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Borderlands Review

by Michael "txa1265" J. Anderson, 2009-12-17

When a developer is touting a 'cross genre' breakthrough as solidly representing the interests of multiple game types, at some point it has to deal with the conflict between the hyped up marketing campaign, the expectations created by a combination of publishers, developers and customers - and the actual game itself. And so Borderlands has to address the expectations and reality born out of the juxtaposition of the boasts of a 'what if a FPS and RPG had a baby?' campaign mixed with the much more subdued 'press info' claiming it as a "first-person action title with player customization". The game has gotten plenty of attention due to its potential as another FPS/RPG hybrid, so let's take a look and see how it does as a shooter, a role-playing game, and as an overall experience.

Every Picture Tells A Story Story

In the first few few minutes playing Borderlands you will experience a few things: the basic plot setup, the graphic style and sound design, an introduction to a sort of deus ex machina figure, and the setup of the four characters you can choose from. Then you are kicked off the bus, given some brief controls and actions tutorials and introduced to a helper with a voice straight out of Nicktoons. This is a game that gets you from intro to action pretty quickly, while also providing as much tutorial as is needed but not so much that you'll grit your teeth that badly having to repeat the beginning when replaying or choosing a new character.

Hey, wait a minute - I thought this section was about the STORY, and you skipped over that in a few words about a 'plot setup'! What gives?!? Fine ... so I'll talk about story, but try not to include anything that would be considered a major 'spoiler'. Well, when you first arrive you do meet several colorful characters in the first half-hour, and there are some decent plot elements scattered around the game. But in terms of 'story' things are pretty thin: you have arrived on the planet Pandora, and there is a huge famous vault that is reputed to contain enormous wealth, and that has attracted you and other treasure hunters to the desolate world in an attempt to gain super power and wealth. Then you spend the game doing little quests while simultaneously working your way towards opening the big vault.

See - I TOLD you the plot was thin! Of course there is more to talk about in a game of this sort than just the main plot. So let's take a look at the characters you get to choose to play, as well as the quests and non-playable characters (NPC's) that make up the bulk of your experience in Borderlands.

The Cook, The Thief, His Wife and Her Lover

When you are introduced to the motley crew on the bus, you get a basic idea about the focus of their strengths as well as the name of their special ability. You can think of these as your base class and your special class ability, since that is basically what they are. The game was designed for co-op play, taking a full party through, but in single player mode you take on the challenge solo. That has some interesting impacts that I'll discuss later. For now, let's look at each of the playable characters:

Randall is the Soldier, and his special ability is a deployable turret. He is the typical 'balanced fighter' character, but if you are playing co-op you'll find he is also works as the healer and re-supply station.

Mordecai is the Hunter, who has a pet bird-of-prey Bloodwing as his special ability. He excels at sniper rifles, and fits the typical ranged warrior role, and his special friend also provides ranged attacks.

Lilith is the Siren, with a phasewalking ability that gives her combined super-speed and invisibility for a short time period. She is essentially an assassin class character, given to getting loads of critical hits and dealing added elemental damage.

Brick is the Beserker, who likes to pound on things and use explosives, and his special Beserk mode allows him to regain lost health while dealing massive damage for a short time.

Each character has a core special ability as noted, and after reaching level 5 gains access to their skill tree. The skill trees for each character contain three branches, and each branch contains seven skills. The seven skills of each branch are grouped into four 'levels', which means that you cannot simply take the most powerful skill as soon as you have access. Each skill can contains five levels, and you need to use your skills in a single branch to unlock more powerful skills in that branch. If you have been doing the math as we have been going along, you'd realize that your character would have to be level 40 to completely fill out a single branch. That isn't impossible, but it should also be telling you that you cannot attempt to fill out all of the skill trees. In fact, at the maximum level of 50, I was able to reach the top ranked skills in two branches by making judicious choices.

Just to interject a general comment that applies to all classes: your character has a certain health level and a self-recharging shield. Your health will increase as you gain levels, but is also dependent on your class. Your shield is a physical piece of armor that you improve by getting new ones - each has specific attributes such as health regeneration or a burst of elemental damage when it is depleted. Naturally, many of your enemies possess similar shields. Also naturally, some weapons are more effective at breaking down shields than others.

As an example, my first character was Lilith. I can hear it already - why is the guy who monolithically chooses a fire-based mage or a paladin archetype taking on an assassin character? Simple - her skill tree was full of elemental damage! Lilith has the core PhaseWalk ability that gives her invisibility as well as super speed. Also, she lets out a damage blast when entering and exiting the PhaseWalk. Once she hits level 5 you have some decisions to make: do you go 'Controller', 'Elemental, or 'Assassin'. My personal choice was a combination of Elemental and Assassin. Elemental gave me increased firing rate and elemental damage, while Assassin gave me increased PhaseWalk damage, better critical hits, and cool kill bonuses.

All of the other classes feature similarly fleshed out skill trees, with similar limitations in terms of what sorts of skills you can reasonably expect to master. This is one of two times when you have to make choices that will impact how the game plays for you down the line - and the other was when you chose the character in the first place. More on all of that later, but let's start with a look at the quests of Borderlands.

You must cut down the mightiest tree in the forest with...a herring!

Everyone who has played a RPG knows about that moment when you feel you are about to come face to face with your ultimate destiny of saving the world and destroying the greatest force of evil ... and then you get tasked by a minor NPC to do the equivalent of rescuing a kitten from a tree or picking up a loaf of break from the store. That describes many of the quests - both main and side - in Borderlands. Looking for deep meaning here? Move along ... move along ...

Borderlands features 160 missions, with 56 related to the main storyline and the other 104 side missions simply there to help you gain more money and experience and items. That sounds like a ton of stuff, and it really is! You will be busy with tons of quests and combat and action for dozens of hours! In terms of length you will spend around 30 hours getting through the game in solo mode or in co-op, at which point you can take your character at the level you finished (probably ~30) and start a new game and face more challenging enemies until you max out at level 50. Given four characters and perhaps three builds per character, along with playing co-op missions with friends, it is possible to put more than a couple hundred hours into Borderlands to see everything it has to offer. If you manage that, more power to you!

But as most folks know, there is a significant difference between loads of busy-work and a satisfying experience. And sadly I found the majority of quests in Borderlands to be busy-work. There were quirky characters, such as the guy who wants you to go on a killing spree and fetch back his leg. Or the guy who was standing around 24/7 just waiting to hand me the all-important quest to go into a different zone, and pick up the missing flux capacitor to help finish the chronosynclastic infundibulum generator (I made that one up, but it might as well have been true). The short story leading up to the quest is invariably more interesting than anything that happens later. It can be argued that missions in shooters are all 'go here, wipe out everything, walk over widget A and return'. But for contrast, the recent Red Faction Guerrilla had missions where things would twist and turn mid-stream, where there would be multiple in-mission interactions, and an overall more complex and satisfying structure.

In Borderlands, every mission lives and dies based on how much you enjoy the layout of the map and the combat opportunities.

That extends to the main quest as well. You will have more information thrown your way as you initiate and complete missions that advance the main quest, but in between it is hard to differentiate whether you are on a main quest or an optional quest other than by reading the notation in your quest log. Speaking of the quest log, it is very helpful and perfectly suited for a casual game like this - you are spoon-fed loads of information that allows you to pay very little attention to whatever is going on or being said. You always know that a map pointer or set of directions is only a click away, so there is no need to immerse yourself in the details of what is going on. That falls in stark contrast to Risen, where you need to pay close attention to what is said and actually find your way to the proper locations to accomplish your quest.

Since I am trying to avoid spoilers, I can't specifically detail the ending ... but suffice to say that it is one of the most annoying and unsatisfying endings of the year. We aren't talking Risen-level bad here, but a notch below. It is the sort of ending that typically has me replaying the early part of the game to revive at least some of my optimism.

One other thing on story and questing: Gearbox seems to think they are funny, and some folks I have talked to claim to have 'laughed out loud'. They try to be cute with some naming of enemies and some silly references and a few 'break the fourth wall' things thrown at the gamer. Some made me briefly smile, but other than that I think I must be missing the joke - perhaps if Gearbox had named Dr. Ned 'Dr. TittieBoobyFace' instead these folks would have called it comedic genius.

The Big Sell on Cel-Shading

As I mentioned at the beginning, one of the first things you'll notice about Borderlands is the visual style. The game uses a detailed 3D engine that utilizes cel-shading to provide a distinctive art presentation. Cel-shading is also called 'toon-ing' by some, as it takes 3D graphics and uses a non-realistic rendering process that produces images with a comic book appearance. Some games - such as the 2003 shooter XIII - take the style to the point of feeling much like an interactive graphic novel. Borderlands uses the common practice of simply applying the outlining and partial shading effects to give a somewhat flatter appearance.

Personally, I thought the game looked great in terms of details and presenting a unified and consistent visual style. There is a 'dark & gritty' TM look to everything, and it all forms nicely into a consistent world that suits the story and everything you've learned about Pandora early in the game. I will discuss the content that was displayed in a bit, but the main issue I had with the graphics is the lack of flexibility. It is a theme I will also discuss later - this is a console game ported to the PC - and that is obvious throughout. But with the ability to make some minor tweaks to the settings, I was able to get great looking results.

The sound is another highlight - if you have seen any of the trailers you know what to expect. Over-the-top voice acting and pulsing music. The voice acting is very well done and further reinforces the 'lunatic fringe' feeling of the areas you visit. There are a few sane and intelligent people you meet (mostly women), but for the most part everyone seems to be 'not quite right', with a real backwoods 'hick' mentality. I expect that many will find it annoying, but as I said I found it in keeping with the overall feel of the game. The soundtrack is pretty decent, but aside from specific places where the music is featured it is pretty sparse. This is unfortunate because what is there is very good and fitting - I just wished there was more. Also, the dynamic music system that kicks in during furious combat is very well done.

One area where games typically fall flat is variety of sound effects: you get a few nicely done weapon and explosion sounds and that's pretty much all. Either they grab sounds from too few sources, or just get things wrong and have two fighters using staffs sound like they are using swords. Borderlands actually attempts to differentiate the bazillion different weapons with a wide array of sounds and effects. For a game that is all about guns, it is nice to see that they put the emphasis where it belonged; after all, you'll be spending the majority of the game roaming the world alone shooting things, so it might as well sound good. And it does sound very good: Gearbox did a very good job of doing something that is really not very easy.

"I hit you" ... "No you didn't" ... "Yes I did" ... "No you didn't" ... "Yes I did" ... "No you didn't" ... "Yes I did" ...

One of the biggest concerns playing a hybrid FPS/RPG is that the impact of stats upon your skills means that you might miss shots in spite of your inherent shooter skills. It is something that games like S.T.A.L.K.E.R. and Fallout 3 have had to contend with, and it always makes things feel rather kludgy. It is the sort of thing you will either love or hate: personally I can deal with the knowledge that my odds of hitting something are a calculation of my personal ability and my character's skill allocation. In this sort of game it makes sense, but it seems clear that Gearbox was reluctant to listen to whining about 'cheater AI' or whatever and made the FPS system quite dominant in terms of hits and have the character stats play more into the damage and critical damage percentages.

The game rewards you for weapons use: if you keep using a pistol your affinity increases and you gain levels in that weapon skill, which in turn increases your damage and accuracy ratings. This system rewards you for making a choice with your characters and sticking with it, although in the natural course of things you will likely level up your skills in multiple weapons for ammo-saving or situation-specific reasons.

However, beyond the player versus character issue is the fact that the hit detection system in Borderlands ... is inadequate. OK, let's just be honest and say it is crap. The obvious problems come to light when using the sniper rifle and rocket launcher.

Let's start with the rocket launcher, as it is more direct and insidious: in a word, it is broken. The first time I fired a rocket - which was in itself an act of anticipation since the level requirements are high and the carry capacity is low - I waited in joyful anticipation as it sailed through the air towards the target. It should have hit him directly in the chest, but instead sailed through and landed in front of someone else and caused them splash damage. I repeated this several times with similar results, and eventually stopped using it with Lilith (who should never have used it anyway, but hey - it looked like fun). In a subsequent playthrough, with Roland at the helm I tried again ... and guess what happened? I have read some threads where people claim that expecting it to hit someone is using it wrong, as it is meant as an AOE weapon. To me that is one of the stupidest things I have ever heard - a rocket is a projectile explosive, meant to detonate on impact. Direct damage should be singular and massive, whereas splash damage should be a reasonable AOE.

My goal with Lilith was to make her a critical hit machine with a sniper rifle, picking off enemies with elemental-enhanced shots from a distance. I had gotten a sniper rifle very early and made good use of it, picking off raiders and bandits and various beasties and leveling up my skills. Later I got better guns with elemental damage, augmented by my choice of Lilith's elemental damage path, and was able to one-hit kill many monsters from a distance, effectively thinning the crowd so I could survive to take out the rest of the herd. However, not all fights work that way - sometimes the game spawns in enemies all around you after you have entered a zone or passed a 'trigger point', meaning you need to suddenly deal with enemies all around.

I can deal with that sort of inept 'ghost spawning', as FPS games have done it for years. The problem is that you are then forced to make heavy use of cover, and as Lilith you are not equipped to go toe-to-toe with any of the heavy brutes invariably thrown at you in these situations, so you need to phasewalk to the nearest cover and start sniping easy targets. This is where the problem starts - the hit box detection for the sniper rifle is broken. If it worked, it would be simple: that which you can see through your scope you can hit with a bullet. However, if you are just barely out of cover and so is your enemy, chances are you will not hit them. Only by pulling further out of cover and exposing yourself to damage - and often also needing them to move out of cover - will you hit them. Given that the very reason for using a sniper rifle is to be invisible and methodical, having to make sure you are clear of cover to get a hit is a pretty serious flaw.

The remainder of the guns worked fairly well - I have read folks complaining that the shotguns are either weak or over-powered, and the same for SMGs and so on. But from my playthroughs I found that it depended upon my character skills and the weapons I chose. The game will tend to drop weapons useful to your base class, meaning that if you play cross-class (like my sniper-Lilith) you will need to work harder to find the best weapons. But it all works out if you keep track of things.

Billions and Billions ...

OK, so Carl Sagan never said what he is famously mis-quoted as saying, but who really cares?! One of Borderlands selling points is a random weapon attribute system that results in over 16 million distinct weapons available. Of course, that number makes sense when you think that there are pistols, repeaters, revolvers, SMGs, heavy repeaters, hunting rifles, sniper rifles, and so on; and that each one has different accuracy, damage and firing rate; and further that each weapon can carry special damage such as elemental damage or enhanced criticals or whatever.

Of course, these really aren't completely different weapons, but make no mistake: there are a TON of truly different feeling weapons in Borderlands. And you need to understand what every weapon offers you: just looking at the raw damage number doesn't tell the whole story. I had a massive damage sniper rifle I was holding until I hit the right level, and when I used it I found it less effective than the one that delivered 33% less damage but was augmented with elemental effects. That is because the added effects broke through the shield and started doing direct damage, and also partially immobilized the enemy.

Despite the fact that you will be dealing with loads of weapons, there are only a few types of ammo: several classes of weapons share ammo types, making it critical to choose a load-out that spreads out your ammo usage effectively. You can have up to four active weapons - you start with two and gain slots as you gain levels - so it is useful to select a weapon with a different ammo type for each slot, so when you switch weapons you will also be pulling from a different ammo pool. The only exception is grenades: you carry different grenade types, but there is also a 'grenade ammo', so rather than picking up 'EMP grenades', you simply have the weapon type 'EMP grenade' and pick up 'grenade ammo'. This can be rather confusing as it is different than standard shooter convention.

Of course there is one prominent weapon type I've not mentioned - the vehicles. Early in the game you get access to vehicles, which make traversing the world much quicker. They all also have mounted weapons to take out enemies, as well as the ability to run over your foes. Strangely enough, in single player mode the game will let you enter the gunner position and just sit there like an idiot trying to figure out how to move rather than forcing you into the driver seat. I found the driving controls rather wonky - I could get around OK, and shoot OK, but neither controller nor keyboard & mouse ever gave me a fully satisfactory experience. Perhaps it hasn't been long enough since I played Red Faction Guerrilla, but the vehicles in that game were superior in every way.

I had gotten into an interesting discussion on the guns of Borderlands and was asked - why does your gun damage increase when you level-up? Honestly, I have no idea, but know that it tends to happen in most games of this type. I mean, it makes sense for your accuracy to increase, which would make you land more criticals and be better at exploiting weaknesses, but should spraying bullets really do more damage when you hit a new level? I guess if it didn't you would never be able to tackle higher level enemies.

Ten Pounds of Sugar in a Five Pound Bag

Do you remember early in the remake of The Bard's Tale how a joke was made of how swords and armor would miraculously pop out of slain rats and wolves? The joke here is a bit different: as you go on your very first quest, you will find that just about everything you kill drops something, and you only have a dozen slots in your backpack!

As you progress through the games you will discover ways to increase your carry capacity throughout, but the maximum slots available through normal play is 42 slots (some have gotten more, but apparently that is a glitch). And you thought that Dragon Age: Origins had stingy storage! With the wide variety of stuff you can pick up during any given mission, you will constantly be fiddling with what to keep and what to drop. This is important since you will need to build up a supply of cash in order to buy upgrades and weapons and so on - and none of it is cheap!

I have no idea who thought that constantly trekking back & forth through respawning enemies to sell off gear or having to drop countless items - especially early in the game when you are very limited in both inventory and cash. But let me just say, it makes for an annoying grind-fest that is only improved when playing with others - because then you get to share the load.

The First Annual Elvis Look-Alike Contest

There have been more than a few comparisons between Borderlands and Fallout 3. To an extent that makes sense since they are shooter-based, have leveling, and take place in a post-apocalyptic wasteland. There have been comparisons to S.T.A.L.K.E.R., which are done for the same reasons but makes more sense in many ways. The main difference is that Borderlands is much more focused on delivering a satisfying shooter experience for casual console gamers, whereas Fallout 3 had a mediocre shooter interface, and S.T.A.L.K.E.R. was heavily dependent on your character's stats for making things happen.

Another similarity is the criticism of the color palette - while S.T.A.L.K.E.R had some amount of variety that made sense for the realistic depiction of the area, Fallout 3 was criticized for having a very bland color scheme. But compared to Borderlands, those games might have been called 'Rainbow Adventures'! The entire game looks the same from start to finish, and while the details and textures are very well done, the environments depicted are dreadful. I refer back to Red Faction Guerrilla - here is a story taking place on Mars - not exactly known for environmental variety - and it still manages to give a much more interesting environment that an entirely fictional planet!

The sameness extends to the enemies: you face what feels like six enemy types from beginning to end of the game. The psycho you meet early on looks the same as the psycho at the endgame, from appearance to behavior. I have mentioned enemies taking cover, but that is one of the very few examples of any sort of intelligence. I was shocked at how the game uses piles of hit points and sheer numbers rather than making enemies more intelligent. It is one thing when going against mutated beasts who you would expect to act in a purely instinctual mode, but for enemies who are supposedly also looking for riches on the planet to simply charge at you like something out of Doom is just absurd.

We're all in this together ... Wildcats in the House ...

Apologies for anyone with High School Musical fans at home, but that is what I thought of in terms of the co-op mode. There are different forms of multiplayer, but ultimately the only one worth considering is the co-op mode. This allows up to four players to drop-in and drop-out of the quest and join the main player (host) at completing quests. If you have even played a game like Left4Dead, you know just how much fun this can be - heck, if you have played a decent cop-op RPG you know how fun it is. But I mention Left4Dead because it is handled very much like a shooter co-op game, only I found the experience in Left4Dead (and the sequel) deeper and more robust.

Borderlands co-op is just a fun romp - but make no mistake, playing this game with a full set of heroes is absolutely the most fun and best way to play, and I encourage anyone who has only played it solo to hop on multiplayer and give it a try. On the down side you have to deal with Gamespy, which has proven buggy and unreliable as a multiplayer interface for this game. But once you get a game going it is great fun.

In specific contrast with Left4Dead 2, Borderlands feels like '4 player single-player mode'. Things tend to be frantic, and seldom are you acting like a team as the enemies tend to split and swarm based on their silly AI. Also, since leveling is so important, while it is possible pop-in / pop-out, if you are not all at somewhat the same level it takes away all of the fun because it will become a game of 'keep the enemies off the lowest level ally'. That said, while I wasn't overly enamored with the vehicles in single player, working together as a driver/gunner team in multiplayer can be fun - it is just too rare that you really have that opportunity.

Keep your distance... but don't look like you're keeping your distance. I don't know, fly casual.

I have read lots of folks say that if Diablo was remade as a FPS you would get Borderlands. I look at it differently. I say that if you crossed Diablo and LEGO Star Wars and added the requisite trendy 'dark & gritty' items - blood, gore, language, monotone post-apocalyptic setting - you would get Borderlands. Did I just say LEGO Star Wars?!? Yes, and if you approach the game as a Hunter I could substitute Fate for Diablo since you get a pet! Too bad you don't get a pet that would schlep all of your loot back to town and sell it off like in Fate and Torchlight!

The bottom line is that Borderlands is a casual game made for couch-playing console gamers who want some quick action and cool weapons. The experience is extremely front-loaded in terms of making choices, meeting the best characters, running into interesting situations, and so on. That way it is set up so that gamers who only play games for less than a dozen hours will still get a very favorable experience, while folks who want to play multiple characters for dozens of hours will be the types who are happy enough grinding all the way through.

I have to return again to the whole 'if FPS and RPG had a baby', and just say that I have no idea what RPG would provide this game's lineage - but whatever it is, I don't want to play it. I understand the mindset that the RPG elements of the game are supposedly derived from the hack'n'slash sub-genre, and everyone goes back to Diablo as the example - but even Diablo had more depth than this. However, looking at other games from the DECADE that has elapsed since Diablo II arrived shows us that the action-RPG genre has evolved significantly in terms of the depth of experience. Games like Sacred, Titan Quest, Silverfall, and Dungeon Siege II have all added extra dimensions and choices as things to be expected, and that is without thinking of something like Divine Divinity!

My point is that no one would find it acceptable if the FPS elements were basically like playing the original Unreal, so why should we find it acceptable to have RPG elements that ignore a decade of progress? So my final update of the 'had a baby' analogy is: if Serious Sam (i.e. a mindless shooter with a flimsy plot) and the most mindless & shallow action-RPG from the late 90's got together and had a baby ... it would be Borderlands.

Any Port in the Storm

By the time the opening song has finished and the bus ride is done, you will be clear that you are playing a console game that has been ported to the PC. In all fairness I will say that this is a much better console-to-PC port than anything Bethesda has done recently, as well as other games such Star Wars: The Force Unleashed, Star Wars Clone Wars: Republic Heroes, GTA4, or Resident Evil 5 ... and about on par with Red Faction Guerrilla. One nice thing is that they have made it easy to access options and possible to completely reconfigure the key layout. That doesn't mean everything works great.

It is very clear that everything outside of playing the game is meant to be done with a controller rather than a mouse and keyboard. The skills screens, options, and overall menu system work better when using a controller, and features fonts that are directly out of the 'large print' section of your local bookstore. Enabling multiplayer hosting requires tweaking your network settings, and checking ping on connections requires digging into config files. But my biggest complaint is the checkpoint save system. I am glad there are relatively frequent saves, but the inability to manually save whenever you want to in a game like this is both lazy design and poor execution - and yet another reminder that this is aimed at the casual game.

A final thought on the PC port thing ... they still haven't announced when we will get the 'Zombie Island of Dr. Ned' DLC.

What is this, Wonka? Some kind of funhouse? ... Why? Having fun?

Most of the arguments about Borderlands 'pro' or 'con' seem to boil down to 'but hey, it is loads of fun'. We have been through this again and again over the years, but while having fun in a game means that you find the game enjoyable, it doesn't mean a game is good. I have been very clear that I had a blast with Dungeon Lords - but I was also very clear that it was a seriously and deeply flawed game. There was also loads of discussion when I reviewed Dark Messiah Might & Magic based on that notion.

That said, from the early hours of my first playthrough all the way to the end, I was never able to ignore the large number of glaring flaws: the broken gun mechanics, the dumb AI, the bland areas, and the absolute lack of any sort of imagination in the overall game development and the utterly vapid story and quest design. I liked the character builds I could construct, but most of the combat became bland as I continued playing. When playing I lost myself in the experience, but whenever I needed to interact with the mechanics - menus, dialogs, whatever - I was reminded that this is a console game ported to PC.

So the bottom line is this: if you are a fan of shooters and also of action-RPG games you are likely to have some fun playing Borderlands. There are plenty of cool weapons, some cool characters, some fun combat, and a big world to find things to kill. As far as the shooter element goes, it is better implemented than Fallout 3 - but that is a pretty low threshold to cross. It pales in comparison to other top shooters of the year such as Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 2, Red Faction: Guerrilla, Wolfenstein and Left4Dead 2. As far as the RPG elements go, well, it is better than most shooters. It has decent four-player co-op, which is something that has become all the rage lately, and is the second best implementation of that mode I have played this fall (yes, that is second out of two). Overall it is a game that many folks have enjoyed, and personally I had a bunch of fun playing. But that doesn't make it particularly good game, just a mindless fun time-waster of an experience.

Box Art

Information about


Developer: Gearbox Software

SP/MP: Single + MP
Setting: Post-apoc
Genre: Shooter-RPG
Combat: Unknown
Play-time: Unknown
Voice-acting: Unknown

Regions & platforms
North America
· Homepage
· Platform: Xbox 360
· Released at 2009-10-20
· Publisher: 2K Games

North America
· Platform: PS3
· Released at 2009-10-20
· Publisher: 2K Games

North America
· Platform: PS3
· Released at 2009-10-20
· Publisher: 2K Games

More information



  • Detailed graphics
  • Nice sounds
  • TONS of distinct weapons


  • Vapid story
  • Boring and shallow quests
  • Broken weapons
  • Brain-dead AI
  • Console-centric design


Review version

Opinions from other editors


While I agree with Mike on almost everything in his review - and especially his remarks on the ending of Borderlands - I do have a different opinion on how they mixed the game together to make a RPG/shooter hybrid. This is a mindless shooter like Serious Sam, but with an added RPG flavor to it. I felt it worked out perfectly, except for a few shallow areas. The obvious reference to the RPG part is of course Diablo, like Mike said, and it's true. I loved Diablo I and II, but where you just gain skills and then click on the enemy to attack with those game in this one you had to use some of your 'twitch' reflexes in addition to your skills when you level up. I loved it, just like I loved Serious Sam. I ignored the plot on that one as well and just went in guns blazing trying to survive the hordes of monsters thrown against me.

Bottom line, it's a really fun game. They just need to fix some of the annoying things in the game like the hit detection, more skills and get rid of the level 50 cap. If they want to add better quests that might help, but like in Diablo I am just going to skip past the dialogue and get straight to the action, so that won't matter much.