Borderlands: review

  • Format: Xbox360 (version reviewed), PS3, PC
  • Unleashed: Out Now
  • Publisher: 2K Games
  • Developer: Gearbox Software
  • Players: 1-4
  • Site:

If the phrase ‘a bit like Fallout 3’ is enough to sell you on a purchase then you can safely stop reading now and head to the shops. For those needing a little bit more than a sweeping statement like that, let’s take a look at Gearbox Software’s Borderlands.

Billing itself as an RPS (Role Playing Shooter), Borderlands is set on the world of Pandora and due to symbolism, accents and scenarios within it, comes across to us a lot like what it would be like if Earth were populated by hilbillies. Taking up the roll of one of four hunters looking for a mysterious area known as The Vault filled with everything you could ever want (money, women, a secure job, spicy lamb pizza, etc.), you enter Pandora and begin to explore as you level your character and learn skills as you go.

Left to right: Soldier, Siren, Hunter, Berserker

Left to right: Soldier, Siren, Hunter, Berserker

Borderlands has an interesting graphical style. It isn’t quite cel-shaded but there are hints of it everywhere and we were pleasantly surprised how good it looked in motion – especially when number rainbows flowed out of enemies along with blood as damage was done. A lot of environments could be condemned for being wastelands (hence the link to Fallout 3) but every so often it varied. Nothing is perfect and there were hiccups such as shadows flickering and texture pop-up after loads, but these don’t hinder play.

It was slightly off – putting that  character customisation wasn’t available, but you do get to colour swap a little and each character does has three skill trees. Each can use all weapons but have skills that help them excel better with certain ones and all four have unique special abilities also.

To give you an idea of what Borderlands is about we’re going to use an example of our Lv50 Siren. In the equipment slots available to this Siren are: a rocket launcher that shoots missiles made of acid, a shotgun that fires explosives, a sniper rifle that sets targets on fire with small nuclear blasts and finally an assault rifle that empties a clip in two seconds and reloads in half a second. Oh, and grenades that bounce into the air and rain down lightning.

Akin to games such as Phantasy Star Online, a key objective in Borderlands is finding bigger, better and just plain weirder weaponry as you level up to unleash pain in a variety of flavours. Equipment is colour coded to indicate rarity, but attributes are randomly generated leading to ‘bazillions’ of combinations. There are set weapons that drop from bosses, but it’s all about finding the best random drop you can.

Through everything is an underlying feeling of RPG type mechanics working damage out for you, what with skills improving aspects of your character by a certain percent and so on. What this lead to was a little pet hate of ours that was also in Fallout 3 which basically meant that even if you had perfectly lined up a shot, the calculations might decide that it still missed.

Heres what the Berserker skill tree set looks like.

Here's what the Berserker skill tree set looks like.

You may have wondered what the point is of finding these unique weapons once the fun of killing the wildlife and criminals of Pandora has worn thin. The answer to that would be to show off to friends, or even compete to see who has the best weapon. Borderlands features four player co-op from start to finish and playing with friends will see you get the most out of this game. As a single player experience it’s alright, but this is nothing compared to co-op. The game even offers incentives for playing co-op by not only scaling up enemy difficulty and XP but also by scaling up the occurrence of extra special rare equipment.

There are two simple verses modes available. By smacking a friend in the face you can initiate a duel (in the game I mean, it may have other consequences in real life) or you can enter an arena and set up a deathmatch. We didn’t find these very fun as they felt tacked on to what is in essence a co-op experience.

There isn’t much in the way of ambient sound in Borderlands and voice acting is average bordering on poor. Every so often good musical tracks kick in but nothing that ever feels like it fits what’s happening. Even towards the end of the game when there are drastic shifts in the story,nothing is accurately reflected in the music.

A playthrough of Borderlands including side quests can take over twenty hours and is surprisingly challenging at times. By the end of your first playthrough you will also be around Lv35, but the max is Lv50. When you complete the game you will have the option to switch between this completed world or a second starting over with enemies at Lv32+. This is a lot more challenging, but the loot is even greater so there is still incentives to go through the whole thing yet again.

If you loved Phantasy Star Online or those sorts of games then we would say that Borderlands is a must buy. If you aren’t familiar or weapon hunting doesn’t appeal then there is little to see here due to a sub-par story saved only by fairly solid gameplay. We also recommend looking into whether you would have anyone to play through with as, while you can play with anyone, it would avoid potential loot theft. As a single player experience it just about holds up to scrutiny, but if you are looking to play it entirely alone then knock one off the final score.

We didn’t mention Claptraps (the helper robots that you meet within seconds of starting) in this review, so we will simply say that they amazed us in so much that they can be so loveable yet so annoying at the same time. Hah-ha!



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Written by Ian D

Misanthropic git. Dislikes: Most things. Likes: Obscure references.

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