Amazing combat; millions of possible weapons; fun mashup gameplay.
Friends must be same level for multiplayer; no mini-map; no world map; no goal marker in fast travel.
Borderlands is an undeniably fun game with a killer concept, innovative game mechanics, a gorgeous art style, and kick-ass cooperative gameplay, but it also includes some frustrating design choices that require the player to bend to the limitations of the game. If you can do that, and you enjoy shooters and Diablo-esque action RPGs, you’re going to love this game.
The sales pitch for Borderlands is simple: It’s first-person Diablo… with guns. While exploring a large, open, post-apocalyptic world, you complete quests, collect loot, and go on adventures with up to three of your pals. While it may sound like Fallout 3, Borderland’s shooter heritage is obvious—the combat is fast and furious without the maddening influence of a random-number generator to take your shots off target. The game feels more like Quake than any RPG.
In the beginning, you’ll choose from one of four characters—sniper, stealth, tank, or a gunner/support hybrid—and progress through a series of quests, gaining experience and leveling up. With a WoW-esque triple-branched skill tree, you can customize your character with skills to increase your damage, improve your survivability, or help your pals.
Borderland’s dynamic loot-generation system is awesome. After every encounter, you’ll pick up weapons, shields, grenades, and other items that are randomly created by the game using beaucoup modular components. With millions of possible combinations, you’ll never see the same gun twice. Ultimately, though, the more powerful weapons are balanced by shortcomings in clip size, accuracy, or firing rate.
With a few friends, the game gets even better. The baddies get stronger, forcing the players to work together in order to succeed. As the difficulty goes up, the loot gets better, too. With four players connected, you’ll see rare drops after nearly every fight. Unfortunately, in order to advance your character when you play with your pals, you need to be within a few levels of them, and at the same point in the main quest (or further along). If you get too far ahead or behind, you won’t get any experience and won’t be eligible for any of the quests or the experience and loot that comes with them. The solution is to have the player who is furthest behind in the story host the game, but that can be a hassle.
Travel can be difficult in Borderlands. There’s no mini-map on the HUD, which left us frequently jumping out of the action to consult the full-screen map to find our goal. To make navigation even more difficult, the full-screen map shows only the area that you’re currently in—there’s no in-game map that shows how the different zones connect.
Despite these problems, the combat, boss fights, and weapons are a ton of fun. For the player willing to work around some minor flaws, Borderlands delivers a lot of value. In order to reach the level cap, you’ll have to play through the story multiple times, but the game is designed to reward players who take the time with more challenging baddies and ever-better loot.