Borderlands Hands-On ImpressionsBy Brian Leahy - Posted Sep 15, 2009
This was my third time playing Borderlands, but my first opportunity to really spend some time with the game, explore all four players classes, and get some solid co-op time in with Gearbox’s loot-filled shooter.
These Characters Have A Story You Won’t Care About
Borderlands attempts to do something different with its classes. It names them, even though they have arguably less personality than the Barbarian from Diablo. In fact, it has the opposite effect for me. I expect more details out of named characters, but it just isn’t in the early part of the game. There is a real story here, with your character attempting to find a legendary vault of hidden alien technology on the planet of Pandora. Let’s be honest, though. How many of you can tell me what happened in Diablo II?
The named classes consist of Roland the Soldier, Brick the Brawler, Lilith the Siren, and Mordecai the Hunter with unique skill trees. Each class is defined by signature ability. The soldier can drop a turret that can shield and heal allies while laying down some cover fire. The brawler develops a case of “Roid Rage” and powers up his melee attacks. The siren can turn invisible for a limited amount of time, gaining a speed boost and doing some nice area-of-effect damage when she transitions to and from invisible. The hunter gets a hawk that can fly out and attack targets for a good chunk of damage. Skill points can be dropped into buffs for these abilities as well as passive upgrades to things like damage, reload speed, and firing rate. My favorite ability? Shooting teammates to heal them!
The emphasis of the gameplay, however, is on the actual weapons and the classes play very similarly in the beginning of the game before the skill trees can be explored in detail. Certain classes are better with certain weapons based upon available skills, but every class can use every weapon. The only requirements to use items are level-based.
Sweet, Sweet Items!
Beyond the guns, there aren’t many other item slots to fill. You’ll equip a shield that serves as your armor, a grenade mod, and a third slot that didn’t unlock in the preview that I played. Finally, powerful artifacts can be found that are class-specific and power-up the signature ability of that class. For example, while playing as the Hunter, I got an artifact that added a large amount of fire damage to my hawk.
The guns themselves come in the following flavors: repeater pistol, sub-machine gun, assault rifle, shotgun, sniper rifle, repeater rifle, revolver, launcher, and alien. Each can come with elemental effects and other randomized bonuses. The best (and most enjoyable) weapon I found in my playthrough was a revolver that shot exploding bullets and set things on fire. It killed most enemies in a single shot, causing them to explode in cel-shaded glory.
Enemies will drop guns, but I found the best weapons in crates placed in enemy camps or behind challenging mini-bosses. Unfortunately, in the beginning of the game, the inventory is quite limited and you’ll struggle to pick up all the guns you want (even if it’s just to sell them). There was no “town portal” system to quickly hit a vendor and off-load loot in the preview, but I can’t rule out this functionality in the final game.
You’re responsible for aiming your shots (remember: headshots = critical hits), but the stats of your weapon and skills will determine damage. As a result, get ready for some enemies to take a lot of fire in a very unrealistic way. This is where the game’s RPG core really comes out to play. Human enemies will eventually get their own shields, which helps explain why it takes 40 bullets to drop someone, but do not come into Borderlands expecting realistic damage models. In trying to take on a particularly tough enemy, I ended up circling him and emptying every single bullet into him before breaking down and meleeing him to death. It’s a very RPG-esque encounter and you will run into situations that you are not prepared for at your current level. Luckily, that’s what leveling up and collecting gear is for!
Bring Friends, Not Pubbies
On console, Borderlands boasts four-player online co-op and two-player splitscreen play. Co-op in Borderlands is incredibly fun, but the nature of the game means you’ll likely play alongside friends rather than in public groupings. Loot drops are free-for-all with the spoils going to the player with the quickest reaction time. If you aren’t playing with people that go in with the expectation of sharing and distributing loot, get ready to get angry. Money is shared across all players, but nothing else (ammo, health) is communal. Enemies drop a lot more ammo in co-op, but it leads to carefully looking at each drop to determine if it’s ammo you actually need and not the shotgun shells that your buddy requires. A shared ammo-system would greatly improve the experience and pacing.
Another strange restriction placed upon the game is that players cannot occupy different zones simultaneously. If one player triggers a transition to a new zone, all of the other players are brought along for the ride, no matter where they are. As a result, the game doesn’t quite have the same feel as Diablo II, where players could go off and do their own thing but still occupy a populated game for a bigger challenge and better loot. It works for Borderlands, but is open to griefing. Friendly fire, thankfully, is out.
Players are free to play whatever class they want in co-op and you can use a character from your single player game seamlessly. Dueling is also possible, but doesn’t add much to the game beyond bragging rights (and a few associated achievements).
Is It Out Yet?
It might sound a bit glaringly obvious, but the biggest issue I have with Borderlands right now is that I’m already at the point where I’m looking forward to it and I’m sold on the concept. I just wish I could play beyond the stopping point in the preview to see how it plays out in the final product. Despite some small nitpicks, the game is incredibly fun and fulfils my desire for loot in the best ways. October 20 feels like eternity at this point.