Borderlands Review

H3lmz and myself picked up Borderlands this past Spring during one of Steam’s wallet-diet sales. I jumped right in and played through the first few levels on my own before H3lmz joined in and we teamed up to fight the Skag hordes on the outskirts of the starting town of Fyrestone.

The single player experience and the co-op experience were two completely different experiences. Well, of course they would be different, I just mean it was a game-changing difference. That factor is something that keeps Borderlands from being one of the best first-person-shooter franchises out on the market.

Played alone, Borderlands is a stylized first-person-shooter with generic RPG elements, an overabundance of weapon choices, and an even larger amount of enemies to use those weapons on. There are a few chuckles throughout the darkly humored game, but blasting through waves of similarly looking enemies gets old, and the leveling up mechanic is as water and bread as they come, offering the expected ability upgrades.

For the first half of the game, you find yourself trudging through barren landscapes, devoid of any life except a few weeds, packs of slobbering Skags, and gangs of homicidal bandits. I was feeling bored with the game just an hour or two into it. In fact, when H3lmz suggested we check out the co-op mode in Borderlands, I almost turned down the offer. Almost.

So glad I didn’t.

With a friend (and you can play with up to three friends) Borderlands shines. All of a sudden, the wastelands of Pandora turn into your childhood dreamland…if your childhood dreamland was of a playground full of guns, maniacs, and monsters, like mine was. The enemies get tougher with more people, but that just makes it more fun to be tactical about situations.

The game that was just before an almost meaningless turkey-shoot, is now a game where you’re frantically running for cover as your friend lays down covering fire. A game where when you get to cover you throw your hunting bird into the air so he can go gouge out the eyes of the enemies, as your friend slides into cover next to you. A game where you loot the bodies and camps of the dead enemies, searching for upgrades for your current weaponry, and keeping an eye out for anything your buddy might find useful. A game that is a metric crap-ton of fun.

H3lmz played as the soldier, Roland, and I played as a the hunter, Mordecai. The soldier is an all-around tough son-of-a-gun, specializing in assault rifles and shotguns, and has the special ability to deploy an automated turret that can be upgraded with all sorts of offensive and defensive perks. Mordecai, on the other hand is much more lightweight, but is certainly just as deadly. Mordecai specializes in sniper rifles and revolvers, and has a pet attack bat-hawk creature named Bloodwing which he can release out onto the battlefield to aid him and his teammates with attacking enemies. Bloodwing can be upgraded much like Roland’s turret. By the end of Borderlands, my Bloodwing was swooping down lightning fast and had an acidic bite that left enemies slowly dying from the burns.

Usually with most game reviews I would harp on the fact that a story line as loose, and weak, as Borderland’s really held the game back from being a better game. The story in Borderlands never takes center stage. You’re a bandit out to find “the Vault” that supposedly contains immense treasure. A weak story would hurt some games, but with Borderlands, the openness of the story keeps the game from feeling linear, and preserves the sense of exploration that is really key to enjoying the game to its fullest.

Driving around Pandora in one of the games vehicles looking for weapon crates that the developers stashed around the planet like Easter Eggs, really allowed H3lmz and myself to discover areas, quests, and characters that we normally would not have stumbled across, if the chance of treasure was not there. The whole game is one big treasure hunt after all.

To sum it all up: you feel like a character in a Tarantino film; savage action set pieces, permeated by a grim sense of humor.  The ending will probably left you wanting more, like it did with the two of us. Luckily a handful of expansions allow H3lmz and I to continue our adventures on Pandora for a few more nights

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