Developers: Gearbox Software
Publishers: 2K Games
Plot: In an apocalyptic wasteland, there is a legend of a secret vault that may or may not exist, containing endless treasures.
The best way to describe Borderlands is a comedic take on the Fallout series, giving players that apocalypse action for those that thought Fallout was a little too dark.
There is a market for parody games. Fable might be the satirical take on Elder Scrolls, but it also has its own material to bring to the table, making it a franchise in its own right. Saints Row might have started out as an alternate Grand Theft Auto game, but as it hits its fourth game, DLCs constantly springing into play, it has moved away from its source material to become its own series. Therefore, despite setting its sights as a mock Fallout vehicle, there is still hope for Borderlands. It obviously has done well, as the PS4 and Xbox One released the third title recently, with Telltale Games starting their spin-off series of the universe. However, I found the first game to be very poorly made. I loved the universe and the setting. It resembles Fallout with a similar landscape and the mutated monsters that inhabit the open area. However, when it comes to story, it also borrows from the Mad Max movies, giving the bad guys (and some of the good guys, in fairness), that same eerie madness that a lot of the baddies in the Mad Max movies suffer from. The dark humour also works really well, a lot of the subtle jokes hitting the mark exactly where we want them. Almost every character has their own personality, filled with some good gags. On top of that, the vault mystery, as well as the appearance of a Guardian Angel, a mysterious woman who secretly messages the player throughout his adventure, is compelling enough to keep the gamer fixated on this mysterious world. Yes, the story-telling is very strong with Borderlands, but the gameplay is abysmal.
Borderlands gives the impression that it is putting a lot of faith in its combat system. The map will have several ‘safe’ locations with missions given out. The player needs to traverse the ‘borderlands’ of the safe places to turn in the various missions. In between these key locations is just a wide space of combat. Most of the time, you will be crossing a large map, getting to your mission, rather than actually completing any mission. Borderlands is a great example of why I am getting fed up with open world games. You will be walking along a desert area and will find a canyon, filled with a small pack of dangerous monsters. You will spend a good five minutes clearing out the area. The enemies in Borderlands often come in large groups, swarming you being their primary tactic. You will soon learn that rather than charging in head first, the smartest thing to do is slip closer and closer to the monsters or bad guys in the distance, until a handful of them spot you. You fall back, a small portion of the enemies following you, where you finish them off in digestible numbers. You repeat this process, until the area is cleared. It is quite common for you to turn the corner and find the next group of enemies, waiting to be dispatched. Getting anywhere in Borderlands is quite a lengthy and arduous process. It strikes me that the level designers conjured up a couple of enemies with their own AI and dumped them around the map, not really paying attention to how difficult or time-consuming it would make the simplest of missions. The checkpoint system sometimes only kicks in three fights away, so if you slowly chip away at the various opponents, yet the last group kills you, due to your health bar being gradually diminished, you will find yourself back to the start of the map. It is frustrating.
In fact, after a while, it becomes so much easier to cheat your way through the levels. Quite often, there will be a mini-boss, usually a mutated, giant version of what you usually fight. For example, after killing hordes of apocalypse spider mutants, you will likely have to kill a giant, building-sized spider. It is stupidly strong and taking it on will often consist of you firing everything you have it, while running backwards, hoping that you chip its health away before it gets you. If it does get to you, you get respawned a few steps away from it (the checkpoint system is at least more kind when you are taking on a big enemy), usually watching it from behind, as it stomps your old corpse to the ground. There is no grace to the fighting; it is simply chaos. After struggling to take it out, sometimes you will find a vantage point where you don’t even have to fight it. Sniper perches out of reach, where you just fire round after round into a defenceless boss baddie. Sometimes you can get outside the fight zone to your armoured vehicle and shoot at the enemy with your cannon, from a good distance away. It feels cheap and lousy; I don’t want to resort to these dirty-handed tricks to beat the game, but the difficulty is so uneven, I feel I have no other choice. If a giant monster is letting my rocket launcher casually bounce off of it, then I have few other options if I want to progress at any sort of speed. Again, like the swarm situation mentioned above, this happens far too often and it just ruins the entire gaming experience.
These are the largest problems, but there are many more. The story is good, yes, but Borderlands doesn’t want to disrupt play with cut-scenes. Most of the time, meeting a new character is shown through text on your screen, rather than a character physically coming out to meet you. It creates a distance between the player and the story. The people in Borderlands are interesting, but we are only ever told about their antics and personality quirks, rather than seeing them for ourselves. It also rushes through exposition, so you can be thrown right back into that combat system I love so much. Borderlands, quite frankly, is a bit of mess. The earliest signs that this game might not live up to the reputation it has created for itself is when you meet Claptrap, your quirky sidekick for this game. Thankfully, he isn’t a constant companion, but when he is with you, he is annoying. Break away to explore your surroundings, as is common in an open world game, and your sidekick gets impatient, constantly telling you to follow him. His sing-song voice grates after hearing it for the first two minutes. An unforgiveable mistake.
Final Verdict: I like the concept of Borderlands, but I don’t like much else. A lot of work is needed before it is the game it should be.