We’ve discovered a new psychological condition: Gun Envy. It begins with a peek at another player’s weapon stats. Sleepless nights follow. You begin by coveting: opening crates, killing everyone, frantically searching for a bigger, better penis. We mean gun. You end up peeking jealously out of the corner of your eye at your partner’s gleaming Caustic Gamble revolver. You’ll feel inadequate. Less of a man. Just when you thought weaponry couldn’t get any more phallic, Gearbox goes and adds stats.
We warn you now, Gearbox’s bastard lovechild of an FPS and RPG unlocked something inside us: the atrophied part of our brain that couldn’t handle stats. We’re finally into our RPG puberty. A shotgun is not just a shotgun. Not when it could be shooting bullets with +12% firing rate, a 150% chance of critical hits and a 6x firing rate potential. As hardcore shooter addicts, Borderlands has altered our whole world view.
But it took a good few hours to get there. Mixing two genres requires a delicate touch: all too often you end up with too much of one and not enough of the other, and the weaker becomes merely ‘elements.’ For the first five hours Borderlands is an FPS with RPG elements, and whether you’re playing solo or in co-op, you’ll wonder what all the fuss is about.
Sure, there are four character classes to pick from: ‘mage’ (aka girl-with-psionics), hunter, tank and a support class. We specialised in the support class, the Soldier, and dabbled with the rest. And sure, the structure is classic RPG: quests that send you off to kill if not boars then the pig-like Skags, and to hunt for alien technology as opposed to magic artifacts. But while the opening area, Firestone, is interesting, it feels constrained: not big enough to inspire adventure, too small to be all there is. Quests lead off to instanced areas that don’t offer nearly as much variety as you’d expect. At this point it’s a very standard, slow-building RPG.
Because of that, it’s the shooting elements that dominate the opening. Borderlands will initially hold your interest by randomly generating weaponry. Every weapon’s stats are decided by a digital dice-roll, determining such things as firing rate, recoil, clip size, chances of elemental effects (electricity, fire, explosions) and more. Guns are Borderlands’ loot, occasionally dropping from dead enemies and appearing whenever you find a weapon crate or vending machine.
It’s a revelation, in part because we’ve never had to think about guns in a shooter before: a revolver holds six bullets, packs a punch and makes a loud bang. Then we noticed our revolver electrocuted people. The human population of Firestone, mostly punks called Raiders, weren’t just dying: they were screeching, popping in blooms of electrified air, begging for their mothers.