Borderlands Review

When developers attempt to combine video game genres, the resulting creation more often than not turns out to be at least an interesting piece of software, if not a wholly enjoyable one. In the case of Gearbox Software’s new RPS (role-playing shooter), Borderlands, the final product is both interesting and enjoyable, even if it isn’t as much of a comprehensive or diversified gameplay experience as other games at either end of its genre-blending spectrum.

Initially, Borderlands feels familiar yet novel. The game asks players to select one of four characters who each excel at a specific type of combat, based on their starting weapon and the skills that they will learn later on. The model follows traditional RPG and squad-based shooter conventions, with characters representing the heavy-hitting tank, the sniper, the all-around soldier, and a more unique infiltrator type. Any character can be specialize however the player chooses, though, because skills with the various weapon types improve based on usage, rather than pre-determined, level-based increments. Building characters that deviate from the normal archetypes may be ill-advised, considering their unique class skills won’t be as relevant or useful, but because their skill trees include three differing branches and additional choices within each, it is possible to develop a character that focuses on a particular class-specific skill set, but also incorporates other classes’ fortes (like my personal sniper/falconer with a minor in shotgunning).


Gameplay revolves primarily around accepting and completing quests for various non-player characters inhabiting the game world, Pandora. Many of these quests advance the game’s main plot, and a greater number are available tangentially via bounty boards and at the whims of the aforementioned NPCs. While the satisfying shooting mechanics, solid-feeling weaponry, and copious loot collection provide plenty of fun, the goal-driven gameplay eventually wears on the player. Missions involve many similar objectives, like collecting varying numbers of items, reaching specific locations, or killing particular enemies, and the paths to these goals are filled with fundamentally enjoyable but inevitably monotonous gunfights against mostly the same enemies with very predictable AI. Perhaps the most detrimental aspect of the campaign is that the plot is paper-thin and players will rarely be eager to see where the narrative goes next, aside from meeting a few genuinely humorous characters.

When it comes to guns and equipment, the “bazillions of guns” claim is in no way a lie — there are more variations of the seven basic gun types, grenades, and shields than anyone dare attempt to count. Finding new weapons is always an adventure, as players will constantly compare the power, firing rates, accuracy, capacity, zoom capabilities, and elemental effects of any new pickups, at the same time enjoying the different guns’ visual appearances. The game also incorporates a color-coded rarity rating system for all equipment, with less common items usually performing better and banking more money when sold. Fortunately, inventory management is streamlined and simple, so weeding through this immense arsenal won’t become a laborious process.

In fact, very little in Borderlands is a huge challenge, and players can muscle through much of the game. A number of factors contribute to this, including the aforementioned AI and marginally-complex mission structure, which let players essentially run and gun straight through to their mission objectives in a relatively straight line at a mostly unreserved pace. Additionally, players will rarely find themselves strapped for cash because of the incredible availability of weapon drops, all of which can be sold at any in-game vending machine, and the caches of money that litter the landscape.


Cooperative play is a huge part of Borderlands, and can either make things easier and more enjoyable or frustrating and difficult. In local split-screen mode and online games where players have headsets to communicate, working together is great fun, even when the game ramps up the difficulty to account for the added team support. Using complimentary character skills and team-affecting abilities is very satisfying, and if you’re like me, the constant desire to be the most productive and deadly on your squad will be motivational and engaging. On the other hand, playing with no means of communication is like hammering your toes to the floor (that means it’s not fun). Some players are clueless, will behave counter-productively, and will make you want to quit the game. Luckily, you can do just that and hopefully find a game with less impaired teammates.

No matter how you play the game, Borderlands‘ striking animated art style, with bright, high-contrast visuals, is immediately appealing, and makes Pandora a place that you want to dive headlong into. Everything, from enemies to items to environmental structures, is clear and easily distinguishable, even though many of the game’s assets lack truly intricate detail. The style is very similar to the newest Prince of Persia game, but with less epic background vistas and less impressive special effects. It looks great overall, but one glaring issue in Borderlands is the disturbingly obvious texture pop-in, which makes each new area look like someone simply dumped watercolors onto every surface until the definition improves many seconds later. It’s a jarring effect that happens upon entering a new area or starting the game; if it occurs at other times, it’s far less conspicuous.

Borderlands will suck players into a huge world that is just begging to be explored, but exploration isn’t one of the game’s strong suits. Players will undoubtedly have a great time with the different character builds, weapons, and multiplayer squad configurations, but will also be served lackluster narrative and mission structure that temper the experience. Overall, it’s absolutely worth playing, however, as there is no other game that achieves cooperative RPS gameplay equivalent to what’s presented here.


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Author: Eddie Inzauto View all posts by
Eddie has been writing about games on the interwebz for over ten years. You can find him Editor-in-Chiefing around these parts, or talking nonsense on Twitter @eddieinzauto.

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