There has yet to be an addictive loot hunting title for consoles that matches the incessant nature of collecting tons of useless items like the massively popular World of Warcraft and Diablo for the PC. Sure Too Human satisfied some of the hunger, but until now no game has matched that need for ridiculous amounts of loot. Borderlands is the latest first-person shooter from Gearbox (the guys behind the Brothers In Arms series) and it literally defines the bridge between RPG games, loot gathering and of course shooters. The combination of all three genres creates an experience unlike any other, not to mention one of the most addictive outings you will have this holiday season.
The premise behind a loot gathering game is that you start off with some crappy weapons and a weak character, and as you progress you begin to earn more and more cool stuff. It is the equivalent of ADD gaming at its finest. You will rarely carry the same weapon for more than one or two levels, depending on what you find. Borderlands has an enormous amount of weaponry, and it introduces it to you at such a brilliant pace that each gun is slightly better, or in fact cooler than the last one. There were times where I had three various combat rifles that I wanted to use at once, and the fact that your inventory increases at a snail’s pace certainly doesn’t help.
You begin the game with enough room to carry a handful of guns and some armor. As your loot increases things become tight. During quests you don’t always have access to the shop to sell your extra goodies, so I ended up leaving many a gun on the cutting room floor. This was probably one of the biggest gripes I had with the game. Eventually you can find and repair Clap Traps that will give you inventory slot increases, but when you max out at 42 slots, the sheer amount of loot in the game seems almost meaningless. I am hoping for a DLC upgrade that gives you a place to store your loot or perhaps even more slots to hold all the goodness, but as of now I have to part with too much, and too often.
When you begin the game you have the option of choosing from one of four characters, each with their own unique brand of specialty. The soldier class is your standard shooter character who most non-RPG gamers will likely start out with. He eventually earns healing abilities and his skill tree is focused on more of a balanced approach. You have the tank character that takes tons of damage and deals out even more but lacks in speed and quickness. The Siren who specializes in corrosive weaponry and can even turn invisible, and finally the Hunter who is deadly with a sniper rifle and a bit crazy to boot. The best part is that you can have multiple saves and experiment with each character as you see fit. Each one plays differently enough that playing through each one is worth it if you enjoy the game. Considering maxing out to level 50 takes quite some time, this could pose an interesting undertaking.
One of the reasons Borderlands is so addictive is the RPG elements. You earn experience for every enemy you take down and each quest you complete. Earning experience eventually levels you up, and once you open up your abilities and skill tree things get very interesting. Each character has a unique tree that allows you to customize your attributes as you see fit. You can also re-arrange them later in the game to attempt a different path. The main skill for each character stands as the front runner, for instance the soldier has access to a turret that eventually can be used to heal characters and even replenish bullets when activated. What gets so addictive about all of this is that you are slowly transitioned into each ability and learning how to distribute points and tune it to your play style is a learning progress. You can even share you character tree online at the Borderlands website.
The quests are also broken down into categories depending on your level. There are numerous spots to obtain them and they range from simply killing a set number of enemies to collecting pieces of a broken sniper rifle and beyond. The biggest draw for me was that addiction of ‘just one more quest’. When you turn one in there is always another one waiting on you. I also like how it gauges the difficulty based on your level. Quests can also give you bonus and special items, as well as money and experience. Quests also open up new areas of the world and of course new vehicles and weapons which only adds to their addictiveness.
When you first pick up the controller you will quickly realize that Borderlands is a shooter with built in RPG elements. This varies from the other game people like to compare it to, Fallout 3. Fallout felt more like an RPG with shooter elements built into it. This is probably why the two games feels strikingly different, but still vaguely familiar. Borderlands plays host to one of the smoothest engines for a shooter I have played this gen. Aiming is silky smooth and the hit detection is spot on. There is rarely anything more satisfying than nailing a critical hit on an enemy and watching their head explode into a fountain of blood; gory, but still ultimately satisfying. It is also worth noting that each gun feels amazingly unique. Thanks to special abilities in certain weapons and the balance played into each attribute, you can definitely feel a difference when you pick up a superb firearm, and it really attaches you to it.
The core game is plenty enough to keep you enthralled, but if you want the really good loot you will need to hop online and play some co-op. Up to four players can jump into the world of Pandora together, and you can help friends power level much like Blizzard’s popular MMO. When playing online you can gather some of the best loot because the enemies are tougher and in greater numbers. My experience was pretty smooth across the board, and even when playing with someone much higher or lower of a level than me it balances nicely. You can also start a duel with another player by melee attacking them. This serves little purpose outside of displaying your dominance among the herd.
Anyone following the progress of the game no doubt noticed when the art direction took a drastic turn from realism to a more cartoon inspired look. The world of Pandora is a dusty place, but the new visuals do a great job of conveying atmosphere. Enemy designs are fantastic and the areas are distinct enough to keep them from bleeding into each other. The guns are also all very unique in design and the frame rate handles itself quite well. The only complaint visually is that the texture pop-in can be bothersome when you don’t install the game to the Xbox 360 hard drive. The user interface takes a little while to get used to mainly because of its abundance of information. Once you get it down though you will appreciate how much info it delivers in such a crowded area.
Sounds are equally impressive with some truly hilarious dialogue to accompany the outlandish character designs. The music fits the setting well and increases when it needs to, mostly during boss battles and intense areas. There are audio files scattered around that are also entertaining and enough cannot be said about the Clap Trap robots. I swear they stole our “uhn tiss uhn tiss” techno song from the weekly podcast, but they are nonetheless hilarious. Everything in the world of Borderlands seems to fit and is well implemented. Presentation is another area where the team has excelled.
Borderlands is one of the biggest surprises of the year not because of how good it is, but how good it is considering the lack of hype. This game has single-handedly stolen my soul since it arrived at my doorstep and I find myself needing to level up once a night, much like my wife and her World of Warcraft addiction. If you are a fan of shooters or loot gathering games do not hesitate, just buy the game already. The 50 level cap may seem like a burden, but trust me there is more than enough here to warrant a purchase. This is one of the best games out right now and easily in my top five games of the entire year.