Developers: Gearbox Software
Publishers: 2K games
Zolgar paid: $7.49 for Game of the Year
Beaten: No, ~50% of the game
Zolgar's rating: 8/10
Replayability: Decent to high
Borderlands is one of those games that I held off on getting for a long time, due to to my general dislike for First Person Shooters, especially after my epic disappointment at the last game that was billed as 'Diablo with guns' (Hellgate: London). When I finally broke down and got it though, I was pretty much instantly hooked on borderlands.
The story of Borderlands is simple:
On the alien world of Pandora, there are legends of an ancient vault filled with alien technology. You play a mercenary who's out to find it, with the help of a “Guardian Angel”, and of course you have to contend with the giant corporation that believes that the Vault belongs to them.
Seeing as this is a video game, we know the Vault is real. Wouldn't be much fun if we got there to the end and found that it wasn't, eh? (It'd be a twist worthy of M. Night Shyamalan though!)
Seeing as this is a FPS, there's lots and lots and lots of things to shoot on the way to the Vault.
Seeing as this is an RPG, there's lots of people who want you to do stuff for them along the way, too.
For the RPGers, Borderlands offers us 4 classes (which I'll cover in depth later), each with unique abilities and skill trees, gun skills that go up with use, increased health and armor over time, Diablo-style loot drops, and a somewhat simplified gear selection:
4 guns (start with 2, unlock the others throughout the game), 1 shield, 1 Grenade Mod, 1 Class Mod, and 1 Elemental Artifact.
For the FPSers, Borderlands offers us simple, intuitive controls with fair customization, enough weapon options that you're sure to find one you like (which I'll cover later), minimal equipment to worry yourself over, minimal stats to worry yourself over, and only one skill you need to activate per class. And headshots. Mmm headshots.
There's a few points of problems in FPS/RPG hybrids though:
One of the major ones is accuracy. RPG players want accuracy to be based off of their stats, and don't want to have to have a steady hand and fast reflexes. FPS players don't want to have to worry about those silly numbers, and want the bullet to go where they're pointing.
Borderland's answer to this one leans towards the favor of the FPSers. Guns have an accuracy stat, which simply put, determines how close to right where you're aiming the bullet will hit. The more a gun is fired in quick succession, the less accurate it will become (anyone who's fired a real auto or semi auto will understand why). The loss of accuracy with repeated firing though, can be reduced by characters skills, and gun proficiency. (More information on accuracy can be found here)
Another problem is FPSers aren't used to always having to run back in to town to sell stuff, to turn in quests, to buy stuff, etc. RPGers wouldn't know what to do without it.
Answer? Borderlands is an RPG, sorry. You're gonna need to run back to town and do all that annoying stuff. Thankfully though most of the side zones (I keep wanting to call them instances, because that's what they'd be in an MMO), have ammo and medical vending machines near the entrance, so you don't have to run far when you run out of ammo. Also nice is that most of the 'non essential' quests come from a mission board, so you don't have to try and remember “who gave me this mission again?” and only have to return to 1 place for your side quests.
Difficulty. Most FPS players like to crank their game up to 'hard' or 'insane' or 'Damn, I'm Good'. To be fair, many RPG players like that too, though the standard Action RPG answer is 'beat it, then play it against with tougher foes and moar loot!'
Answer? Borderlands goes the Action RPG rout here. Beat it once, you go on to Playthrough 2 where things are harder. Beat it again, and you can move on to Playthrough 2.5, which has levelscaling and can get pretty bloody insane. There is otherwise no difficulty slider that I can find, and many FPS players complain about that fact due to the game getting too easy once they have good gear.
There are a few other more minor issues in the FPS/RPG hybrid camp, that of course lead to some people saying “bleah this is too (FPS or RPG) for me.”, but most of those are much lesser ones, and in so far as I can tell, Borderlands handles all of them fairly well.
Over all? We've got simple FPS gameplay with some nice action RPG elements.
Run around shooting everything that moves, pick up what it drops, and run back to town and sell it for a profit! So you can buy better gear, to shoot tougher foes, to get better loot! HUZZAH! The never ending Action RPG cycle!
Though when you get bored of that, you can always team up with up to 3 friends for 4 player co-op, which runs remarkably well, and should soon be supported by Steam, too.
In true action RPG fashion, your drops are conveniently color-coded:
- White: trash, you'll stop using these pretty soon. And unless you're an addict like me, you'll even stop picking them up by the time you're level 20.
- Green: Eh, OK. In a fantasy game this would be 'magic'.
- Blue: Decent, for most of the game this will be your staple.
- Purple: Really good, probably only becoming your staple on your 2nd playthrough.
- Orange: 'Legendary', these items are the 2nd best in the game, likely only to become your staple late in the 2nd playthrough. (though there are no legendary shields.)
- Pearlescent: O. M. G. is all that can be said about these. They will only become your staple after countless hours of farming high end content on your 3rd playthrough, and much gnashing of teeth and probably sacrificing your first born son. *Only available with the DLC: Secret Armor of General Knoxx
All orange and pearl items are 'unique' in the sense of unique items from a typical action RPG, that is to say named items with pre-defined stat ranges.
There are also some unique items, also with a special name, flavor text, and only select modifiers available, which can be found at certain specific times of the game. These come in green, blue and purple flavors.
For gear drops you have:
Shields, which offer you limited damage protection, that recharges over time. Basically? More health. Shields can also come with a few minor, helpful modifiers such as a health boost, or health recovery.
Grenade mods, which take your normal boring grenades and make them do fun things, like life leech, or stick to things, or act like clusterbombs.
Class mods, AKA COMs, these tend to provide bonuses to your skills, or certain bonuses that have a strong benefit for a specific role your class plays.
Elemental Artifact, provides bonuses to your Action Skill, usually in the form of damage improvements.
Weapons, are obviously weapons, which come in 8 flavors:
- Revolvers: fair damage, slow firing speed, low capacity, higher accuracy.
- Repeater pistols: Fair damage, fast firing, decent capacity, lower accuracy.
- SMGs: Low damage, full auto fire, good capacity, low accuracy. “Spray and pray”
- Shotguns: Massive damage up close, slow firing, accuracy? What's that? Scatter shot, making them do less damage at range.
- Combat Rifles: Well rounded with a good mix of damage, accuracy, firing speed and capacity. These come in two main flavors 3-round burst, and full auto.
- Sniper Rifles: Do you want to blow someone's head off from half a mile away? I knew you did.. Sniper rifles are slow firing and have low capacity, but they make up for it by having high damage and great accuracy.
- Rocket Launchers: Boom. Slow firing, iffy on accuracy, craptastic capacity, but man it's satisfying to blow shit up.
- Eridian: Extremely rare alien tech (rarer even than Pearlescents in some cases) with infinite ammo (but what is essentially a heat meter), these come in the form of other weapon types, and take on the traits of that weapon type. I only list them separately due to them having their own proficiency.
Interestingly though, there's another step in the weapons department.
- Atlas - Above average damage and magazine capacity.
- Dahl - High recoil reduction, at the cost of accuracy.
- Eridians - Alien weaponry, deals generally high damage with unlimited ammunition but often suffers from slow recharge.
- Hyperion - Very high recoil reduction and accuracy.
- Jakobs - Never manufactures elemental weapons. Very high damage, but with lower fire rate and recoil reduction.
- Maliwan - Only manufactures elemental weapons, which have much higher tech regeneration rates. Also benefits from marginal increases to accuracy and reload speed.
- S&S Mnitions - Very high magazine capacity. Usually manufactures elemental weapons.
- Tediore - Extremely fast reload speed, with a slight compromise on damage and accuracy.
- Torgue - High damage and slightly higher fire rate, but suffers from much lower accuracy and recoil reduction.
- Vladof - Very high fire rate, good recoil reduction, but suffers from much lower accuracy.
The 'shopkeeper' (a recorded voice on all the vending machines), will often spout off something about one brand or another.
Obviously this makes for a lot of customization when it comes to exactly what you're looking for in Borderlands. If you're a firm believer in '1 shot, 1 kill', a Jakobs Sniper Rifle is your best friend. If you're more fond of spray and pray, Torgue or Vladof SMGs are a nice choice.
Of course, an Atlas is always in style, as they tend to be good all around.. if you can find, and afford, one!
And now for the classes!
As I mentioned before, each class has their own specialties, as well as an 'action skill', which is kinda like spells/skills from most other action RPGs, except they only get one, and then 21 skills, in 3 different trees, that are either passive, or auto activate when a certain condition is met.
A quick note on Action Skill cooldown: Cooldown begins when the skill duration ends.
And you, beef stick in the back... I'm not going to make fun of you. Your burps smell of blood, and you growl like a rabid animal.
Brick provides us, in theory, with the requisite melee guy. Unfortunately Borderlands is not meant for melee, so he really tends to end up more like a durable tank who likes to tote close range, high damage guns. His Action Skill is 'Berserk', which provides him with a short duration boost to health regeneration and damage resistance, while making him only attack with his fists.
His skill trees are:
- Brawler, focused on melee damage dealing, and boosting Rage. With the Brawler tree, Brick can go from an 18 second berserk with a 60 second cooldown, to a 27 second berserk with a 30 second cooldown. Not to mention other benefits such as improved damage.
- Tank, focused on damage soak, with such things as increased health, increased shield, resist boosts on killing foes, and a shield recharge spike when your shields are depleted.
- Blaster, mainly focused on dealing explosive damage, Blaster provides benefits mainly to rocket launchers, but also any weapon that deals explosive damage, and has a couple of skills that benefit any weapon.
And what's your story, young lady? What can you do? Perhaps you can bake us all a wonderful cake, haha!
Siren or Lilith. The only female class, and as is typical of RPGs, the female class is the 'rogue' or 'assassin' type. Focusing on moving fast, avoiding direct confrontation as much as possible, she does best with an SMG, or any weapon that deals elemental damage. Lilith's Action Skill is 'Phasewalk' which make her invisible as well as providing a major boost to her run speed, and ends with an energy burst dealing good damage to those around her.
Her skill trees are:
- Controller, a mixture of self support abilities, and the chance to daze foes. Abilities include a cooldown reduction for Phasewalk (from 36 to 20 seconds). Health regeneration while Phasewalked, and the chance to daze with certain attacks.
- Elemental, a mixed bag tree, which is focused mainly on elemental damage and resistance, but several other tricks. Skills include increased firing speed, increased damage for the energy burst at the end of Phasewalk, elemental resistance.
- Assassin, This tree focuses mainly on causing death, mainly melee death, the the final ability granting her an epic sneak attack (capping out at +800% melee damage while phased), the tree also includes a skill that increases phasewalk duration (from 36 to 40 seconds), one that recharges Phasewalk a little bit for every kill (up to 6 seconds per kill), and one that increases your resistance after Phasewalk ends (up to 70% for a few seconds.)
You with the sniper rifle and the crazy mask? You look like a Truxican wrestler moonlighting as a dominatrix, man.
Hunter or Mordecai. In the FPS world Mordecai would be called the 'sniper', in the Fantasy world he would be called the 'ranger'. His main focus is shooting things in the head from halfway across the map. He also supposedly likes revolvers, but I'm more fond of something scopes with a high fire rate as a sidearm (and a shotgun for blowing heads off at close range). Mordecai's Action Skill is 'Bloodwing' a predator that drops in from the sky attacking his target.
His skills trees are:
- Sniper, focusing on damaging foes, most specifically, blowing their heads off with a sniper rifle, and doing it better, faster and longer between reloads than anyone else. With skills that increase damage, increase critical hit damage, decrease sniper sway, and give a chance to ignore Shields.
- Rogue, focusing primarily on the Bloodwing, with a side order of generic utility. Mainly the skills buff Bloodwing by letting it attack more, do more damage and increase loot drop.
- Gunslinger, focusing mainly on pistols and general close in damage. Skills include a chance for a 'double tap' with pistols, improved critical hit damage, improved pistol damage, and one that makes you an even better killer when you kill someone.
And you, soldier man? Are those armor pieces from the Crimson Lance you're wearing?
Soldier or Roldand. The basic, well rounded grunt. His specialties are shotguns and assault rifles, but he does good with just about anything in his hands. If you utterly ignore his Action Skill, you because a fairly durable, fairly self sustaining build that does fair damage. His Action Skill though, the Scorpio Turret, while having the longest recharge in the game (100 seconds, to a 20 second up time), can be boosted to be outright insane. Sadly the best uptime you can get it is 20 seconds up to 50 seconds down, with an extra 5 seconds off every 2 seconds when you shoot a foe.
For Roland, I'm going to do a different format for his skills, due to the trees being split between turret and non, in each tree.
His skill trees are:
- Infantry, for the Turret, this offers a damage boost, a cooldown reduction per enemy shot, and the ability to shoot rockets. For normal weapons, this offers a global damage boost, an improvement to assault rifles, a shotgun improvement, and a skill that makes you a better killer, when you kill a foe.
- Support, for the Turret, this offers an ammo recharge for those nearby, a supply drop (up to 1 every 30 seconds), increased recharge, and increased shots fired. For normal weapons, this offers shield improvements and Grenade recharge.
- Medic, for the Turret, this offers health regen for those nearby, and the chance to revive crippled allies on deployment. Otherwise, it's offers Rolland bullet resistance, more health, increased health regen on kills.. oh and the ability to heal allies when he shoots them. No, I'm not kidding.
Further, there's also the driving portion of the game, which is mostly optional, but quite entertaining and a good way to cover long distances of map quicker, especially when you're exploring new areas. There's something disturbingly satisfying about just bowling through anything that comes after you.. until, that is your care explodes and you die.. >.>
Which leads in to death. Like modern ARPGs and even many FPS, death is not the end. It's merely an inconvenience that leads to you losing money, and getting laughed at by your friends due ot dying to Skagzilla. In Borderlands there are New-U stations, which you upload your DNA to the first one you find, and then, should you die.. for a small fee (I believe a percentage of your money), you get resurrected! Well, cloned, with all your memories and experiences intact is more fitting.
Now that your DNA is registered, you have the best in horrific death and dismemberment insurance! Should an unfortunate fatal incident occur, you 'new you' will appear at the nearest station.
What happens if you don't have the money? No clue, and since you start with $80, and the first death takes $6, and each successive one takes less... I'm not about to spend that much time to try and find out.
Then of course, there are achievements, always..
There's two types:
Steam Achievements, which are standard Steam achievements. A mixture of generic bullshit ones, mixed in with a few that are really achievements.
Challenges, these are ingame, and not exclusive to Steam, which are awarded for meeting certain numeric conditions. Killed X skags, shot X bullets, etc. These are not so much achievements as rewards for how long you've been playing. The only two that are real achievements are 'the 12 days of Pandora' which requires 1-12 of 12 different kill types, and the 'airtime' one, for the jumping car.
As an added note, there are also 4 DLC packs, which come with the Game of the Year edition (making it very much worth the extra money):
The Zombie Island of Dr. Ned: Opens up a new zone which has been over run by zombies.
Mad Moxxies Underdome Riot: Opens up the Underdome, which is an arena full of baddies, but no real story.
The Secret Armor of General Knoxx: Endgame content, bringing us an expansion of the story, level cap increase, and lots of new shit.
Claptrap's Robot Revolution: More endgame content, with an even more humorous bent than the rest of the game. The Claptraps are revolting!
My only REAL complaint though about Borderlands, is that without modifying the game, you cannot skip the 'opening sequence' for new characters, and it takes a good 3 or 4 minutes. No real problem, but really annoying for someone who likes experimenting with new characters.
"All right back there, time to wake up! It's a beautiful day, full of opportunity!"
Availability and price: (despite being over $20, the GotY is listed, simply because the DLCs are $10 each)