Borderlands became something of a media darling when it was released late last year, and it’s currently being supported with lots of downloadable content. I could never quite bring myself to finish it, though, but I got close, and I jotted down some of its pros and cons along the way.
- The intro of Borderlands — complete with the song that accompanied the TV ads — is filled with personality. However, beyond its first 5 minutes, Borderlands quickly loses its ambiance and becomes a fairly sterile game. The cell shading is pretty enough, but the world is very repetitive and its denizens seem to be permanently nailed down to the ground. My guess is that this was a conscious decision to simplify NPC interactions a la Diablo, but it comes across a little drab and uninspired.
- The character classes in Borderlands are all actual characters, i.e., playing the Sniper means playing as Mordecai, which is a clever way of instilling some immediate flavour to the roster.
- Each character possesses only a single ability that is activated with a dedicated button press. This actually works out quite well, with all the other skills being either passive, “always-on” on traits, or bonuses that are activated directly through the player’s actions, e.g., receiving a bonus to the rate of fire once a few enemies are killed in a short window of time.
- A few of the quests have some scripted events like a mining facility blowing up, but the majority are rather dull. For the most part, the quests involve killing individual targerts and collecting items, and come across almost randomly generated rather than designed.
- The stores found in the game all contain a special “sale” slot. The items in these slots are mid to high tier early on in the game, and are a nice bonus to the regular inventories. They’re also accompanied by timers that count down in real time, creating a pretty effective “get ’em while they last!” feeling.
- Borderlands’ enemies are often susceptible to certain “elemental” modifiers (corrosive, incendiary, electric, etc.), and some even contain specific weak spots. These might not be immediately obvious as they’re not exactly glowing red spheres, but damage amounts clearly indicate that shooting an enemy from behind might yield better results than unloading into its armoured head.
- Much like in MMOs, enemies occupy distinct areas and are grouped together by their power levels. These levels are not tied to their appearance, though, so it’s not uncommon to encounter the same scrawny punk at level 5 and level 20.
- The health of the enemies, especially the bosses, can be bizarrely high. The only way to defeat some of the quest targets with my character build was to get them stuck on the map’s geometry so I could safely shoot ’em for 10 minutes straight, often running out of ammo in the process.
- Ammo in general is plentiful, although inconsistently distributed. It’s pretty common to go for long stretches of time without any bullets for the character’s main weapons, something that made my comparatively weak but rechargeable alien weapon indisposable. Well, that is until I found an apparently cheap item that respawned ammo at a lightning fast pace.
- Randomly generated weapons are one of the game’s high points, consisting of multiple visual pieces, elemental modifiers, and even unique bullet behaviour, e.g., the shotgun fires multiple projectiles with each round, while the alien weaponary launches energy beams that travel in expanding sine waves.
Of course the weapons also contain various statistics such as base damage, rate of fire, clip size, range, and reload speed, but the game doesn’t visually indicate how these attributes are affected by the player’s own skills. This makes it very difficult to gauge a weapon’s usefulness just from its description, which is a pretty big issue considering how often new weapons are obtained.
- The “Save Your Life” mechanic kicks in whenever the character’s health if fully depleted. During these phases, the screen goes monochrome and the stationary player is given a few precious seconds to kill an enemy in order to be resurrected.
This works really well and makes intense firefights less frustrating, although it can also be a bit annoying when the character dies while killing the last enemy in the area. A simple timer that auto-resurrects the player if left unmolested for a few seconds would’ve solved the issue.