Borderlands lacks the charm of Fallout 3, Mass Effect, or Half-Life 2, but it does offer a crap-ton of ‘roided-out bandits, effed-up dog things, giant spider demons, and screeching pterodactyl beasts to shoot with a crap-ton of guns. And that’s really what it’s about – finding weapons and shooting things with them. You have to assign a skill point now and then, and there’s kind of a story, but those things don’t matter much. You can skip the text description of every quest in the game, because they will always consist of the following steps:
B.Kill some shit.
C.Flip a switch or something.
D.Kill some more shit.
It’s a bit like an MMO in that respect. Quest-giving characters yammer like schizophrenic cassette players, barking out the same few lines every time you enter or exit their domicile, and vacantly assign you quests which you will not read the descriptions of. The bulk of the game is a combat grind, and everything else just exists to offer a modicum of structure. And if this all sounds horribly negative, keep reading – Borderlands is not a bad game, and for some, the heavy focus on combat and loot collecting will be a plus (it’s not as if it hasn’t been done before…talking to you, Diablo).
You’re one of four vault hunters on the wasteland Pandora. Naturally, you’re looking for “The Vault,” a legendary location packed with alien technology and riches and stuff. Oh, and there’s a grainy, scan-liney woman trying to help you find it. That’s about it. This is all explained in a stylish and very cool cutscene at the start of the game.
And then the excitement takes a hit as hard as the dog beast in the screen above. After the character selection and gameplay introduction are over, the once promising characters are reduced to a few catch phrases, your robotic guide quickly becomes annoying (and thankfully leaves you alone, mostly), and the devious Doctor Zed, who is introduced with great style, turns out to be a cardboard cutout (and so do the rest of the NPCs you’ll meet).
And what of the grainy, scan-liney woman?
She just reappears throughout the game to let you know that you’re playing it correctly. Which means befriending the locals by killing bandits and performing errands for them which also involve killing bandits (and sometimes dog beasts). The excitement level does ramp up again, but not thanks to any more examples of the style displayed in the first ten minutes of the game – it’s a shame that such a cool feeling fades so quickly. After the opening, it’s entirely the gun collecting and combat that make the game worthwhile, so we won’t even mention the story again.
It’s all about the guns: combat rifles, machine guns, sub-machine guns, shotguns, sniper rifles, revolvers, pistols, rocket launchers, and many that can’t be categorized or that we ought not to spoil. And of each type, there are multiple manufacturers, models, bonuses, and elemental modifications. Seriously, there are a lot of guns.
Above: Discovering a quality weapon stash is a very satisfying feeling
Your skill level in a certain weapon type will rise the more you use that type of weapon, and you can use any weapon with any character (though your character’s skills are geared toward certain weapon types). All of the weapons have merits, and you’re best off not constraining yourself to any one or two weapon types. You could try getting through the game purely with sniper rifles and pistols, but you’d probably get frustrated and pick up an SMG or shotgun eventually. But that’s not a problem. As you progress through the game, you gain more inventory space and weapon slots, and you should have room for roughly one weapon of each type. Plus, you’re pretty much forced to try new weapons, as you’re very likely to run out of your favorites’ ammo eventually.
Above: Choosing what to keep and what to toss is the most difficult decision in the game
Ammo is actually pretty plentiful. Everything drops ammo, and there are lockers and crates full of it. But when you do run out, it’s a real bitch. Certain long firefights will definitely deplete your supplies, leaving you to search around for crates (while being shot at), or retreat to a vending machine to purchase more. This isn’t a huge detractor, as these situations are only momentarily frustrating, but it will probably irk you at some point.
Above: Some weapons have been modified to deliver extra damage and effects, like this static shotgun
And weapons aren’t the only loot. There are also shields, some of which offer special resistances and healing properties, grenade mods, which drastically change the way your grenades behave (bouncy, sticky, teleporting, health leeching…whatever you want, there’s a mod for that), and class mods, which boost specific skills and introduce new ones. There’s a lot of stuff to collect on the barren world of Pandora.