Borderlands has been long in development by Gearbox Software and as the much anticipated release date edged closer it was decided that a graphical overhaul was the way forward, something which when revealed to be cell-shaded scared and angered many eager gamers. Thankfully you can be rest assured that Gearbox Software can be trusted, fully, as they delivered not only one of the most stylised games available this generation, but also one of the best cooperative experiences you will find too.
The game starts off with a short explanation of the story and a sleek opening cutscene introducing you to the core characters, one of which you will be spending a good 50 hours bonding with. The story follows a group of treasure hunters who are looking for a hidden vault said to hold untold treasures, but is also protected by dangers that have stopped all those before them. A simple enough story that allows for open ended storytelling, which generally just throws you to the side line to slowly progress through side quests and level up in preparation for dangers to come.
Selecting one of the four available classes is the first choice, and there is little worry as there is never a sense of regret or game breaking barriers as you find your class unable to perform as you would hope. Lilith (Siren) is a power user with the ability to turn invisible and run at great speeds. Mordecai (Hunter) is a deadly sniper that relies on pistols in close combat, or his trusty pet Bloodwing. Roland (Soldier) is our general run and gunner with a special ability of dropping a turret to defend and attack. Lastly there is Brick (Berserker) that takes a more ‘hands’ on approach to combat, able to turn berserk and do large damage with a melee assault.
All classes seem fit to perform the core abilities expected, and the only real different is the talents, which specify the type of player you wish to be. Each class has three talent trees, which all vary the benefits and role you will play in a group. You can become a source of large damage, help heal team-mates, improve your special powers or even improve your resistance to damage to shield those around you. These points can easily be reset if you change your mind as you go on, so there is little need to threat, allowing you to dive on in and enjoy yourself.
Enjoy you will, as the focus and highlight of the game is easily the gameplay itself. If you step into Borderlands as a sole player expecting your run-of-the-mill blockbuster action adventure, you will likely come out very disappointed. Borderlands has not been designed like most of the competition, and instead focuses heavily on co-op gameplay with 1-3 friends. The more players that are thrown into the mix, the more the game will be thrown back at you. One aspect the game cannot be faulted on is balance, something which generally breaks games such as this. Borderlands manages to keep tense, thrilling and difficult combat going throughout the game, with a constant need to watch your health, ammo and team-mates as all three can disappear at any given time. As enjoyable as it is to immerse yourself one to one with a gripping storyline, it is a nice break away to simply group up with friends and blow stuff the hell up!
After the blowing of enemies has been completed, little presents will be loitered around in the form of loot. And loot is a beautiful beautiful thing. When you're not killing you will be looting, and when you are doing neither you will likely be selling. The game advertises a gazillion guns, a seemingly made up number that actually feels somewhat true as you will rarely encounter the same gun twice, yet will see hundreds upon hundreds before your time is up. In the typical RPG fashion you will be managing statistics of weapons, instead of simply the type, such as the damage, fire rate and ammo capacity. You will also get weapon specific benefits such as less recoil, a chance to set enemies ablaze or even rebounding shots. Along with all the lovely weaponry you can also customise your character by character, shield, weapon and grenade modifications. All of this can also be sold at a cheap price at the nearest vending machine.
One aspect of Borderlands that instantly appeals is the unique method of manoeuvring around the many interfaces and opinions screens. Instead of being static you are able to move your view around these as if the interface was placed over your eyes, a nice touch that works especially well in split screen (meaning you can have full sized interfaces, yet not overlay both players’ screens). It is a shame that the same level of thought has not been put into trading between team-mates, as it currently requires a drop and hope that a random player does not run up and intersect your planned trade.
The main downfall of the game is the lack of a compelling storyline, with a climatic end that leaves much to be desired. You will be best aiming to complete side missions than simply perusing on with the critical story path. Those that have played MMO games before will feel right at home, as most missions are fed-ex, requiring you to collect and deliver, or kill counts that require you to go to X location in order to kill X enemy. Gearbox Software certainly has room to improve if a sequel was ever to be developed, and fingers crossed that they do. Until then when you have finally finished your grand adventure, you will have the ability for a second playthrough (which will be needed in order to obtain the high reaches of level 50) that sets the game to hard mode, which is surprising given the already steep difficulty curve of the initial playthrough.
Graphically the much debated decision to move to cell-shading is a resounding success, as whilst it has been done poorly in the past as many are well aware, it has been done right here and works beautifully at aiding the games personality. The cell-shading is not nearly as apparent as you would expect, and in full motion is a thing of beauty. I would easily count Borderlands as one of the best games from a graphical design perspective in the generation to date, sitting alongside the greats. The unique graphical style and design also work well with the audio tracks on offer, along with the hip and entertaining personalities portrayed well by good voice work of the many characters inhabiting borderlands.
With all the single-player blockbuster first person shooters on the market and even more to come, if you are looking to break away from all the loneliness and socialise with a friend or few in vast desert landscapes, Borderlands could be just for you.