Reviews: Borderlands

Loot collecting, co-op, skill trees and other RPG elements give depth and add more fun to this FPS

Games tend to fall neatly into genres most of the time, but sometimes you get some creative blends that try something a little new. In this case, the mechanics of an FPS were blended with an action RPG and a loot collection game (ala Diablo), keeping the elements that make each genre fun but generally avoiding the worst of each.

The RPG elements have pretty much been distilled to the ones that work best with action. Skill trees let you add or improve various skills, ranging from carrying more ammo per clip to reloading faster to improving class-specific skills, such as the Siren's ability to turn invisible and run very fast. While you have to go on World Of Warcraft-esque quests such as killing or collecting X number of Y or defeating a boss, this essentially takes the place of "true" grinding. You get enough experience points doing the quests normally and defeating the enemies along the way that there's no need to run around and defeat enemies to grind.

One unusual feature is the fact that, while dying, you can kill any enemy to immediately get back on your feet. Keeping a weak enemy alive during a tough fight for the sole purpose of using it to revive proves to be a viable strategy. The penalty for dying is merely being zipped back to a checkpoint with minor loss of money. Bosses refill their health.

The cooperative multiplayer works great. You find items that only certain classes can use, so you either sell them off or give them to someone who can use them. The enemies become tougher when the number of players increases, giving players more of a reason to work together. And fighting bosses, tough enemies or large numbers of enemies in a group is a lot of fun when you heal each other, take advantage of distracted enemies, and basically work as a team to take them down.

Finally there's the loot. Randomly generated stats and qualities for guns results in pistols with very long-range scopes, burst-fire rocket launchers that shoot 3 missiles at once, and shotguns that electrocute enemies. The guns are neat, and finding a better one than the ones you have is really rewarding.

Ultimately, while not perfect, Borderlands is a breath of fresh air in an industry that focuses too much on realism and copying popular ideas. This hybrid of unlikely genres is one of the most refreshing experiences yet.

Borderlands DLC review

The following is a quick review of all the DLC available for the game.

Dr. Ned's Zombie Island: This can be accessed at any point in the game although it seems to be best at around level 10. This expansion sees you fighting zombies (obviously). They move differently to normal enemies, slowly lurching closer and then vomiting on you For Massive Damage. The plot and dialogue is fairly amusing. The only criticism I can think of is the "Brains" quests, which require you to collect endless amounts of zombie brains (which can only be harvested via a headshot) and go out of your way to the back end of the first level (rather than a hub) to turn them in. 8/10

Mad Moxxi's Underdome Riot: The weakest of the DLC. The arena challenges are rather dull and uninspired rematches against previous enemies and bosses, not to mention take hours and don't allow you to save in between. In its defence, it still maintains the wonderful dialogue and presentation of the other DLC and provides a semi-useful item bank. Fine with friends, but don't buy it except as part of a bundle with the other DLC. 6/10

The Secret Armory of General Knoxx: If you only buy one piece of DLC for Borderlands make it this. While the rest simply add more content, this outright expands the game, raising the level cap and adding even more weapons. The tedious brain collecting quest has been replaced by a far more interesting "power core" collection quest with better drop rates (and the fact that picking up these cores gives you a powerup that hearkens back to Quake style FPS games is also nice). The dialogue is once again enjoyable, with the plot picking up at the end of the vanilla game rather than being a side story (did I mention this is best played when you reach the old level 50 level cap?). 10/10

Claptrap's New Robot Revolution: The final piece of DLC. Knoxx was apparently going to be the last before Executive Meddling, but this still holds up. It's roughly as good as Dr. Ned, but avoids some of the flaws (the collection quest can be turned in at the hub area, for example). The enemies are just reskins of old ones, but at least their new attack dialogue is enjoyable. It's hardly a must-buy, but fine if you want more of the same. 7/10


Get the game of the year edition rather than the vanilla version.

We were promised an FPS/Action RPG hybrid with Gun Porn and it delivers

The following review covers the vanilla game, see my other review for the DLC.

The main selling point of Borderlands was always going to be its Gun Porn. Not in the sense of realistic Twenty Minutes Into The Future weapons or detailed animations, but the sheer number of them, combined with World Of Warcraft style stats. On paper this is one of those things that could easily be a disaster, but it seems to work very well. The stats of the weapons translate into greater or lesser versions of the kind of limitations an FPS might put on itself to be more "realistic" so fans of shooters will be able to feel the difference (for example less shaky aim, more accurate shots). Combined with the endless scrambling for better equipment RPGs give you the result is highly addictive but lacks the tedium of grinding.

The other nice thing is the sheer variety in the weapons. In addition to random elemental effects (for example acid to destroy armour, electric for shields, fire for flesh, etc) some guns have truly unique characteristics, such as firing rockets or ignoring shields. Then there's grenade mods (which make your grenades become anything from proximity mines to health draining weapons), shields (which offer elemental resistances, automatic defenses and even healing) and class mods (which give out even more abilities). Each also character has their own specialities and action skill which their skill tree (very much like the one in World Of Warcraft) can be used to upgrade in various ways.

The graphics are fun to look at, using a specialised form of cel shading to give them "outlines" give the game a very distinctive style that fits the dark but farcical tone very well. The script and characters themselves are also rather amusing with some genuinely funny moments.

The only weak point is the quests (which are decent enough but tend to descend into Twenty Bear Asses or Fetch Quests), although playing co-op with friends takes the edge off it. The rewards also tend (with some exceptions) to be rather lackluster compared to what you find, making the only reason to take them to gain the XP and money. There's also little motivation to explore without them (although there are a few Easter Eggs to be found).


An excellent FPS/RPG hybrid that gets even better playing it with friends. 8/10