When Borderlands was originally released in 2009, I didn’t take one bit of notice! I think I remember seeing it on show at a Eurogamer event I went to in Leeds with college, and I remember seeing it on shelves in Game and Gamestation, but no, I didn’t look at them once. The first time I really took any notice was when Yahtzee Croshaw reviewed it for an episode of Zero Punctuation. Time went by, I heard bits and bobs about it from other people, but I just kept on looking past it.
That all changed however when at Christmas 2012, my brother bought me a copy of it, to which we could then play co-op together. When I first looked at in-game shots, my first thought was “Oh, No!” The game from shots pictured a wasteland environment which instantly plastered shots in my head of Fallout 3. Fallout 3 is one of the highest praised games in video game history, however it was also a game I just did not enjoy! I really didn’t like it, I found it a real struggle to play, and so when I looked on Borderlands, my thoughts drifted back to Fallout 3 thinking it was going to be the same thing all over again. Well; I was wrong, by quite some margin!
So (for those of you who are at this moment lost as to what this post is all about); What is Borderlands. Borderlands is a First Person Shooter video game produced by Gearbox Software. At it’s heart, it’s a solid FPS which offers the player hundreds, if not thousands, if not even millions of different guns to choose from, but it also has some other stuff too. Borderlands while being an FPS also features RPG (Role Playing Game) elements and is also a story-rich, Open World game, sort of… Basically (right, I did write a very lengthy piece here explaining in detail how Borderlands Open World isn’t exactly open world in comparison to other games with it, and how this actually makes the game more accessible. But in retrospect I felt that the explanation was maybe a bit boring, so here is just a broken down paraphrasing of what I originally wrote), you, the player; are exploring a world broken up into several locations separated by borders. Most of these borders at the start are blocked, but as you progress through the game, these border points will unlock, allowing you to travel through. Therefore, each of these areas you visit, are lands beyond borders, or ‘Borderlands’.
Borderlands Art Style is very interesting to as (again, this was also quite length and felt quite draining to read, so here is a broken down version, hopeful this will be the last time I will have to do this) it is a finely detailed world, but one that looks like it was drawn in by pencil. The game whilst being in a three-dimensional environment, looks very two-dimensional. The imagery as you are seeing them looks very cartoony, and the close-up details on the lifeforms and environment, look like they are purposefully drawn on to create flat worlds. This attention to a very basic level of detail is actually quite charming, as it provides the suggestion that the game is not taking itself too seriously, which is a helpful point to take heed of for other reasons too. The game is about having fun with guns, so the environment has been purposefully created to be as fun and as simple as possible. This cartoony design makes the world look like it has jumped from the pages of a classic comic, and is putting the player in a fun space where you’re not concerned on the fine detail!
Borderlands is set on the planet of Pandora (not that one). Pandora – for this game at least – is a planet covered in a desolate desert, mixed with shackled together settlements that have barely any people in them. The planet is believed to contain something called The Vault, a vault of sorts believed by many to contain untold riches. It’s this why many people have travelled to Pandora in the hope of becoming rich as quickly as possible. Many people have been on Pandora for a very long time and don’t necessarily have the funds to leave, all of whom are hoping to get their hands on the riches coveted from opening the vault. Many of these people have since gone insane and have adopted the masks as seen on the cover (see featured image), and have also mutated to a degree, becoming utter psychos in combat resorting not necessarily to guns, but to axes. There are some friendly people who have managed to create their own life and trade on the planet; some of whom provide jobs for the players, however these nice people are incredibly few in number and everyone, and everything else wants to kill the player’s character. It’s not just other humans that are out for blood, as the planets wildlife, small and big all have a taste for human flesh; probably because there is nothing else to eat other than themselves. Death is so rife on Pandora of course, that a system of DNA saving has been implemented on the entire planet, which means that if you die, you are respawned with all your traits and items at the nearest respawn point; for a price. This is not just the case for the player though, as virtually all enemies can be respawned too, just not as quickly as you. This basically means that if the player returns to that point of the map at another time, there will be enemies there once again, including some bosses that have previously been killed.
As Pandora is so dangerous to anyone who decides to visit, most characters are provided with Shields. These shields are like those that you will find in most pieces of science fiction. They are force field devices which give characters/the player a chance of staying alive for longer. With a shield on their person, the player/character will have an extra barrier to their health, and so before suffering any damage to their health, it comes off the shield first, this even includes falling. Pandora however doesn’t like to make things any easier as shields have varying levels of power, plus a recharge rate, not to mention the amount of elemental effects there are on the planet such as corrosive liquids, fire and lighting, with each one providing a hinderance to the player’s health. Corrosive and Fire for instance are great weapons against flesh, where as lighting is great at disabling shields much quicker. It’s almost like the planet doesn’t want people on it at all!
Survival on Pandora is hard, so in many cases it could be considered nice the amount of guns there are on it. Guns take many forms, from SMG’s, to Sniper Rifles, to Shotguns, To Pistols, to, well, you get the picture. Not only is there an abundance of guns, there is an abundance of weapons manufacturers supplying them. Many manufacturer’s of weapons provide their own signature design to the weapons, and also nearly every gun is different from each other, with many weapons carrying special abilities niche to themselves. The main factors of the gun are it’s Damage, Accuracy, and Fire Rate, but then most of them have abilities on top of this such as some having elemental effects, plus others besides. There is genuinely a surplus of weapons in the game. While there are vending machines which you can purchase and sell weapons at, you don’t necessarily need to purchase any, as many enemies drop them when killed, some can be found in storage crates, some can even be found in the trash or some toilets. Ammo is also easy to come by as it’s just as freely easy to find as most weapons. And it’s not just limited to guns, as many other items such as grenades have mods which can make them do other things than just blow up, like stealing an enemies health and transfusing it back to the player.
As Pandora is mostly barren desert, you may be pleased to learn that you can drive around it too. The car’s in the game are easy to come by and don’t cost anything to run or purchase. They come with a unique steering system by using the mouse to decide direction of travel, and come with a machine gun on the front, plus a grenade launcher on the top, plus come in a range of colours including pink!
Borderlands is an FPS game no doubt, given the amount of weapons in the game. But neatly added onto this is an element of RPG gaming too. At the start of the game, the player arrives on Pandora as someone who is in search of the vault. The player chooses one of four different characters who are also known as Vault Hunters. Basically they are Bounty Hunters, in search of the vault, and each one has a special ability.
- Soldier – Automated Turret which can be deployed on the Battlefield.
- Siren – The ability to phase walk (walk at speed and invisible).
- Hunter – Sends out his pet bird to attack the enemy.
- Berserker – Becomes super strong with fists that can do some serious damage.
As the game gets going and goes on, the player will be able to earn experience points through several different ways. When enough points have been awarded for the player to go up a level, they will unlock a skill point which they can use to upgrade their own personal abilities including their main skill.
The game’s setting and gameplay is set-up almost like the perfect freelance job. You arrive on Pandora, and as soon as you do arrive, opportunities present themselves. These mostly come in the form of performing minor tasks for either the few friendly locals, or just odds and ends from the local bounty board. They can range from things such as killing local thugs, killing some dangerous animals, checking in on people, collecting items, basically any kind of task the local folks are willing to pay someone else to do. This is also how the story is told too, through doing jobs. As you start to make momentum, more and more tasks become available until you have more tasks than you know what to do with. The game in essence is providing you with the tools to make a start in your new career.
Many tasks in the game can be challenging, such as raiding outposts, assassinating local dignitary thugs or pest control. These tasks though come with a level rating. This is a friendly sign by the game to say how difficult the task is. As you progress through the game and earn skill points through experience, your level will increase. Now there is nothing stopping you from going in all guns blazing when you want, but genuinely, tasks become easier as you level up. The game in essence is once again giving you ways to level up plus earn plenty of cash, but also is giving you plenty of opportunities to improve, and then take on a task when it thinks you are ready for one. Borderlands is a game, but it’s also one that pays dividends in possibly the most satisfying career you could ever have. The game could just give you one big task to do like in Breath of the Wild with some other tasks to do at your leisure but not prevent you from jumping the gun if you so wish. But no, the game is providing you with a far more enriching experience by building you up over time. This also takes out the need for a difficulty level setting, as you decide how difficult you want to make life for yourself when completing missions. You can try to complete a mission 4 levels higher than you currently are, or you can take your time, build your level up and complete it when you’re level, or when your level is higher than it.
Borderlands as a game sets itself out of the pack from all over FPS games by being as different as possible. It does this through gameplay mechanics, art style, graphics, even humour and storytelling. When the player sets off on their journey they are instructed by a ghostly figure what is about to happen. The game doesn’t take itself too seriously, which allows a lot of room for quirkiness and silliness, such as boxy top-heavy robots that un around on one wheel. Claptrap robots are even described by characters in the game as strange-looking robots; which they are, and the player can see this. This initial viewing really does help set up the game in the player’s eye as being something very different in its core story driven mechanics. It also helps to set up the world with what you are about to discover, but still leaves plenty of room for surprises, terrors and scares.
Borderlands is a really inventive but also very fun experience. It’s inclusion of RPG elements provides players with a more enriching experience in comparison to other FPS experiences, with the allowance to let players choose a direction of their own desire, and upgrade and personalise as such. Whilst other FPS games have a more on-rail story experiences as it jumps from mission to mission, Borderlands use of bounty based tasks allow players to experience and level-up more, plus experience their surroundings better than a quick fleeting glimpse which only a level replay would allow. It’s story is a fun one to go along as the player has an incentive/reason to go along with it, and one they will only continue to discover the more they played. In some reasoning, the experience on the whole makes Borderlands the Westworld of video games. Add of course to this the daft humour, the basic styling, the barren music; plus of course the surplus of weapons and dangers that such only a dangerous planet can provide; and altogether it makes Borderlands an Awesome Video Game!