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Thursday, November 26, 2009

Borderlands - Review

Excuse me for the late review. I've finally finished my work for a while and I've recovered most of my sleep debt, which means now I can actually start writing again (woohoo!). This week's review is on Borderlands.

Borderlands is a First Person Shooter with RPG-like elements. I would consider it to be a game similar to Mass Effect with a bit more freeflow and less protagonist to environment dialogue (actually there's no dialogue between the protagonist(s) and the environment).

Borderlands is about 4 treasure hunters looking for this entity referred to as "The Vault." It supposedly exists on Pandora, a planet under the supervision of a research corporation, who have abandoned their mining operations there leaving it to be controlled mostly by bandits who once were prisoners working there. A guide, referred to as the "guardian angel," tries to lead the treasure hunters to the Vault. The plot itself is very open ended and leaves room for a lot of content (some of which is apparently DLC now)but I'll get to that later. In this kind of game, I believe highlighting gameplay is key here.

As I said before, it's a First Person Shooter with RPG like elements. What does that mean? Well, this game is generally played like a first person shooter. Your HUD shows your compass, HP, Shields, EXP, Class Mod and ammo. Also when you switch weapons, stats for your weapon temporarily appear.

All your weapons have in-depth descriptions such as the weapon's damage, accuracy, fire rate, and magazine size. The item name's color indicates rarity going from least rare to most rare: white-green-blue-purple-light orange-dark orange-pearlescent (which is actually white, but the weapon comes with special traits). The modifiers in the weapon description don't mean additional modifiers, but describe the stats which have been modified from the "base" model. Any red text refers to a special trait the gun may have.

Accuracy actually refers to how large the crosshair is and determines the spread of the bullet when in iron sights/scope. That is to say, you can't just aim in the general vicinity of an enemy and assume it'll hit because the weapon's accuracy was 80%. To be honest, I'm not even sure if the number next to the accuracy refers to a percentage, just a general number system to use to compare one weapon's accuracy to another.

All the characters have been broken down into 3 "subclasses." These subclasses generally determine how you play as the skills (all of which are passive) affect certain weapon types or boost a certain stat that would make another weapon type better to use.

All characters are given on active skill referred to as the "action skill." Needless to say, this action skill varies per player and most likely each character has one subclass tree dedicated to boosting the action skill.

In addition to skills, there are items known as "class mods" which modify skills and apply other effects to complement a certain skill tree or class type. Like skills, these class mods will enhance a certain playing style and generally do not have any adverse effects. The only one I've seen to be a problem is Brick's berserker mod which occasionally gives negative bullet resistance.

Finally, you have the Proficiencies tab which basically tells you which weapons you like using, since the more enemies you kill with a weapon type, the higher your proficiency is with that weapon, the better the boosts you get for that weapon. Just exactly how you can improve weapon damage by using a certain type of weapon multiple times is beyond me, but I really couldn't care less.

If I were to put it bluntly (and I will), the entirety of the game consists of fetch quests, kill x amount quests, go here or "kill this guy" quests. Yes, gameplay wise, that's all. It's actually that monotonous. It's probably one of the most linear "MMO-style" games. There are hardly any cutscenes. There's a lack of plot (or rather, it's so weak, you hardly realize there's a plot) and it tries to pick up but just crumbles.

The difficulty curve is also pretty bad. If you actually play "normally" and generally kill enemies as you progress the story, more often then not, there's going to be a major gap between "recommended" levels and your actual level with you being a good 3-5 levels higher than the target level. Each quest has a "recommended" level that is a marker of the general level you should be. After running through the game with a few characters, my friends and I have figured out that you will BARELY be under the difficulty curve if you ONLY complete the quest and kill NOTHING unless required. What does that mean? The beta testers were picking their noses and twiddling their thumbs when testing this game. More often than not, it's the enemies that initiate attacks (unless you're a sniper) and so the most logical course of action would be to shoot back until said danger was no more.

There's an easy fix for this, either increase the experience tables or reduce the amount of experience you get for completing quests.

So what's keeping this game from being scum of scum?

4 player coop. Probably the saving grace. This kind of gameplay warrants multiplayer and 2k games delivers.

Next would be the unique art style. Cel-Shading isn't anything new, but it's not common either. The art in this game is really well done and the textures are really nice. Animation wise, everything is extremely clean and very visually appealing. It's easy to just throw something like this away for another game when it attempts to go for some kind of realism, but it's worth noting when there's a bit of artistic value to it.

Next would be immersion and flavor text. Despite the core of the game being really boring. The extra effort for dialogue, sound clips, and quest justifications make the game quite amusing. More often than not, I found myself chuckling at certain moments in the game. The developers know how to write well (to an extent. Like I said, the main story sucks). Reading quest descriptions and listening to sound recordings are definitely worth your time and improve the overall experience.

The game mechanics are well organized. They're simple, relatively easy to use and don't require a massive learning curve. The developers know what they wanted from this game and the players can expect the same thing.

This critique isn't so blatant but after a couple playthroughs is very noticeable. The developers play favorites with the characters, particularly Mordecai, the hunter. Upon close inspection, nothing seems wrong. His skills are relatively fine, and considering his weapon types, nothing is drastically overpowered. But certain weapons throughout the game make him a very cheap, broken character. Each one of his skill trees combined with a certain mod can allow him to generally stand still and watch everything around him explode. The trees at full skill allotment Allow him to effectively be a one man army at long and mid-to-short range, or short and mid range with damage dealt easily giving him 1 hit kills. If you look above at the screenshots, you'll notice the sniper rifle equipped along with my proficiency. The red text allows me to fire the sniper rifle like a fully automatic rifle (Meaning, I don't have to press the mouse button for each shot). Combine that with my proficiency and I can fire 13 shots faster than the Soldier class with battle rifles. Not only that, I deal more damage and if combined with a passive skill that decreases cooldown time for my action skill per hit, can use my action skill endlessly. THE ONLY drawback ( and I hardly call it a draw back) is that At the end, players can only have 120 sniper rifle ammo. Meaning that ammo is the only thing holding this character back from completely annihilating the game, but that's easily fixed with at least 1 character having a ammo regeneration support mod.

Overall gameplay is really short. One playthrough takes about an hour and a half, and second playthrough takes shorter totaling around 2 weeks. DLC will probably extend it but gameplay is exceptionally short. The only replay value this has is the post game monster modifications. All enemies enter a third tier of difficulty and are set to level ranges from 49-51.

It's fun for a short while but may not offset the price tag. The coop is definitely fun but with people generally being computer illiterate, joining an online game is somewhat boring. People don't really talk much and voice settings are either on or off. It's better to play with friends then trying to find a good online game.

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