The blend of FPS and RPG is set to return to Mac this year in the form of Borderlands 2. What are we expecting from this mammoth of a title? Well we’ve decided to revisit the sequel’s inspiration, Borderlands, to explore just what makes a great FPS/RPG, and what doesn’t. Three years on, does Borderlands still have that little something that got critics raving in 2009? Let’s see.
Borderlands takes place in a dry and dusty post-apocalyptic world, when the post-apocalypse wasn’t such a clichéd setting. It follows one of four adventurers looking to find the Vault, a hidden treasure tomb shrouded in mystery and legend. Guided by a telepathic guardian angel, you’re given the task to go to hell and back trying to find the Vault, meeting a host of friendly allies, and very unfriendly foes along the way.
Borderlands Game of the Year Gameplay
The world of Pandora is bursting with life, and lifeless at the same time. When outside of the hub world, you are never safe. Not-so-vacant Skag nests, scooting bandit patrols, burying Spiderants and pterodactyl-like Rakk are just some of the foes you’ll have to face on Pandora’s barren earth. There’s hardly a dull moment when in uncharted territory.
In saying that, Pandora is devoid of something else; people. The only people you see, other than bandits (if you call those things people), are rather motionless figures used as plot devices to move on the story. Towns are deserted, roads are empty and services like the Park’n’Ride, Ammo and Weapon vending machines are only exclusively used by the player. NPCs in the game have very limited facial animation, and missions are written down rather than spoken, leaving the mission-giver only a few non-descript phrases to repeat over and over again. This makes it hard to sympathise with a troubled community under threat from the bandit population.
But it is obvious that the reason for these issues is because of the scale of the game. Borderlands is huge. The campaign takes a better part of 40 hours to complete, with tons of optional side-missions to boot.
Guns are a huge element in Borderlands. There are literally millions of them, all made by different manufacturers, with different accuracy levels, damage and ammo capacity. Some have special elemental effects, such as giving the guy on the wrong end of the barrel an electric shock, a burst of flame or a splash of acid. Finding and using a shiny, new shotgun or sniper that out-matches your current weapon of choice is rewarding to the point it becomes almost impossible to resist the urge to open every weapons chest in sight, just to see what gems lay inside.
The gunplay is not designed to be realistic, but satisfying. Hit points bounce off enemies when shot, giving you an idea of the sort of destructive damage you are dealing. Enemies range from suicidal Psychos, to beefed-up Bruisers, to shotgun-wielding Midgets, forcing you to chop and change between weapons throughout combat scenarios.
However, when you get into Borderlands, expect to do it for the long haul. The gameplay might seem to get repetitive or stale as an outsider, but what brings the player back for more is the character and story progression. Despite the game’s superficial FPS look-and-feel, Borderlands’ foundation is purely set in RPG territory.
Difficulty is indicated through the levelling system. All enemies have a level, which you can compare to your own. Despite this, there are some pacing issues in the game. Borderlands can swing from being ridiculously hard, to mind-numbingly easy if you don’t get the balance right. Go spend a few hours in one of the DLC levels, and when you get back to the campaign you may find yourself mowing down bandits like grass. It’s one of Borderland’s most prominent flaws, and I hope the sequel will address some of its issues.
If you’re looking for more variety in your game, or just feel like headshoting some undead, then the four DLC levels included in the Game of the Year Edition of Borderlands have got you covered. There’s enough content here to write a whole other review just on the DLC missions, but really all you need to know is that they’re really good. A lot of effort has been put into each one to make them a very unique experience, including new enemies, game modes and laugh-out-loud writing. What’s great is that the DLC missions are treated only as an expansion of the game rather than a totally separate segment. This means your character gets passed over between all levels, and you have the choice to come back to any of the DLC missions whenever you want.
Another way to get some XP is with the multiplayer. 4-player multiplayer is a blast if you find the right people at the right level. There is still a multiplayer community out there, albeit one that features a lot of weapon modding and hacks unfortunately.
Borderlands is a hugely ambitious title. The millions of weapons, hours of gameplay and miles of landscape is a huge achievement, especially for a game developed and released in the previous decade. It may be lacking in some of its finer details, but you’re in Borderlands for the loot-grabbing and frantic shootouts. To get caught up in this crazy world where everyone seems to have a screw or two loose.
Publisher: Feral Interactive
Genre: An RPG with Added FPS
Pros: A very ambitious game that achieves all it set out to do; a lot of guns (!); successfully took the RPG genre and moulded into an FPS format.
Cons: Pacing and difficulty issues; lack of a sense of community, some texture pop-in.