November 2, 2009

Borderlands final review

Dale Culp says: My first impression of Borderlands - which you can read here - turned out to be a lasting one. This is a fun, terrific game with all the trappings of an MMO but without the stale fantasy setting that turns players like me off almost immediately. Borderlands is, essentially, World of Warcraft for the Halo crowd. It's also representative of a trend we're going to be seeing a lot more of with games like Brink that promise an excellent multiplayer experience that feels as tight as a single player one. Gamers have been wanting something other than sword and sorcery style role-playing and this is pretty much it. However, I believe I've praised the game enough in my first impression piece, so now I'll point out some frustration I've been having with Borderlands because, unfortunately, it's not perfect.

I started a custom multiplayer game with the hopes of attracting some fun people to play with. As much as I like to gripe about the people I bump into on Xbox Live, most of the players who joined my game were civil and courteous. I even managed to add a few more gamers to my friends list and had a great time. This is, really, the best way to experience Borderlands. We gang-up on tough bosses, tell jokes while sharing loot and tea-bag the poor Claptraps we encounter while waiting for each player to get ready before transitioning to a new area. Under the right circumstances, Borderlands never stops being fun. Under the wrong circumstances, however, it's a complete mess.

I was on a tough quest, heading into a section with some pretty high ranking enemies who'd managed to make short work of me. Pinned behind some boxes, I was waiting for my shield to recharge and hoping to get a few clear shots on the bandits as I stood and saw one running towards me. I heard the sound of rocket fire and thought, "Just what I need. They have rockets, too." The rocket's explosion did not result in my impending doom, however, as I watched the bandit quickly reduced to fiery bits of hamburger.

Wait a second, who fired that rocket?

In the firefight, I hadn't noticed that 3 other players joined the game. "You really saved my bacon," I said, but there was no reply. Instead, the 3 other players, each at level 50, just ran past me, painting the canyon walls with bits of bandit and plenty of gore. Within seconds, they had taken down the boss and finished the quest. I didn't even have a chance to reload my weapon.

The disappointment I felt in watching total strangers play my game for me - claiming all the glory and taking all the loot on their way out the door - wasn't the kicker, though. The worst part came after two of the players left, leaving me with an over-aggressive mouth-breather who just wanted to duel. I walked to the transition point, ignoring his requests, and tried to leave when the countdown was canceled. In Borderlands, if you want to cancel transitioning to another area in the game, all you have to do is hit the "back" button on your Xbox 360 controller to bring up the menu. This other player then returned to slashing me with his melee attack, insisting that we duel. Seriously. This person is a jackass. How is it ever fun, or even remotely a challenge, to duel with someone at level 25 - literally half your level? Even if I went ahead with it, even if I had a real chance at beating him, what would I gain? I guess it's a good way of settling disputes and blowing off steam between players who give a crap about such things, but mostly, the duel system in Borderlands reveals plenty of opportunity for griefing. When it became painfully clear that I wasn't going to be allowed to leave, my response was to kick the player out of the game and shut it down for the night. I'd had enough.

I expected this of the multiplayer game, which is why I wasn't in such a hurry to jump into it. This problem isn't isolated to Borderlands, by any means, but when a game like this simply begs to be played multiplayer, it's an unfortunate consequence that you're going to have to deal with if you want to get the most out of it. In short, play with friends for the best experience because there is just so much to do. Accepting one quest can often lead to several more, on top of the several you have waiting for you at the job boards and other non-player characters. Very often you'll assume you've tapped an area out completely only to turn in that last quest and suddenly become inundated with nearly a dozen more. I'm not knocking the game for having plenty to do, but without friends along to make the experience fun, it can get tedious. Thankfully, you can play the game splitscreen or through the system link, making the multiplayer experience available even without Xbox Live. Also, the light-hearted writing makes the story fun and interesting even if you don't have friends to play with you. Like in my first impression, I find myself laughing more than cursing this game and that's why I'll keep playing for a while, only going online when I'm feeling particularly adventurous.

One of my favorite features in Borderlands is the "bleeding out/second wind" feature. Instead of dying and being sent back to the last save point as soon as your health runs out, you have a few seconds to kill the enemy who knocked you down. If you can manage that, you get a "second wind" which gives you just enough shield and health to flee or keep fighting. Sometimes, however, it doesn't always work as planned. Sometimes you kill an enemy right before losing all your health and you're left fighting nothing with no hope of a second wind. Other times, you fall in such an awkward position that you can't return fire and are simply left to die. In a multiplayer game, you can use the "bleeding out/second wind" feature as an opportunity to heal a fallen comrade, or hope they come to rescue you. It's an interesting take on the idea of death in a game and can save you quite a lot of time and money.

Borderlands is quite worthy of the high praise I've given it but the few flaws it has definitely keep it from receiving a perfect score. It can get pretty lonely out there in the single player mode and the overwhelming number of quests may have you wondering if it will ever end, but it does so well to avoid taking itself seriously that you have a great time in spite of the grind. Borderlands also taps right into that loot-gathering part of the brain which makes it so addictive that it's extremely hard to put down. I can't recommend this game enough, it's definitely one I'll be playing for a long time.