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Borderlands Review

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The signature theme song for Borderlands continuously claims that “there ain’t no rest for the wicked,” but anybody who has stepped into Pandora will tell you that the good aren’t getting much rest either. A lot of gamers have a hard time classifying Borderlands due to its expansive formula of gameplay that offers not only a free roam philosophy, but a loot system, leveling system, first-person shooter mechanics, player-Vs-player gameplay and 4-player co-op. While the developers are dubbing the title a RPGFPS, appropriately, Borderlands kind of reminds me of a smash up of all of my favorite things from four to five other games under one roof. Is this something that is a negative? By no means is it a negative, because while Borderlands does borrow from other franchises, it provides a unique experience that those other games can’t even begin to think of offering to a gamer from any stand point.

To me, and I’m aware this is going to send their official forums into a frenzy, Borderlands feels like a mash-up between Fallout 3 (simply for its wasteland like offering and free-roam abilities), Crackdown (in art style), Left 4 Dead (4-player co-op in a survival-type atmosphere), Too Human (in how the loots are so vast and you can play for hours on end without getting what you want or need, making it that much sweeter when you do) and finally, any great First-Person Shooter (for its FPS abilities, obviously). If you were a fan of even 60-80% (3-4) of those titles, chances are, Borderlands is going to appeal to you and keep your attention for well over a month. If that style of games isn’t what you’re into, you may find it hard to get into Borderlands like I have. Regardless, I think you should definitely rent it if you’re unsure, because Borderlands isn’t going to be for everyone, but it’s definitely going to have a mass appeal.

So, let’s jump into the review now.

Story

Borderlands takes place on a distant planet at the edge of our galaxy known as Pandora. Settlers from Earth travel to Pandora in hopes of settling into a new, yet peaceful life, but upon arrival they soon discover that Pandora is nothing more than a barren wasteland. Most who originally settle here choose to leave, so long as they can afford to – however, some stick it out in hopes of finding alien technology to trade for riches and a better life.

Everything takes a turn for the worse though when Spring starts to roll around and various monsters come out of hibernation seeking food and the desire to fill their bellies. Unfortunately, you’re on the menu and it’s up to you to survive through it all in order to find the ultimate chest of alien technology known as the Vault. Earlier settlers who found this gold mine were entirely wiped out by a defensive force protecting this alien technology and thus raiders have one goal in mind – to be the one who finds the vault and catapults themselves into riches.

Gameplay

Borderlands is not a place for the weak at heart. Players wanting to pick up a shotty, sniper rifle and a pistol and just run through the game are going to be in for a very pleasant (unpleasant, depending who you ask) surprise. Gearbox has most certainly tailored their game to the ideology that players should take their time and enjoy everything the game has to offer in order to work their way through it. While the main story is scattered across 30 missions, there are 130 side-missions that should be considered while playing. These side-missions give players the chance to properly level up their characters allowing them to continue through the game at a decent pace. It also helps prolong the game and adds a decent amount of playability while scouring the vapid wasteland for loot and treasure worth finding.

Character creation is a simple process, you choose between four style of players, Mordecai (Sniper-style), Lilith (Magic-focused weaponry), Roland (Medical-inspired) and Brick (the Brute tank). Once you’ve chosen which player/class you’d like to play through the game with, you have the opportunity to follow your robotic buddy, Claptrap, to a character customization screen that allows you to pick the color scheme that your character will wear throughout his adventure in Pandora. This is pretty much the only thing that will separate you from the other players you play with through co-op outside of the weaponry of course.

When it comes down to weapons, I don’t think any game comes even remotely close to Borderlands in terms of choice and differential between gun to gun. As many of you know, Gearbox created a random generating loot mechanic that allows for all dropped weapons to randomly generate statistics and boosts to help differentiate them from one another. This gives gamers the opportunity to play through and more than likely not see any two guns that are the exact same. With a confirmed 17,000,000+ weapon configurations, you may have to play through the title 5-7 times before even realizing you’ve had the same gun twice now. This variety of weaponry also enables the game to play different each time you play because your experience is ultimately impossible to replicate every time through.

Action-packed is probably the best way to describe the combat aspect of Pandora. Those of you planning to sit 30 feet away from each monster and just snipe them off one at a time are going to find it very difficult to beat this game. Though, playing in co-op and assisting a brute like Brick from afar does have its advantages and is probably the best way to utilize Mordecai’s efficiency with sniper rifles. However, the majority of the combat is going to take place up close and personal. Prepare to go balls to the wall in action-oriented gameplay that keeps Borderlands from ever getting dull. For those of you wanting to utilize a scout-like hunter such as Mordecai yet still remain competitive in solo-play, please be sure to focus on skills that will help you as the game progresses. If you focus too much on sniper rifles and pistols, you end up suffering later on down the road when you’re facing mobs of aliens that may be a little out of your level grade.

The best suggestion I can give you is to play to your character’s strengths. If you’re going to utilize Mordecai, be prepared to face a much tougher road to completion than if you use Brick or Roland. Obviously your play-style is going to determine exactly how difficult it is for you to get through the game, but if you match your skill sets and characters to your preferred method of play, you should be able to personalize your gaming experience and tailor it to be effective. That is of course, as long as you’re not some idiot trying to be a healing sniper playing through the game alone. Then you’re just asking to get your ass kicked throughout the game.

The multiplayer aspect of Borderlands is quite impressive and entertaining. Being able to play splitscreen with a friend or online with 4 buddies is a great addition to the title and definitely helps the grindfest move itself forward at a great pace. While players can drop in and out like flies, the game’s enemies will tailor to those of the host, so if you’re a lowly level walking into the home of a superior player, expect to get your ass kicked repeatedly. While I wish it could keep everything at an average where some monsters are around your level and some are higher up, it would give a nice balance and give you a sense of purpose other than human target practice or a free meal.

Graphics/Audio

The sound presentation for Borderlands is exactly what you’d expect from the trailers and teasers thrown out by Gearbox prior to release. The game is filled with dark humor, crude jokes and great dialogue to keep the game entertaining even 15 hours in. The cinematic cut scenes string together perfectly and are placed appropriately apart in order to keep things interesting and give a nice balance of play. Unless you’re doing nothing but grinding, you should be able to hit a cut scene every so often as you move through the story line.

Visually Borderlands is a powerhouse of beauty. The decision to switch from a grittier look to that of a cel-shaded paradise was absolutely brilliant from a design perspective. It allows the game to carry its own unique perspective on the vapid wasteland idea and adds for an element of gore that goes beyond the realistic tones or Fallout 3 style of play. When you punch someone’s head into a pile of hamburger meat for the very first time, you’ll know exactly what I’m talking about.

Conclusion

Borderlands only true downfall has to be the fact that it’s stuck releasing between Uncharted 2 and Modern Warfare 2. If this was releasing in an off-month like June or July, it would receive praise and Game of the Year notions in terms of quality of play; however, due to its release schedule, it may get mixed in the gray of other GOTY-worthy candidates. It also doesn’t help that Borderlands is geared more towards the hardcore gamer opposed to the casual player. Those enjoying the aspects of grindings those levels out in co-op or solo mode will enjoy Borderlands for everything it is…those who don’t, should probably rent it first. As for me, I’m a hardcore gamer and feel Borderlands is worth every penny and then some – especially once Zombie Island is released. Bring on the pain!

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Comments (29)

  • Crimsontwist

    Great reviiew, game looks awesome. Hopefully it’ll be better than Fallout, didn’t like it much.

  • DeadlyAnGeL91792

    nice review dean hmmm im still thinking about weather to get it or not

  • The Dean

    This game is better than Fallout 3. It’s action packed combat makes it much better than Fallout’s slower pace of play.

  • SonyJunkie

    How long can this game last. Is it story driven and then your done, or do you want to play it for hours and hours like other RPG’s??

  • lilbizzle1

    sounds brilliant, yeh it does look more hardcore. glad to see a review up finally. Cant wait till friday Uk.

  • Nuvian

    nice review, i was just wondering…. can you play through the whole story co-op? as in finishing the whole game from start to finish with someone and both getting progress/trophies/quests completed?

    or is it more like Fable? just visiting each others game world?

  • lilbizzle1

    if your playing splitscreen you get all the trophies, quests ect but online it is down to you what you get but if your doing quests together, storyline you both progress and that stays with you when you go back to single player mode and then online again.

  • fumssa

    So what would you say is your overall review score for borderlands on a 1-10 scale?

  • The Dean

    @Fumssa

    Sorry, I don’t score games. It’s not possible and anyone who does, is working in a fantasy world.

  • SpaceInsomniac

    @The Dean

    You should try telling your teachers that sometime. Sorry, you can’t grade my paper. It’s not possible and if you do so, you must be living a fantasy world. That’s all game scores are anyway. They’re just an opinion and a grade.

    Still, I have to admire you for sticking to your guns when it comes to your stupid review principle that I don’t at all agree with. ;) Seriously though, as far as your review goes, nice job. You’ve now been linked over on the official forms, so you should be getting a fair amount of visitors from this. Congrats on getting the game early as well.

  • The Dean

    @SpaceInsomniac

    That doesn’t make much sense as a comparison. In school, your paper is only graded by one teacher throughout the entire year. So your standard of work, etc. is always graded on the same principle.

    In gaming, games are graded by 100s of individuals, all with different scales, breakdowns, and justifications. If I give this game an 8, what makes it an 8? Is that really any different than an 8.2? What’s the differential between an 8.0 and an 8.2? Do you know? I don’t. If a sports game receives an 8, is it the same thing as a FPS getting a 8? Or is it different because each genre has a different expectancy?

    Review scores on games are ridiculous.All they do is fuel fanboyism and stupid petitions (IE: UC2 and GameTrailer petition). If the review content sounds like it’s a game you’d enjoy, you should pick a game up. You shouldn’t expect to make a decision based on a number.

  • Jake

    Looks good but i don’t think it can beat Fallout 3,

  • Zr0

    @ ‘The Dean’ in post #11:

    I also refuse to give games a number rating. Rather I prefer to give a ‘a-b-c-d-f’ type review rating, that way nobody is comparing a “score” on an opinion.

  • Icarus

    This game looks promising!
    I don’t know if it’s going to be better than Fallout 3, but if it’s just half as glitchy, I’ll be satisfied

  • Hero

    Great review, Dave. I really want to play this, co-op sounds like a blast, and I love me some RPG qualities.

  • Hero

    Oh and also, thank you so much for not using numbers/letters for rating things, I prefer reviews to not have them so we don’t get the whine parade in, since most are too lazy to read the whole review or even just the conclusion for a summary.

  • fumssa

    In that case I’ll reword my question. Which did you have the most enjoyable time with; this or uncharted 2?

  • Dan

    It’s only flaw is its releae date? How about the completely useless fucking retarded AI that gets stuck on scenery why you stand there shooting it?

  • Walt D.

    @The Dean

    I agree completely that scoring a video game on a one to ten scale can be misleading in many respects, but reviewing consumer products of any type is something of a public service to help people make decisions with their money. I don’t have the money to buy every game that I “might enjoy,” so I have to prioritize. Sure it is subjective, and even the best product reviewers will be inconsistent occasionally. However, I think a good product reviewer can enumerate a relativistic score with reasonable accuracy. Such a person would need experience to gauge it correctly in comparison with other contemporary and previous titles (novices will often give an 8 or 9 out of ten to any offering, but experience tempers such mistakes). I mean, you could give a game 8/10, and still say in the written review that “this game isn’t for everyone.” And to be honest, I wish reviewers would be more subject with a sliding scale; there are probably twenty times that IGN gives a score of 9 for every one occasion on which they give a 2. But again, the main point of scoring a game is to give consumers a way of making an end choice, and yes, you do have to compare it to contemporary titles; one might decide, “Well I want to give it a 9, but there is no way it is better than Game X, which scored an 8.8.” Paying attention to scores has never been about “fanboistic” boasting for me. I am concerned with choosing what deserves my time and money via a measured (albeit a subjective) method, and I’m sure many others want such relativistic advice quite as much as I do.

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  • BrutalVisitor

    That doesn’t make much sense as a comparison. In school, your paper is only graded by one teacher throughout the entire year. So your standard of work, etc. is always graded on the same principle.

    In gaming, games are graded by 100s of individuals, all with different scales, breakdowns, and justifications. If I give this game an 8, what makes it an 8? Is that really any different than an 8.2? What’s the differential between an 8.0 and an 8.2? Do you know? I don’t. If a sports game receives an 8, is it the same thing as a FPS getting a 8? Or is it different because each genre has a different expectancy?

    Review scores on games are ridiculous.All they do is fuel fanboyism and stupid petitions (IE: UC2 and GameTrailer petition). If the review content sounds like it’s a game you’d enjoy, you should pick a game up. You shouldn’t expect to make a decision based on a number.

    THANK YOU! You, sir, are awesome. I liked your review, and i really like your standpoint on giving numbers to games. Every time i watch a review on gametrailers or some such site, i hear them say “it’s got this problem, and that problem” and give it a 9/10. Ive seen them give crappy scores to games i love and amazing scores to games i wouldnt touch with a super nintendo controller. I’m always more interested in reading about WHY they gave that score, like IGN does when they give a game 5/10 for story, they give some insight into why. It’s kinda sad that so many people are so caught up in numbers, as if a single digit, or even a digit and a fraction could sum up an entire game and how much you will enjoy it.. and most importantly IF you should spend your hard earned money on it.

    Much respect, The Dean. Keep the reviews coming :)

  • Herbman82

    I see your point, but personally when I decide what game to buy with my hard-earned money the “score” really SHOULD not matter. Surely it’s better to base your decision on a well-written and in-depth review?

  • Walt D.

    Well the point is I want both a score and a detailed written review; I couldn’t make a decision on a score alone either. Score is for comparing with other games (and determining if the written is worth my time), while written is for seeing if I would enjoy the games pros and can live with the games cons.

  • f.aa

    I’m going to have to agree with The Dean here. Using scores in reviews is utterly useless. Until about an hour ago, I had never hear of the Playstation University, but after reading this review this site is going straight into my RSS reader based on the sole fact that it conveys the game using words, and it doesn’t boil it down to a single number.

    Now on to the scoring debate… I think the only scoring system I’d ever like, would be the thumbs up or thumbs down approach. Other than that, I don’t think there’s any rating system that’s going to work. Was the game worth it’s price? Thumbs up. Was it not? Thumbs down. And I’m not completely sold on that either.

    I’m not going to buy a game just because it gets a 100%, or 10/10, or 5/5, or A+, or five shotgun shells to the chest out of five. Nor will I completely ignore a game because it scores 50% at Metacritic. I buy games that sound interesting inside the genres of games that I like.

    The first time I heard of Borderlands, I was sold. Mad Max meats Fallout, with tons of procedurally generated weapons in the style of Diablo. It had me at Mad Max. This was, what, two years ago? It’s been a very long wait.

    Scored reviews have several fundamental flaws. First of all, reviews are subjective. I’m sorry, but they really, really are. You can try all you want to be objective, but at the end of the day, the review is _your_ opinion of the game. So when you say it’s 9/10, well that’s all nice and dandy, but I may not agree.

    So when you have 10 different reviewers giving scores and you try to average it out, it really doesn’t work. Yeah this one person gave it a 6/10 because he doesn’t like the save system, so now an otherwise good game gets dragged down because one guy (or gal) doesn’t like checkpoints. And this other person gave it a 2/10, because they don’t like strategy games. Uhm… Maybe you shouldn’t have reviewed it then, should you… That’s just stupid.

    Second issue is scoring inflation. Let me tell you a story about an old Amiga magazine I used to read back when I was a wee young lad. It scored games using dices, so 1 was crappy and 6 was awesome. Anything 4 and up was good, anything 2 or less was crap. I guess 3 was OK. Then one day Frontier: Elite II came out. And the reviewer really, really liked this game. More so then any other game he had ever played, in fact, so the game ended up with a 6 with a bonus star. That’s how good it was.

    But then another game came along that was so good, that really, how could you not give it a 6 with a bonus too? And then another game! And so forth… Suddenly, instead of having a scale of 1 through 6, the magazine really had a scale of 1 through 7. Ouch. So now we had all these new games that were rated 1-7(ish), compared to all these previous games that were rated 1-6. Turns out, some of the older games were in fact better games then some of these newer ones, just cause once you start using the “exclusive best” for a bit, it’s not that exclusive anymore and you’re more willing to hand it out anyone and their dog.

    Then of course, as a third issue, is the fact that some reviewers hand out scores based on the brand name, rather than the game itself. Ooooh, GTA16, well that’s a 10/10. Never mind that it’s bugged and unfinished. It’s a classic franchise! Oh, and these guys just spent $100k to advertise on our website.

    Well, let’s try something different then. Let’s try an A through F grading system. Well, I commend you for your tries 1UP (and anyone else that does this), but the basic problem remains. Metacritic is just going to assume A+ is 100%, and divide your B’s into whatever percentages they think they are. So I can still compare you’re A- against someone else’s 82%. So you’re really back to square 1. Just because it looks different, doesn’t mean it is different.

    If you’re still reading, why are non-scored reviews better? Because you have to let the words to the talking. Be honest, when was the last time you read a full Gamespot review, instead of just skimming the score? I’m as guilty of this as everyone else. I look up Metacritic and look at the average, and I read the tiny little blurbs. But it’s when I read reviews like this one that I really get to know if I want the game or not. Because I read through it and I think “ooh, I like that” or “hm, I don’t like that”. If the “ooh”s outweight the “hm”s, and it’s a game I’ve been excited about for a while, I’m very likely to pick it up.

    As a last point, I can see some people now going “But how do I know whether I should get Borderlands, or MW2, or Dirt2? I want to compare scores and buy the one that scored highest”. I’m sorry, you’re an idiot. Sure, they might all be good games, but they’re all _completely_ different kinds of games. If you want a shooter, buy MW2. If you want a role-playing shooter game with tons of weapons, buy Borderlands. If you want a god damned racing game then buy Dirt2, why would you even consider something else? _That’s_ how you’ll know.

    Here’s what I do. It’s my own little scoring system. Based on three things. 1) How excited am I about the game. 2) Is it a game in a genre I generally like. 3) How many “ooh”s vs how many “hm”s. So a “wickedly excited” game in a genre I like with even “ooh”s and “hm”s win over a game that “Looks neat” in a genre I’m blah about with all “ooh”s and no “hm”s. Because why would I play a game I’m not excited about? Which, incidentally, is why I’m picking up Borderlands rather than UC2 and MW2. UC2 looks good, but I’m less excited about it then I am Borderlands. And MW2 does not excite me at all, no matter how good it might look. I already have Unreal 3, so if I want to duke it out FPS style, I’ll just play that.

    Sorry for the huge rant. Sometimes I get all worked up. And I’m sorry if I called you an idiot. Sometimes, I’m an idiot too. Just ask my wife. Although most likely you’re not an idiot. You’re just a victim to capitalistic sheepism, and don’t know any better.

  • daevv

    Just found out this game will be $38 at Walmart upon it’s release (limited time of course) so I’m getting this tomorrow!

  • TheRighteousFascist

    Great review. I didn’t realize that you wrote such good reviews. I’ll check ‘em out more often. I can’t wait for this game. Tomorrow, baby, yeah!

  • Noxia

    I also agree that scores are pointless. Nice review.

  • Othor

    I, personally, thought your review was top notch. Definitely captured the feeling of the game and what it’s about. I got the game last night, and as far as I’ve played, the only reason I stopped was because I had to go to work. If it were up to me, I would still be playing. I don’t think I have a single thing to say that’s different from your review, The Dean, and I especially loved your bit about Mordecai, since he is my character of choice. For those of you wanting to play Mordecai, I definitely recommend that you play with a Brick, as suggested. I found it easier to snipe with a distraction, although I suppose the Bloodwing is supposed to cover that job in single-player mode (I haven’t gotten him yet, and I’ve only played split-screen).

    Also, I noticed you didn’t say anything about the split-screen co-op. Let me give you my opinion: If anyone has played the Halo co-op and liked it, then you’ll feel right at home. While the screen can feel cramped, it’s all about the experience. The ability to freely roam is a wonderful addition to the game, and the guns that pop up are rather lovable, especially when you can bring them into your own single-player game, as my partner did. All in all, the game is great, and the humor hits spot-on with the atmosphere of Pandora.

    Great Review, The Dean, and I respect you for not giving it a number.

    Keep going, dude!!

    Othor

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