Borderlands released for Xbox 360, Playstation 3, and PC on October 20, 2009. It has a retail price of $60, but if you shop around there are places selling it for $40. The game plays like a First Person Shooter, but it is full of Role Playing elements. Game developers, Gearbox, are fond of calling it a “role-playing shooter”. It features drop in and out four player cooperative play. Only the person hosting the game can’t leave if you want to keep the game going. Everyone can come and go as they please. You character is persistent between single player and co-op campaigns. Any weapons or loot your collect in any type of game carries through with that character.
In Borderlands you play as a one of four classes of character who is looking for a hidden treasure vault on the planet Pandora. The four classes are Soldier, Hunter, Siren, and Beserker. Each class has its own unique strengths and special abilities. The Soldier is your general all around class. They are best with combat rifle and shotguns, and have the ability to deploy a portable turret with shield to provide cover. The Hunter is your sniper class. Thye sit back and pick off enemies from a distance with extreme accuracy, and have the ability to release an attack hawk. The Siren is a rogue-like class. She moves fast and has the ability to phase walk so that enemies can’t see or harm her. The Berserker is a walking tank. He likes to get in close and punch enemies and his special ability amplifies this.
The actual main plot of the story in Borderlands is a little thin. Basically you spend your time running around Pandora looking for clues to The Vault. The Vault is said to contain untold riches and weapons. If you are not paying attention to the story moments as they arrive it is easy to miss or ignore them, but there is enough story there to keep things moving if you want it. The world of Pandora in Borderlands is very large. You start with only a section of it unlocked, but it is an open world and you can go anywhere right from the start assuming you can handle the enemies in that area. As you get new quests you naturally go to new areas to complete them. So there is no rush to explore the whole map because you will get there eventually if you complete all of the optional side missions.
It is really the role playing elements that set Borderlands apart from other first person shooters. Your character levels up as you earn experience in the game for completing missions, killing enemies, or completing challenges. As you level up you get more health and your special abilities can be upgraded. Each character has three skill trees of available passive traits they can assign points to as they level up. You are free to mix and match between the different trees as you progress. You can even use a little of the money you make in the game to redo you current skill setup if you don’t like how things are working out.
The missions in the game also are very reminiscing of role playing or massively multiplayer online games. Almost all of them are quests you get by talking to another character or at a bounty job board. You then have to go complete the specific tasks of the mission and return to collect your rewards for completing the quest. While all the missions generally follow this format the actual tasks to complete in the mission vary widely. They range from the standard go and clear out all the enemies in an area, to collect a specified number of an object, or even strange and random actions like go to a location and clear bird poop off a windmill.
All of the role playing elements are really fun and make the leveling process very rewarding. It is a shame that these type of elements did not carry over to the weapons in the game. There are no pre-created weapons in the Borderlands world. The game actually generates them as it goes. Because of this there are literally millions of different potential guns. Each gun does however fall into a category type so you can easily keep track of what type of ammunition you need. The categories are pistol, revolver, shotgun, SMG, combat rifle, sniper, or rocket launcher. You will find that you are constantly finding bigger and better weapons to use as you progress through the game. Each gun has a unique accuracy, magazine size, damage, and possibly an elemental damage bonus (fire, electric, explosive, or corrosive). However, once you find a weapon there is no way to change or customize it. Having role playing style options to customize the weapons would be awesome. The game creates a lot of really interesting weapons that are just not quite what you want, but if you could customize the guns you find by changing the scope, upgrade magazine sizes, customize shot type, or add elemental damage would really enhance the game. For instance, I found this really great SMG that does a high level of damage and is very accurate, but has no scope. If I could spend some of the in game money to add a scope and enhance it with fire damage it would quite possibly be the perfect gun for my character.
Hopefully these additional role playing style elements can make it into Borderlands 2 if there is a sequel. Additionally, there are a couple other little things they could improve. The vehicles in the game are pretty good, but controlling them is a little loose. It is not so bad that you are constantly fighting to get where you want to go but they still can be annoying at times. The last area I can see the need for some improvements is in the enemy AI. There are a lot of different enemy types in the game and many of them, especially the animals behave like one would expect. However, the average human raiders seem especially stupid. If an enemy is near cover they will use it, but if you go to an area and catch an enemy out in the open they will just stand there shooting at you as you take them out. If these enemies would try to run for cover or flank you it would add some additional strategic elements that would really improve the depth of the game.
At its core Borderlands is designed to be played cooperatively. You can play it alone just fine but when you play four player co-op matches everything gets more fun. The enemies get a little harder and to help offset this you get better loot from these harder enemies. As I said in the title this is the best co-op game of 2009. Sure, there are other games that are a blast to play cooperatively including Halo 3: ODST, Marvel Ultimate Alliance 2, Rock Band 2, and Madden. Yet, all of these games you can play alone and have the same fun campaign. Borderlands, on the other hand, gets a little dull when you play it alone. You’re in a giant open world and you spend a lot of time running from place to place. When you have four people playing together, with each one using a different character class, you can use the special abilities together and work some flanking strategies. There are also game elements that you can only use when playing cooperatively. The vehicles in the game all have a gunner’s seat that a second player can ride in with a machine gun or rocket launcher. You can enter arenas and battle each of your teammates for fun, or you can face each other in duels to see who the best on your team is. These arenas and duels are a really fun option to just have some additional fun with your friends. These elements combined with a little creativity and strategy make playing Borderlands cooperative an absolute blast.
To top off an exceptionally fun game Gearbox has setup some really fun and attainable achievements for the Xbox 360 version. None of the achievements are especially hard to complete. They just take time to work up through the levels and complete the campaign. Many of them are for completing the quests in the main campaign, but others are for things like winning a duel or finding a boat in the desert world of Pandora. It is the little elements like these that make Borderlands such a great game. It is not perfect, but it is a lot of fun and that is what really matters in a video game.
“Borderlands The Game”, Gearbox