Xbox 360
Reviewed: 1/13/2010

You might remember this guy Cliff Bleszinski saying in the summer of ’09 that “the future of shooters is RPGs.” A season later, Borderlands comes by and proves him more or less correct. Although Borderlands is definitely more shooter than RPG, and some purists may say something to the effect of: “Just because it has levels and skill trees and quests, doesn’t automatically make it an RPG!” it deserves to be recognized as an RPG for its gameplay (not just because of being dubbed a “role plying shooter” on the back of the box). So, no, old codger, I ain’t getting off your lawn.

First thing one has to be aware of in Borderlands is that the story is negligible. Apart from adding the necessary a beginning, middle, and end, the underlying conflict of the story is easy to ignore. The player’s character is one mercenary in a group of four, who comes to the planet Pandora for whatever reason is mentioned in the manual or somewhere (a fact that is never mentioned or brought up in the game) and s/he is looking for The Vault. It’s sort of like Fallout, except in this case The Vault is this fairy tale place about which no one really knows anything about, except this mysterious chick called The Guardian Angel who shows up in the character’s head to say what to do next every once in a while. So does this one scientist chick, and the Atlas Corporation. Borderlands‘ story can be treated like the story of an MMO, in that even if one pays no attention to it, one will not be confused about what is going on. And in traditional MMO fashion, one receives quests from NPCs, or Bounty Boards, with some occasionally funny names and references sprinkled throughout.

Screen Shot
Everyone has a gun, so that means everyone is safe.

Gameplay is where Borderlands shines. You shoot guys, guys shoot at you, you hide behind stuff, you pick up guns, and you shoot at guys with your new guns. There are billions of guns. The game’s engine creates random guns during play, and places them randomly in chests throughout the game. Very rarely will players come across an exactly the same gun outside of quest rewards and certain boss drops. The guns come with a variety of perks and effects. One can find shotguns that fire rockets, machine guns that fire three bullets in one shot, guns that shoot fire, guns that shoot acid, guns whose bullets will occasionally explode on impact. There is a bit of clunkiness when using the game’s vehicles, however.

Every character has a skill tree that helps them excel at a particular type of gun, from revolver pistols to alien beam guns. They also get a variety of perks, such as getting bullets that heal allies, causing elemental damage by standing next to enemies, or simply increasing the party’s shields. Every character has a distinct style of play and three different skill trees that provide a lot of variety within a single character. The characters all have unique skills: Roland can deploy a turret at any time to help shoot some bad guys when in a pinch; Brick can go berserk and beat the crap out of any living thing with insanely powerful fists (I once killed a level 32 King Spinderant with a Level 18 Brick’s Berserk ability…); Lilith can enter a different dimension, becoming invisible to enemies and thereby escaping a tough situation and allowing her shield to recharge, or cause damage upon phasing back in; Mordecai can release his pet hawk Bloodwing, to help fight enemies and find items.

Borderlands‘ difficulty is elastic, depending on whether a person is playing alone or with a group. One can play through the entire game solo, and still get the full experience: the only thing that the player won’t experience without multiplayer is PVP arena matches, or duels, which are a negligible part of the game. However, there is certainly a lot of fun to be had with a group of friends in this game.

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As if directed by Michael Bay

The graphics are heavily stylized, cel shaded and cartoonish. Even the backgrounds, such as rocks, seem to have been drawn in marker, as much of the shading is done in lines and grids. This gives the game a somewhat quirky feel, and while the look works, the game does not look that great when compared to other games in this current generation. There are a few things that can appear somewhat irksome: there is a very small variety in the appearances of human enemies, and since they are the ones the player will be seeing the most of throughout the game, it becomes quite noticeable. There is also very little variety between NPCs, and because there is only a handful of them, this bit seems just a little lazy on the developer’s part. These are, however, some pretty small flaws.

The gun sound effects are satisfying, and the voice acting, for what is present is actually fairly good. The music lends itself to the atmosphere of the game, although its tones can on occasion seem too somber and depressing for the tone of the rest of the game.

Overall, Borderlands is a great game, expertly combining the good parts of RPGs with the good parts of FPSs. Despite a few graphical issues and the negligible story, the simple fun of the gameplay and its multiplayer function, as well as the immense amounts of replay value brought by multiple characters, with multiple skill trees, a New Game+ mode, and high-quality downloadable content packs, Borderlands is a great example of the truth of Cliff Bleszinski’s prediction.

-Ivan Taran

Score Breakdown
Out of 10
See our Review Criteria
Gameplay Excellent
Story Bad
Graphics Very Good
Sound/Music Good
Replay Value Legendary
The Verdict: Great