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Borderlands: Mad Moxxi’s Underdome Riot

Borderlands

Borderlands was a successful hybrid of the first-person shooter and RPG genres that chronicled the exploits of four bounty hunters across the vast, inhospitable planet of Pandora in search of a fabled vault full of treasures. Downloadable add-ons down the road were a given and Mad Moxxi’s Underdome Riot is the second installment following The Zombie Island of Dr. Ned.

Rather than adding a new area with quests and a storyline to tie it together, this DLC episode puts players into an arena facing off waves of increasingly difficult enemies. While this might sound like an interesting idea to include in the Borderlands experience, it falls far short of expectations.

Once installed, players can fast travel to the Underdome and are treated to a brief introduction to Moxxi. She’s the vampy ringmistress of the Underdome, a blood-soaked arena where Moxxi gets her jollies off from the carnage since she’s had a bit of trouble holding onto a husband and hunting for a fourth. This is all immaterial as there’s no storyline to speak of, or in fact any rhyme or reason to the add-on’s proceedings. There’s a wave-based arena now on Pandora and players are just going to have to roll with it.

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One of the benefits given to players solely by starting up the add-on is a bank to store the incalculable goodies they’ve accumulated along the way but might not have the room for at this point. With enough cash spent, the bank can even be upgraded to hold more stuff and players with too many good weapons and too little storage space will find this a massive relief. It’s all downhill from there, though.

Underdome Riot starts off with three tournaments available–the goal of each being to survive five rounds, consisting of five waves. Every wave follows the same pattern: the first is easy, the second has guns, the third is a horde, the fourth are tougher (aka ‘badasses’) and the fifth is a boss plucked from Borderland’s main storyline. Once the enemies have been properly ventilated players are given a few seconds to scavenge for health and ammo before another wave starts.

There’s no need to worry about scrambling to pick up any dropped loot before the timer runs out because there isn’t any: no cash, no guns, nothing. Loot only gets dropped once a round is successfully completed and they’re rarely good for anything other than selling for pocket change. Another gripe is that going through the waves doesn’t contribute one iota of experience points or weapon proficiency despite killing dozens of enemies. Experience points are only gained once the desired challenge is completed, and it’s really a pittance considering the time and effort spent.

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Once those three tournaments are completed, larger ones open up (though they all take place in the same trio of maps) and instead of five rounds a piece it’s twenty. That totals three-hundred waves of enemies to tackle alone or with a team of other players. A lot of patience and a high level are requirements at this junction, especially since the difficultly gradually ratchets up with each round completed. Be warned that there’s no playing halfway through and coming back later–the only checkpoints given are done once a round is completed.

If killed before completing a round, you’ll be bumped back to the start of the previous wave and have to slog through the whole thing all over again just to get back to the point where you died in the first place. Say you’re playing on the fourth round and die, instead of starting at the beginning of the fourth you start back at the third. This is the definition of frustrating, especially since the entire experience is already designed to be incredibly difficult. Because things weren’t apparently challenging enough, modifiers are introduced into latter rounds. Some of them have varying impact on your performance–low gravity, faster running, etc.–while others are specifically designed to give enemies the edge such as stronger shields, increased accuracy, or a boost to their overall toughness.

One particularly irksome mod is vampire in which players are constantly drained of their health and it’s only replenished by killing foes. Any time this modifier is in play enemies become skiddish and gameplay becomes a mad dash to find something to kill. Occasionally a modifier will work in the player’s favor such as having a specific weapon deal extra damage, though this is balanced with having all other guns becoming useless. There are a handful of mods that are just rotated from round to round and they quickly become tiresome.

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It’s highly recommended that Underdome Riot be played with a four-man team since it’ll take some of the sting out of the difficulty. The team only loses when everyone has been killed. So long as one person is left, the game isn’t over. Dispatched players are sent to the penalty box: a cage overlooking the arena. Anyone stuck in the penalty box can fire away at enemies on the ground to help out the remaining member(s) of their party. It makes for a handy sniper’s nest, at the very least.

Moxxi’s only interaction with the player comes in the form of her offering commentary during the matches. She parrots the same phrases over and over again that weren’t funny the first time and just plain annoying all the times afterward. Her lines consist of thinly-disguised sexual innuendos or otherwise pandering to a nonexistent (but nonetheless noisy) crowd supposedly spectating the bloodshed. She’s a character that serves as nothing more than fetish-fuel for cosplay aficionados, and a character that I personally didn’t care for in an expansion barely anybody would enjoy.

Mad Moxxi’s Underdome Riot is a horde/survival mode knock-off that takes away everything that kept players addicted to Borderlands and replaces it with a teeth-grindingly frustrating experience where the risks far outweigh the rewards. At the very least, it’s the expansion players are guaranteed to tackle (let alone complete) last once every other quest has been completed. It’s a pure slog and an inferior follow-up to The Zombie Island of Dr. Ned. If you skip one add-on for Borderlands, skip Mad Moxxi’s Underdome Riot and its obnoxious host.

4 out of 10

The author of this fine article

is an Associate Editor at Thunderbolt, having joined in March 2010.

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