the game and slows down the action tremendously without improving the story-telling at all.
If the environments were more interesting, the free time that you’re given to explore the game world might be better spent, but the vast majority of Pandora is lifeless, dull and monochromatic. You’ll be incredibly happy when you’re given access to vehicles a few hours in, just to spare yourself the drudgery of trudging across the desolate landscape and shooting at annoying, respawning enemies that you’ll quickly overpower. In a bizarre decision that makes no sense in terms of the limited in-game economy, you’re thankfully able to spawn an infinite number of vehicles strapped with weaponry. This seems silly when you go to the game’s weapons store and are forced to pay high prices for something much less significant like a pistol, but implementation does speed the game up (thankfully).
Killing makes up a bulk of the game, with each character representing a different class that you’ve seen everywhere else (soldiers, snipers, etc.). The characters themselves are mostly lifeless and not much more can be said about the actual fighting. Borderlands combines the stat-based elements of RPG combat with the instant action of first-person shooters. Like most RPGs, you’ll explore large zones littered with bands of enemies. As you move deeper and deeper into Pandora enemies gradually increase in strength, but since you have to backtrack so often, you’ll still be slaughtering low-level enemies well into higher levels. It doesn’t help matters that the AI isn’t very bright, often standing out of cover without concern. Part of the game’s hype surrounded the thousands and thousands of weapons in the game and while there are a lot of them, the quantity doesn’t really add a whole lot as the variations between guns aren’t very drastic.
Borderlands is marginally better with companions, though it can be played exclusively single player if you’re not online. To the credit of the designers, I thought it was very cool that that game allows you to move one character through single and multiplayer. Even with friends though, the multiplayer component has faults. For one, there isn’t a very clear chat area on the screen, making it easy to miss messages typed to other players. You also can’t easily review things people have said. To make matters worse, there’s no native microphone support, which speaks (or doesn’t, in this case) for itself.
The game certainly isn’t bad to look at, though there are some bugs. Much was made about the move to the cel-shaded art style seen XIII a few years ago and the move was for the best. The game is boring enough as it is; I can’t imagine how terrible it might be if it were strapped with a more traditional graphics engine. Though the engine is certainly an improvement and occasionally delightful to look at, there are some issues, particularly with keeping a steady framerate. While these issues aren’t too severe, they nevertheless detract from the experience. I also experienced significant issues with shadows, even after patching. I finally had to turn dynamic shadows off entirely, even on a very capable machine.
Borderlands has a lot of growing to do. The concept is strong, but in execution, it just doesn’t work very well. Borderlands is too often boring and shallow, with cumbersome menus, a useless weapons gimmick and limited in-game communication. The game gets neither the first-person shooter aspects nor the multiplayer mechanics right. This leaves fans of either frustrated as they search for what are basic features in other products and feelings of frustration aren’t conducive to the long playtime needed to see the game to the end. Borderlands definitely has potential, but the developers need to significantly refine and streamline any sequel to get me back on board.