October 20, 2009

Borderlands - first impressions

Dale Culp says: War. War never changes. Oh, wait! That's that other role-playing shooter. Hell, sorry about that. What you want to hear about is Borderlands. You want to know what I think of it, so far. You want to know if I think it's good. Well, I'm about 2 hours and 5 missions into Borderlands. I've already gone through a handful of guns, died once and laughed more than I can remember in most games. So far, Borderlands is brilliant.

As the game starts out, you're riding on a bus with several other people, being regaled by a gruff, old bus driver with tales of treasure and those who've sought it on Pandora -- a planet which promised wealth and resources galore but quickly disappointed the colonists who settled there. You're introduced to the other passengers, given a brief explanation of their strengths and weaknesses, then asked to pick one as your character. As soon as I saw The Hunter, Mordecai, I knew the character I wanted. Sleak, steady, he prefers to pick his enemies off from afar with the sniper rifle and cleans up with handguns when they get too close. Although, as you gain experience, I'm sure you'll be able to custom tailor your character anyway you choose.

Once you're off the bus, the world of Pandora is yours... almost. There's some exhibition involving a psychic message from someone who is, no doubt, central to the plot of the game. You're told to follow a small robot and do exactly what it tells you. Soon enough, you're in the thick of a fight as a couple of bad guys try their best to put a few holes in you. Assuming your first taste of combat isn't also your last, the game begins to open up and you get your first quest. That's where Borderlands begins to show its true colors as the role-playing elements begin to kick in.

The quest system is very similar to something you might see in a massively multiplayer role-playing game. Talk to a non-player character, accept his or her mission to kill some set number of creatures, then return for your reward. Get the picture? No dialogue trees, no talking heads or ethical choices to make (so far), just click the button and move along. I hate to boil it down like that but I can understand how that might turn some people off. Also, I haven't tried the multiplayer mode of Borderlands yet, but I can probably make a good estimate of how it'll work and, to be honest, I think I might skip on that for a while.

If you don't know yet, the graphics are cell-shaded and look wonderful. Given the setting -- with it's massive, strange rock formations and arid, desert scene -- the cell-shading makes it feel like you're in one, big Road Runner and Wile E. Coyote cartoon. Throw in the offbeat humor, the crazy denizens that you'll encounter and the visual gags throughout the world of Pandora and the analogy is even better. This is slapstick comedy with a jagged edge; a feel-good game for the post-apocalyptic bunch.

So far, Borderlands has been a blast, and the real-time combat is exactly what it's supposed to be: this is a shooter, first. Your weapons do a set number of damage and increase as you improve your character, but a well-placed headshot pops bad guys' tops and drops them like rocks. If you were expecting Fallout 3, go away. Twitchy players with an itchy trigger finger will feel right at home.

I hope the rest of the game turns out as sweet as what I've seen so far. I know I've only scratched the surface and there's a wealth of stuff just waiting for me to uncover, but on my first impression, I'm hooked. Borderlands is good; it's REAL good.