On the desolate and lawless planet of Pandora, rumors abound about a mythical vault, said to contain vast amounts of alien technologies and secrets. Some inhabitants are completely indifferent to these rumors and are content to conduct their lives in arbitrary fashions. Other inhabitants are obsessed with these rumors, devoting their lives to the search for the vault while slowly losing their sanity.
In Gearbox’s newest shooter, Borderlands, players take on the role of a vault-hunter, following in the footsteps of those Pandora inhabitants in the latter category.
Players must complete a myriad of quests, collect a ton of loot, level-up, and ultimately fire a countless number of bullets. While Borderlands includes a role-playing mechanic more reminiscent of a title in the Diablo series or an MMORPG, the game is a first-person shooter at its core. This combination of RPG and FPS elements creates an experience that is equally enjoyable and addicting.
At the outset of the game, four playable characters are available. Along with their varying strengths, appearances, and back-stories, each character also possesses a special ability and corresponding skill tree. Roland’s special ability for example is a deployable turret that automatically fires on enemies and provides cover. And Brick’s special ability is berserk, a temporary state which increases damage resistances and regenerates health.
The corresponding skill trees provide optional enhancements for the characters’ traits or special abilities. Upon leveling-up, Roland can increase his bullet damage for all weapon types or transform his turret into an ammunition dispenser. By spending points on Brick’s skill tree, players can increase his maximum health or increase the duration of his berserk ability.
Each playable character provides a vastly different experience. In turn, the skill trees ensure that even two players using the same class have equally varying experiences.
Guns, Guns, and More Guns
Outside of the character customization, Borderlands revolves around two gameplay mechanics: shooting enemies and collecting loot.
Some human enemies essentially stand still, while others run from cover to cover. Insect-like creatures have a simple tendency to run at the player, while other flying creatures attack via dive-bombing.
Regardless of the enemy – type or behavior – the game always provides a multitude of opponents at any point in time for the player to combat. As a result, firefights are always intense, which comes as no surprise given Gearbox’s experience in the FPS genre. Players have to constantly take cover, use special abilities, and hit those immensely satisfying headshots to remain alive on Pandora.
The millions of available weapons further enhance the gunplay. The procedural system to generate variations of pistols, shotguns, assault rifles, sniper rifles, rocket launchers, and more ensures that no two weapons are the same. Two weapons of the same type can vary in damage, accuracy, firing rate, magazine size, reload speed, and even additional elemental effects.
Each new and improved weapon has the potential to provide a brand new shooting experience from the gun’s mechanics and subsequent unique death animations.
While the “search for the vault” premise is certainly intriguing, the story’s execution is lackluster at best. Pandora is home to some very interesting and well-developed characters with varying motivations. Unfortunately, a lack of voice acting hides such motivations and the resulting plot points.
Satisfying combat and the gorgeous art design.
The multiplayer implementations could use some improvement.