About Monique Borderlands: A ‘Sanctuary’ for Impatient Diablo Fans
November 3rd, 2009 by Monique
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Featuring Lilith (Hot.) It had been a while since I had felt like writing here, and then Borderlands came around. Hailed as Diablo 2 meets Fallout 3 and introduced as a success where Hellgate: London so blindly failed, Borderlands was last week’s big news release, and is by far the best game I’ve played in a while.

First off, let me do away with assumptions: Borderlands is really nothing more than a loot game. In fact, if you’ve played Diablo or Titan Quest, you know almost exactly what to expect from the genre. But what sets Borderlands radically apart from other such genre clones is that not only does it mimic Blizzard’s patented formula, it improves on it; your expectations are not only met, but raised substantially. Borderlands is more than just a game, it’s an experience, and it makes sure you;ll never look at these types of games the same way. Deviating from the mold, Gearbox developers intelligently chose to deviate from the medieval setting, throw in their own brand of humor, add a screen full of dynamic cell-shaded graphics, and finally a dash of seamless gameplay to create what is possibly 2009’s game of the year, bugs aside.

Thrown onto Pandora, the player becomes an adventurer in search of the enigmatic vault. The story’s predictable and mundane, but the story isn’t why you’re playing the game (and if it is, this genre may not be for you). You can choose from four characters and play with up to three people, a less than subtle promotion to encourage co-op play rather than a single adventure. The characters are likable enough, though nothing as characterized and memorable as the motley crew from Team Fortress 2 nor as engrossing and personalized as Fallout 3’s highly customizable avatar.

Skag: It�s What�s For Dinner

Still, each class has its own role and personality, their special class abilities complimenting their intended party role quite flawlessly. In a dazzling display of stealth, the Siren can vanish and reappear in the blink of an eye with an area effect of elemental damage dealt to all enemies known as Phase Shift; a jack of all trades, the Soldier can drop a Scorpio Turret that pumps bullets into a sea of enemies buying a few precious seconds of shield regeneration for the group. Every class has a certain purpose and role to fulfill, yet manages to play well solo as well, making group synergy impeccable and solo play easy. Amazingly, unlike many co-op games, Left 4 Dead coming to mind, users aren’t punished for playing alone for once–though they are most definitely rewarded for playing with at least one friend. It’s a fine balance, and perhaps one of the biggest merits that Borderlands has to offer to the genre.

But if what garners your attention isn�t the character or the storyline, then what does?

It�s indelibly the imagery; Pandora itself. A barren wasteland, even with a friend or two, Pandora feels empty and dangerous. It�s bleak, a sense of hopelessness drifting through the land next to a tumbleweed or two. Someone would have to fight tooth and nail here, bullet by bullet, to rise to power. Bandits rule this desert, monsters lurk around every corner, and you could go mad if you wandered too far from the remaining vestiges of civilization�if you aren�t devoured by Skags first. The cell-shaded graphics introduce an over the top sense of style that mirrors the over the top humor through the game, both of which purposely introduced to keep the game from being too dark and depressing.

A wasteland, but a beautiful one.

It�s a romp and stomp, and that�s what sticks with you as the imagery fades. Equipped with machine guns, pistols, and rocket launchers, you�re given the unique chance to power through a wasteland with nearly free reign to cause mass destruction. And, while you�re never entirely free from the storyline, it�s never in the way. The game lets players gather up and inflict some intense carnage, but it still keeps a sense of progression as a backbone tying back into the ultimate end game mission of finding the vault.

Borderlands manages to keep this progression level apparent by consistently rewarding players through talent trees, in which each level grants a talent after level 5. The talents can then be invested into a tree for greater long term power. Even with a level cap of 50, players are able to move upwards and develop different specs to suit a multitude of roles; a Siren can become a stealthy assassin, or a bold fighter who leaps into the fray with fast charging shields and immense area effect damage. All she would have to do is put her talent points into the right tree.

Of course, talent points are great and so is a beautiful atmosphere, but it�s the firepower that really changes everything in this game. The Volcano: My First Orange Based on a variety of statistics, guns are everywhere in Pandora and they are more currency than the actual in-game money is. Developed by a remarkably unique A.I. which boasts tens of thousands of combinations, it is quite possible that, aside from the standard boss drops, no gun is alike�but they�re all fun to play with. Sorted in a white-green-blue-purple-orange scale from common to extremely rare, the system is easily identifiable to anyone who has played World of Warcraft or other online games with a loot system. Weapon vendors sell weapons, randomly generated weapons coming on sale as the Deal of the Day every twenty minutes; mobs drop all kinds of weapons, from white to orange; and chests scattered across the land sometimes provide a one of a kind shotgun or rocket launcher for an extra bonus. While most guns will be sold to vendors for quick cash, every once in a while there�s a gem that catches your eye.

Each weapon is made unique by not only its model variations, but its modifiers. Modifiers are decided by the gun manufacture (of which Pandora has several different companies) and other variables. Guns can be elemental in damage, different firing speeds, increased overall damage, and even scope size to give you an idea of how different they can be. Pistols can have a scope that would make a sniper green with envy, and revolvers can one shot someone with over budgeted top-ends. Flavor text is frequent and tongue-in-cheek; a legendary I picked up last night, a bright blue SMG with +10 to ammo regen and x3 in damage modifier called the Savior, proclaimed boldly �Hallelujah.�

Aside from guns, there�s other loot to obsess over. Class modifiers introduce enhancements to specific talent trees; it�s possible to get modifiers that regenerate ammo or increase elemental damage. I found an epic Soldier modifier recently that gave +29% experience to the party as well as other bonuses to certain talents in their trees. Artifacts also drop from enemies that increase special abilities damage, giving them a chance to corrode an enemy or shock them with high voltage. Something as simple as grenades and shields come in various modifier, too; equip a Bouncing Betty grenade package and watch your enemies be assaulted with multiple grenades per toss at no additional ammo cost.

But, of course, there�s a downside. Even with infinite loot to obsess over, there are a few glaring bugs that make loot hunting a little annoying. Recently it was discovered that there can be upwards of six modifiers on weapons as well as class modifiers�while this should be good news, apparently the game can only show four modifiers. This means not every item is displayed correctly. A quick fix was introduced on the forums by clever users, changing the base font to a cursive font that allows five modifiers to be read instead of four, but modifiers are still missing and it is a bug that should have never made it past QA. For a loot-based game such as this, it�s a pretty serious problem.

Other bugs can include save errors; the game�s saves aren�t server side, so some people can experience problems with total character loss (note: this is rare and not a common problem, but still a mentionable one). Sometimes whilst co-oping, an untimely disconnect and set you back a few minutes even if you had just saved when a quest resets for one person but not the other. On launch, the Siren�s main talent was broken and, instead of properly doing significant amounts of damage when meleeing in stealth as a form of backstab, it did none. The Hunter�s special ability sometimes flies into walls, instead of into its enemies with talons razed.

No, this isn�t a bug.

At the end of it all, though, some bugs doesn�t water down the overall quality of this game. The quality is there and this game begs to be played. It asks for World of Warcraft to move over for a week, asks Team Fortress 2 to take a hike, and laughs at Aion from the sidelines. It�s a game that manages to push itself onto your playlist and keep itself there. With a second playthrough boasting immeasurable difficulty, easter eggs, and a forthcoming content patch already underway, there�s a lot of replayability and a lot of bang for your buck.

After all, there�s always one more reset of New Haven you could do for chest farming, and let’s face it–who doesn�t want to see Claptrap dance a few more times?

5 Responses to “Borderlands: A ‘Sanctuary’ for Impatient Diablo Fans”

  1. Achernar Says:

    Good to see a new post here!

  2. Droniac Says:

    Ugh, you’re making me jealous :(

    My copy of Borderlands got lost in transit so they’re sending me a new one. Granted, I highly doubt that it would pull me away from Dragon Age, but I’ll certainly give it a go after my tour of Ferelden. It sounds like a great combination of a Diablo-like loot system with FPS gameplay. The bugs are unfortunate (and the incomplete statistics on items just plain stupid), but your article makes me glad I forked out the cash. It seems to be well worth the wait.

    It’s also good to see that you’re back to blogging. I’m looking forward to your next post.

  3. Tuna Says:

    Great game! One of the few games which was able to keep me away from WoW, and can still keep me away from WoW.

    Siren’s Phasewalk bug has been fixed and is doing high damage as it should. Also doing chest farming in New Haven with a full group yields better loot, so find some friends and farm away!

    Level 23 Siren LFG Jaynistown PST!

  4. William Says:

    I must admit, I found the story department a little lacking in Borderlands.

    I really enjoyed the game, but I couldn’t help but find myself going “Man, if only they had…” a lot.

  5. The Cutter Says:

    Why didn’t I read about this months ago? We could’ve gotten a game in! Well, I guess with the DLC we still could. I love this game and I’m glad to see a lot of other people do too.

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