Borderlands Legends preview - hands-on with the iOS top down shooter

Bringing out the mini-guns

Vault hunters? Check. Mutants and monsters? Lots of 'em. Guns? More than you've imagined in your wildest boomstick fantasies. Borderlands Legends has all of the components that ultimately make Borderlands so gosh darn endearing. Almost.

For starters, the next expedition to Pandora won't occur on on your console or PC: This is a top down action shooter for iOS, which launches on October 31 for $4.99 on the iPhone and $6.99 on iPad. Legends pits the original four vault hunters--Mordecai, Lilith, Brick, and Roland--against seemingly endless waves of enemies.

Legends takes place between the first Borderlands and the second, but there's not much here in terms of story. Whether or not that will end up affecting the game's long-term appeal remains to be seen--but if our demo was any indication, there's still plenty of shooting and looting in store. Each randomly generated mission starts off simple enough, as small numbers of gun-toting jerks come at your four individually controlled squad members (sorry, no co-op play this time). You'll have to tap and drag each of the vault hunters behind cover to provide them with defensive bonuses, while simultaneously placing them in strategic positions to fend off hostile forces.

In practice, Legends plays sort of like a cross between a tower defense and horde-mode game, and it can get pretty hectic. Some missions are downright ruthless (a doomed-from-the-start encounter with General Knoxx comes to mind), and we found ourselves getting overwhelmed by enemies at times during our demo. Thankfully, each of the vault hunters is equipped with special abilities that'll come in handy during just such occasions, and anyone who played the original Borderlands will recall most of these. Mordecai can summon Bloodwing, Brick can activate Berserker mode and punch stuff into pieces, Lilith can Phasewalk, and Roland can summon his turret--but all the characters have more than one special skill at their disposal.

Enemies give experience points and often drop cash when killed, which you'll pick up by tapping the screen. Once you've got a fat wallet, you can thin it out by visiting a vending machine and purchasing new gear for your squad. Shields, utility items, and, of course, guns are all available here, and there's a staggering amount to choose from. Because each character only has access to one type of gun, it's easy to quickly compare and equip stronger firearms with a couple of quick taps.

But limited gun access doesn't detract from the experience, especially because each character has a skill tree that enhances his/her role. This system works like it did in previous Borderlands games: Level up, and you get a skill point that can be spent however you choose. Turning Brick into a walking tank while beefing up Roland's turret yielded pretty decent results in our demo, but each character has more than one option available when it comes to skill tree builds.

It's hard to imagine Borderlands as anything other than a first-person shoot-and-loot-fest, but Legends is a logical expansion of the franchise to the mobile market. The top-down perspective really translates well to touchscreen controls, and, best of all, Legends seems to retain all the things we love about the series. As if we needed another way to feed our gun-lust addiction.

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