Thursday, 20 February 2014

Now Playing: Borderlands

Borderlands is essentially a first person action RPG. You choose one of four set character classes each with a specialised skill set – Soldier, Hunter, Siren & Berserker. Beginning at level 1, you progress through the game gaining experience points, levelling up and acquiring a constant drip feed of loot. Like a lot of action RPGs, this frequent reward system creates an addictive incentive to continue forward, as you gain access to new areas with new quests and new potential for better gear.

There are primary story quests to complete in addition to numerous side quests, all of which award more experience and rewards. As you level up you gain skill points you can spend to further specialise your chosen class. Loot comes in the form of money, weapons and upgrades. Money can be used at various vending machines to purchase (or sell excess) items such as health packs or rare upgrades. There are eight weapon types. Generally each class will specialise and have skill tress designed to enhance the use of two or so of these types, but each class can equip and use all weapons freely. Weapons also have their own skill bar which increases upon use. In terms of upgrades there are three – shields, grenade and class specific.

Borderlands is a game you can play solo (as I did) or with up to three other players cooperatively and the game is supposed to scale the difficulty accordingly, although I can’t comment on how this works exactly. Are there more enemies? Or just tougher enemies? Playing solo, I can’t say I found anything too challenging within Borderlands. Staying close to the intended level for quests, there were few moments I felt truly tested, and with a frequent save point system and the Second Wind mechanic, death is rare and has little penalty. In fact, sometimes it was easier to get myself killed to re-spawn nearby with a full health and shield rather than use up my health kits.

Playing as the Hunter class, some bosses were more tricky than others as I was specialised towards ranged combat, and many fights put you in an enclosed arena with a boss who likes to get close. However, enemy AI is pretty basic and easy to abuse. They have a lot of trouble with obstacles in the world, so you can circle around a few boxes and wait for your shield to recharge if need be without worrying too much about getting hit.

The missions are a little basic, mostly just ‘kill X amount of Y’ or simply ‘Go to A and kill X’. A few more elaborate missions with multiple stages wouldn’t have hurt. In terms of the core story, it’s also rather basic and not very fleshed out, but it’s intriguing enough to keep you interested through to the end, although the ending itself is pretty abrupt and disappointing.

The world itself is a real highlight. A sort of Mad Max mixed with a sci-fi Western. It’s quite bright, colourful at times, and the cartoon/cel shaded style fits perfectly. There are a few NPCs you meet along the way so it’s not entirely a lonely affair, and VA is decent. But although I like the aesthetic design, actual level construction isn’t exactly inspired.

Most sections are just long corridor slogs from A to B, with an irritating backtrack when you’re done. This isn’t too bad for the most part, as these sections are broken up with larger, open environments you can traverse and engage in some basic vehicular combat. But the final stretch is a terrible example of this, as it’s really just a series of long corridors of the same few enemy types.

As you can imagine, this can mean the game does get rather mindlessly repetitive at times, but fortunately no section lasts so long as to get too irritating. Returning to the ending, the final boss is a joke – SPOILERS! - just a big tentacle monster you can easily defeat by standing safely behind a rock. Oh. And then the game just sort of ends. It’s very unsatisfying. Fortunately I was playing the GOTY edition so I had the extra DLCs which somewhat extend the story. They are all solid enough, but are really just more of the same, and none are exactly innovative.

So what about the gameplay? Well, the shooting is pretty by the numbers stuff, but it does the job. You have different elemental effects you can acquire on certain weapons, each of which offers increased damage against certain enemy types, but generally you won’t really bother with it as you’ll favour whichever gun does the highest damage whilst aiming for the head. I like the fact that every class can use whatever guns they like. Playing as the Hunter, I didn’t have any trouble using shotguns as often as my class specialised revolvers.

Overall, Borderlands was a solid and enjoyable shooter. It’s nothing spectacular in terms of its gameplay, nor its level design or thin plot. But with its interesting setting, creative creatures and addictive level of progression, it rises beyond its uninspired, repetitive shooting. It may not exactly be very complex in any area but what it does do, it does do well and sometimes that’s all you really need.


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