Borderlands - Xbox 360

Game Description: Borderlands is a sprawling sci-fi action/role-playing game set in the deep recesses of space, featuring randomized terrain, enemies, and weapon permutations numbering in the hundreds of thousands. There are four playable characters each with their own special abilities and attributes, and lengthy quest chains that yield experience and new loot.
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Borderlands Hands-On Impressions

Borderlands Hands-On Impressions

By 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.

Comments are Closed

  • shin0bi272

    Judging from the videos and the preview review Id say that this game will be sort of like STALKER only with vehicles, classes, and the ability to customize your weapons. It sounds fun since I really enjoyed STALKER but if it takes 40 rounds to take some guy out because he has a shield and I dont have bombs or the ability to take them out quickly (except for the mini bosses) I might get frustrated and stop playing. Its not worth wasting my time on a game that im going to have to use everything I have to beat some random guy walking around. First person shooters are usually fast paced, fun, and immersive. This looks immersive and looks like it could get fast paced but it also looks like it could get really complicated and frustrating. Messing with your gun can be fun but if you spend more time doing that than playing the game are you really having any fun? I guess we'll have to wait and see when it comes out.

    Posted: September 25, 2009 9:16 AM
  • NineTaledGundam

    i cant wait, i already pre ordered this, fully paid and now i play the waiting game, the only bad thing is halo ODST and MW2 are comming out around the same time and i think its gonna hurt there sales a bit

    Posted: September 16, 2009 12:35 PM
  • downtown25

    He seems to spend most of the article complaining, then endorses the game at the end and says "Despite some small nitpicks, the game is incredibly fun and fulfils my desire for loot in the best ways." Small nitpicks? All this guy did was complain. Even his title is a complaint.

    Let's list and address his many complaints:

    He, complains about a lack of story when he wasn't able to play the full game. He hasn't seen the full story how can he complain about

    He says there aren't many item slots to fill. How many does he need?

    He complains about a lack of inventory slots early on. We'll unlock more as the game progresses, you shouldn't be able to haul everything you want right from the start.

    He says "enemies take alot of fire in a very unrealistic way." Guess he wants nothing but one shot kills, like in real life, that'd be real fun in an rpg.

    He then complains about ffa loot distibution. He complains that ammo isn't shared. There should be enough to go around; he'd probably complain if there were too much ammo.

    He complains that players can't occupy different zones simultaneously even though the zones are probably large and there is no tether while together in them.

    He writes that dueling doesn't add much beyond bragging rights and achievements. Guess he doesn't like that a feature was put in just for fun.

    It looks like this guy tested the game out just looking for flaws and he might have found a few, although they are insignificant. This game is going to be a sleeper hit; it's something new going against many reproduced and reworked sequels.

    My impression of this article, it is terrible. Absolutely the worst I've read imho.

    Posted: September 16, 2009 8:44 AM
  • erneststevens27

    Damn this game make wanna................
    I love good cell shaded games. I feel like breaking out the pencils and paper and touch up the scribble skills. I'm gonna buy it regardless.

    Posted: September 16, 2009 6:59 AM
  • shaggysasquach

    for the love of god please tell me i can make it split top / bottom and not just left / right..i have a 50 inch tv and still had to trade in vegas 2 because you couldnt change the split screen

    Posted: September 15, 2009 11:14 PM
  • returnofrage

    They MUST put in a fair loot system for me to pick this one up. FFA wont cut it with strangers.

    Posted: September 15, 2009 7:40 PM
  • GreatAlmghtyPoo

    any one else think the guy on the box art looks like he's from Jet Set Radio on the dreamcast?

    Posted: September 15, 2009 6:17 PM
  • mexpex22

    oh man i am really excited for this game. it would be nice to have it and play it now but i will have to wait another month. sigh. it looks amazing, i just really hope it sells alot and does uber well.

    Posted: September 15, 2009 3:38 PM
  • Raverenz51

    I can tell you what happened in Diablo II if you really want Leahy. All you have to do is watch the cinematics a couple of times like I have to understand the real story behind a lone wanderer who seeks to free his brother from the world stone, and the journey he and the follower take throughout the game. The story basically took place and you traced his steps throughout the game. But I truly see your point in the end.

    Posted: September 15, 2009 2:23 PM
  • NakedSnake14

    Nice because I am highly obsessed about this game too, now that my wallet has opened up with the failure of WET and MUA2.

    Posted: September 15, 2009 2:13 PM
  • ghetto2u

    i cannot wait for this game....although i am a little disappointed that there isnt a larger multiplaer aspect besides co-op....this game looks like it would be perfect for some 4 vs 4 action like LFD. cept you toss in the item system and its a wager gear vs gear wouldve been interesting

    Posted: September 15, 2009 1:26 PM
  • top8cat


    i agree in a sense, but u really cant talk about fallouts differences from borderlands because they play different, but still i know what u mean "especially about the bloody mess perk but that 5% damage increase is a must.

    Posted: September 15, 2009 12:04 PM
  • Masquerade

    So is this game fun for the shooting element? One of the reasons I really didn't like Fallout 3 was because the shooting was absolutely terrible and boring; not to mention if you have Bloody Mess for the 5% damage increase that also makes the guy explodes into pieces if you shoot him in the foot (which gets extremely old, really fast).

    Posted: September 15, 2009 11:50 AM