When I wrote about genres earlier for this week’s Top Ten Tuesday, I mentioned the notion that games have evolved to the point that the lines between genres have become blurred. Things like stat progression and quest systems are no longer limited to traditional role playing games (such as in Far Cry 3) and shooting mechanics have also bled over into the historically slow paced RPG (Mass Effect). But if I were to ever point to a title that took the core elements of multiple genres, rather than just bits and pieces, and smashed them together, Gearbox Software’s Borderlands would be one of the prime examples.
Borderlands, in its simplest sense, has the backbones of an RPG and the precision and intensity of a first person shooter. There are four different characters to choose from, each with their own distinct class skills with three specific skill trees. Gameplay is frantic with hordes of enemies spawning on a timer system all while dropping precious money, power ups and guns. Glorious guns. Borderlands is essentially Diablo…with guns.
Set on the wasteland world of Pandora, Borderlands is about the four vault hunters on a quest for, you guessed it, an ancient vault. Pandora, in all its cell shaded glory, is home to rogue bandits, pterodactyl like rakks and the dog-like scavenging skag. There’s not a terrible amount of complexity to the story, but there are a ton of eccentric characters with some of the wittiest writing of this gaming generation. The main supporting cast of Dr. Zed, Patricia Tannis and the legendary Claptrap are some of the most distinct NPCs in recent memory.
Each character plays a bit differently from the next, thanks to the class specific skills. Roland, the Soldier, is able to drop a support turret that can be augmented to fire missiles and heal allies within its radius. Mordecai, the Hunter, primarily uses sniper rifles and is accompanied by his pet Bloodwing, whom he can send out to attack enemies. Lilith, the Siren, has the ability to phasewalk invisibly past unsuspecting enemies only for her to explode like a grenade upon her return. Lastly Brick, the Berserker, punches things. A lot.
Quests are given by NPCs littered throughout Pandora ranging from basic fetch quests, to item collecting, to assassinating bandit leaders. Completing quests, per usual, nets rewards ranging from cash, to grenades and shields, and to of course, more guns.
In a previous life, the vault hunters might have been prime candidates for a special episode of Hoarders: Pandora edition because Gearbox has created a weapon creation system that not only randomizes the types of weapons that are dropped by enemies and found it loot chests, but also randomizes the statistics of weapons. Weapon statistics take into account not only traditional specifications like damage, ammunition capacity, reload time and rate of fire, but also include elemental enchantments and how many bullets are shot with each trigger pull. Some of my favorite weapons in the game were submachine guns that could fire two or three rounds for every one round that a basic SMG could fire. In fact, my absolute favorite weapon was a sniper rifle that fired three rounds in one shot. It was essentially a sniper shotgun. Weapons are augmented with a variety of sights and scopes, also affecting your weapon loadout. There are iron sights, scopes, reflex scopes, iron sights that zoom, scopes that don’t zoom very much, the amount of possible combinations are seemingly endless. And I haven’t even mentioned shotguns that fire missiles.
Suffice to say, gun collecting is habit forming. And they are everywhere. In addition to quest rewards, guns are dropped off of enemies, found it piles of trash and of course the glorious loot chests littered across Pandora.
As much fun as it is to go exploring and following the basic quest progression alone, Borderlands truly shines as a co-op multiplayer title. Parties augment each other with unique abilities to enhance ammunition regeneration, experience bonuses and loot drop increases. And just like Diablo, the more players in a game, the harder the enemies become. This increase in difficulty is absolutely worth it as not only does experience gain increase, but so does the rarity of loot drops. Multiplayer is truly adored in Borderlands, as cooperative play is highly encouraged beyond the early levels. Not only does Borderlands have a fantastic multiplayer system of four players via online match, but the dying art of split screen co-op is embraced as well. There’s nothing quite like exploring the wastelands of Pandora with a good friend sitting right next to you.
I dabbled in all four classes to try out their class skills, but I primarily played as Lilith. As a solo character, her lack of HP and penchant for small arms was limiting when it came to exploring, but when assisted by a Soldier geared in a support role, Lilith is incredibly powerful. She can phase in and out of battles in a pinch, can hone her explosive power, increase her melee attack and significantly upgrade her shields.
When Borderlands released in 2009, I picked up the game solely based on its cel-shaded graphics, a visual style that has always resonated with me. Jet Set Radio, Wind Waker, Dragon Quest and even Tales of Symphonia are all games that have had success with cel-shading techniques. Combined with my respect for Gearbox following their Brothers in Arms series, I felt that Borderlands was worth a good look.
Ironically, I did not start playing the game seriously until several years later, probably around the end of 2011, when my brother and I were looking for a co-op game to dive into. In what started out as an absurd little romp, collecting guns, hunting bandits and rescuing Claptraps, turned into a full blown obsession. We built our characters carefully to compliment our strengths and playstyles. We traded weapons to best outfit our vault hunting duo. We bought all four DLC chapters.
Today, the game still plays very well. It’s a little looser than other shooters, especially when compared to its successor, Borderlands 2. But the writing is still entertaining, the challenge is still just right and there are always more weapons to find. Even better, the game unlocks two progressively harder playmodes upon completion. The first is known as playthrough 2, which restarts the entire game with harder enemies based on your already acquired level. The second mode is known as playthrough 2.5, and ups the difficulty even further, except without restarting the story. And as we’ve previously covered, the harder the enemies, the better the loot.
Borderlands in 2009 was a bunch of really good ideas smashed together that made a really good game. Today, it can be seen as one of those titles that really separated itself from the pack. By daring just to be a little different and a little eccentric, Gearbox began the path of a classic franchise. See you in the wasteland!
9/10 – 4 years ago, Borderlands was a curious hodgepodge of genre ideas. It was a fundamentally sound shooter with a great skill tree system, all set in a reliable and memorable atmosphere. The same holds true for Borderlands today as it has still plays well and continues to be highly entertaining.
Vault Review: Classic