While many longtime game fans sneer at mobile gaming, I've always tried to keep an open mind about it. Done right, a touch-based game is perfectly valid as a form of interactive entertainment, and while there are plenty of banal and pointless titles clogging up app stores, there remain surprisingly wonderful offerings.
A game's quality is defined not by its platform, but by how it uses that platform to provide an entertaining experience. With that in mind, I was hoping Borderlands Legends would be one of those enjoyable surprises, and not the limp little spin-off everybody had expected it to be.
Oh well ... limp it is, then.
Borderlands Legends (iOS)
Developer: 2K China
Publisher: 2K Games
Release: October 31, 2012
MSRP: $4.99, $5.99 (HD)
Borderlands Legends eschews the first-person perspective of the series' main entries to instead provide squad-based combat of a more tactical leaning. In essence, it takes all its cues from Warhammer 40,000: Dawn of War, giving us our four vault hunters -- Lilith, Roland, Mordecai, and Brick -- to command on an isometric battlefield.
Issuing commands is as simple (in theory) as touching a character and touching a target, after which the designated hero will automatically attack. Each of the four characters unlock and use up to three special abilities, engaged by touching the corresponding icons underneath their name. These abilities are in keeping with the character's role in the original game, with Mordecai able to send out his pet Bloodwing to score extra damage, Brick able to pound enemies with powerful melee attacks, Lilith phasewalking to avoid fire, and Roland summoning a turret. As characters level, they can gain new passive and active abilities, allowing them to taunt foes, engage a stealth mode, or create a fake target to draw fire.
In addition to offensive skills, each character also has a support ability, used by touching one ally before touching or dragging to another. Roland can heal his teammates, while Lilith increases their running speed, Mordecai boosts damage, and Brick launches a protective shield.
Missions are made up of sequential screens that spawn enemies from different sides of the map. The objective is basically to wipe everything out, with the occasional extra goal being to destroy certain objects or protect an NPC. After a number of screens, players are taken to a vendor where they can buy new weapons, shields, or ability-enhancing utilities, as well as spend any skill points earned from level gains. Like in the main games, if a character is downed, it can still attack for a limited time, and get a "Second Wind" with a sliver of health if it kills anything. Placing an ally near a downed team member can also revive him or her.
That's ... it. After each mission, you get some extra cash, and are thrown into a waiting screen to buy more gear, spend points, and do it all again. Naturally, each mission brings tougher challenges and harder enemies, and there are a few boss-level creatures, but eventually you get the feeling that you're walking in circles, rotating through the same few screens and fighting the same few enemies, with no real objective other than to keep doing it. That's not necessarily a bad thing, provided the action is fun in the first place -- it isn't.
On a technical level, Borderlands Legends is too cluttered and messy to really work. You have to command each character individually, and getting the right target selected can be a pain when enemies pile in and you're trying to pinpoint the correct, tiny character model. The squad is pretty unreliable, too. Sometimes they'll simply ignore commands, or get stuck on bits of scenery (or each other). Half the time it's better to let the protagonists deal with enemies however they see fit, letting them automatically attack whatever comes close while you dish out combat skills when necessary.
Relying on the A.I. to do half the job is made doubly worse by the fact that, all told, Borderlands Legends is tedious in all of its elements. Lacking the pace, versatility or tactical slant found in Dawn of War, this effort from 2K is a tepid recreation, as small waves of cloned enemies wander aimlessly into view to be popped off by the Vault Hunters in unspectacular ways. It's playable, inoffensive, but ultimately boring.
While there is some simple compulsion in the form of loot-nabbing between rounds, there are many better games to feed one's hoarding urges. Even on iOS, I'd say the leveling and loot system found in something like Infinity Blade is worth your time over this. Outside of the mobile platform, pretty much anything is more rewarding. The real Borderlands games, for example.
Beyond the poorly implemented interface, there's nothing particularly wrong with Borderlands Legends. It's a serviceable little iOS spin-off that provides the most basic and fundamental of playable experiences. However, it's still a monotonous and unexciting slog through a game that plays out like a stuck record, and even the most hardcore of Borderlands fans will find little of interest, lacking as it does the series' trademark personality.
If you ever spot it available for a dollar (and it will be available for a dollar at some point), then it's worth picking up for those days when you're really, really bored. There's nothing in here worth any greater investment than that.