2K Games has succeeded in creating a mash-up game that can truly be praised. This FPS-RPG is firing on all cylinders delivering fast, fun, and addictive game play that will keep you from putting down your controller for a long time.
As a big fan of the RPG genre I always get nervous whenever I see an RPG mash-up. It’s a genre that’s really hard to keep interesting unless you get the formula right. Luckily, 2K Games focuses on what I think is the most compelling reason to play an RPG – persistent looting. But looting alone is not quite enough – you also have to have fun while you’re doing it.
Borderlands takes place in Pandora – a grim, dirty, desert-like world that’s overrun by all kinds of evil-doers. Apparently, there’s a secret alien vault that’s filled with all kinds of rare and valuable technology. You are a vault-hunter and are tasked with hunting down this treasure.
Rather than focusing on pausing the game play and rolling the dice in-between each bullet that fires, Borderlands actually lets you fire your gun, and it feels great. The combat is just as good or better than any FPS I’ve ever played. There’s a Call of Duty-esq “shoot down the barrel” mechanic that allows you to get really accurate shots and I didn’t find a single gun that wasn’t a blast to use.
This game is packed with guns. There were times where it felt like I was switching out my gun for a new one every fifteen minutes. All the staples are here – handguns, shotguns, assault rifles, sniper rifles, rocket launchers, etc. Just like any good RPG, as you progress in level, the guns get progressively better as well. Along with guns, the other loot you’ll find consists of grenades and different types of shields that recharge – much like the overshield in Halo.
Unlike a conventional RPG, there’s no gear to change and upgrade – the loot is limited to weaponry and shields. I don’t have a huge issue with this and I think it’s attributed to the fast paced FPS nature of the game. This game is about shooting and looting, so why not focus on guns? It seems to make sense. The one reason this does irk me is because other than selecting your characters name and choosing a class (which I’ll get to in a minute), there’s no real character customization. In a game where you can’t use gear to differentiate yourself, it would have been nice to give your character its own unique look. The guns also start to look a lot a like, and the only thing that really differentiates them is their stats, which is all fine and good – it just would have been nice to see a few more designs. There’s nothing better than showing off your sweet gear to others.
There are four classes to choose from: the solider, hunter, berserker, and siren. The soldier is probably the easiest class to solo. Soldier’s have lots of weapon specialization capabilities and can be skilled up to be able to heal themselves on critical strikes and bolster the groups ammo reserves. The hunter is much like the hunter in the World of Warcraft. You get a bird pet that you can send out to attack and tank your target while you shoot away from afar. The siren has the ability to phase to avoid damage and at the same time deal damage to enemies. The berserker is for those of you who on occasion like to put down your gun in favor of smashing your opponent with your fists. They also specialize in using Rocket launchers. I personally really enjoyed playing as a solider and a berserker. I suggest playing each class for a couple of levels and figuring out which one suits your play style.
The quests are given to players in a Warcraft-like log that lists any quests you’ve got left to do or that you’ve completed but haven’t handed in yet. Doing quests will net you experience and money as you hand them in. The characters you’ll meet in Pandora are fantastic and the voice acting is really well done. The story however, leaves something to be desired. It’s not too deep, but in the end, if I wasn’t reviewing the game, I probably would have been skipping cut scenes to get back to looting anyway – it’s just that addictive.
It’s definitely possible to play through the entire game on your own, but it’s much more fun to play with a group. The enemies become more difficult and the loot drops become even better. The only issue with playing with others is that there’s no way to trade items. In order to give a gun to someone else, you first have to drop it on the ground so they can pick it up. This sends me back to the days of Ultima Online when I was constantly looking around in fear for one of those terribly annoying players looking to steal my stuff. There’s also no looting system, like a “need and greed” window, which we’re so used to seeing in RPGs. This again allows a mischievous player to loot all the corpses before anyone else has a chance too. The only upside is that there is so much loot that if you play for another hour, you’ll probably find something better anyway. What I’m ultimately trying to say here is that if you’re worried about it, just play with people that you trust. Hopefully these things can be fixed in a patch later on.
You won’t reach the level cap (level 50) on your first play-through. Once you finish the game with a character, you can select the “play-through 2” option. This will take your character from the previous play-through and pop him back into the same world – only this time around the enemies are much stronger.
Speaking of enemies, the bad guys in Borderlands look great. There are tons of different enemy models, and they never got boring or repetitive. The boss battles are also a lot of fun and the bosses look great. The AI is pretty good. Enemies will take cover and the game seems to have an aggro mechanic that work’s similar to a conventional RPG. Sometimes the enemies seemed to rush at me too quickly or give up a little too easily, but I think it was fairly decent overall.
The art style of this game was a big draw for me. I love the hand drawn look of Pandora and the characters within it. Everything in this game looks great, including all of the enemies and NPCs you’ll come across. The game sounds great too. I loved the music and all the sound effects are spot on. I definitely suggest using headphones if you don’t have a great sound system. They really allow you to hear all the nuances of this great game - kudos to the sound team. The only issue I ever discovered in the audio/visual realm was that the frame rate does drop a little bit when there’s a lot going on in the game – but it’s only marginal.
The bottom line is that this game is near-perfect and if you love looting then this is the game for you. Whether you’re flying solo, or grouped up with some friends, you’re going to have a great time shooting your way through Pandora and leveling up your character along the way. If you’re an FPS fan and you’re not used to the RPG element, you should definitely give this one a try, because I think it will really open you up to a whole new genre. I applaud 2K games for proving that a mash-up game of this ilk can really work. The only thing I want to know is when 2K Games are planning on releasing the MMOFPSRPG version.
Reviewed by Mike Baggley | 11.12.09