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Late to the Party: Borderlands

Today I'm starting what I hope will be the start of a regular column, titled "Late to the Party."  Basically the way it works is this:  I, like probably a majority of gamers who are also students, can't necessarily afford all the newest games all the time.  So I buy the majority of my games through Steam sales.  Who wouldn't?  The sales provide a great method of acquiring good games that you may have missed the first time around for much less than they would be otherwise, primarily because they're several years old.  Sometimes I'll get a newer game because it's good, and I'll discuss them too, but for now, we start with an older one, because it's the one I'm finishing first.

Borderlands is Gearbox's seminal shooter, originally released in 2009.  The game was lauded at its release simply for the sheer amount of content that was put into the game; Gearbox made big notes specifically on the large amount of weapons present to players through its generation system, claiming "gazillions of guns" were available.  This is pretty much true: most everything you kill will drop some kind of loot, usually a weapon or ammo or cash, and there's a large number of ammo crates, trash dumpsters, weapons chests and lockers, among other containers available that contain lots of miscellaneous gear.  It's pretty much an MMO player's wet dream in terms of sheer drops.


One of the real stand out portions of Borderlands is the setting.  The world of Pandora is a place where you get the real feeling that something went plain wrong in its history.  A desert world with more than one sun abandoned by industries seeking fortune leaving you and your friends, all fortune hunters, to seek a legendary fortune that may or may not exist... you get the idea.  Since it's been several years, SPOILERS: the fortune exists, but you don't get any of it.  However, the planet itself is what's really interesting.  There's a lot going on in Pandora's history, from long seasons alternating between dry and wet evidenced by boats scattered around the landscape, to a history of humanity landing and then leaving several times before you even entered the picture.  There's no trade coming into Pandora, so all the equipment is hand-me-down, including the vehicles that Scooter lovingly restores every time yours gets shot to pieces and the towns themselves.  No one trusts anyone, let alone you, and this may or may not have anything to do with the fact that most of the locals are tenement laborers and freed prisoners left to their own psychotic devices.  The world has a life of its own just waiting beneath the surface of the game.

Unfortunately, that's basically where it stays.  Everything about the world itself is displayed either through static conversations, the written pieces proceeding and following every quest, or through what you can see and guess about your surroundings.  Pandora, aside from the multitudes of meat puppets waiting to try and kill you by attracting the most lead and a few static set pieces that are supposed to be quest givers, is lifeless.  It's almost an oxymoron to say that given the fact that there is so much possibility written out in the landscape.  But that's basically it.  Characters have motivations and personality, but all of that is either thrown at you with a fetch quest or passed out with a few witty one liners.  I suppose it should be telling about how much character development or even interaction exists when for the first section of the game, and indeed the good majority of the quests, you're either interacting with a bounty board that has job listings or getting told by disembodied figures through your communicator where to go and who to kill next.


The lifelessness of the planet says nothing about the gameplay.  I know this game is intended to be played with friends, and maybe that would help it, but I can't help but think that locale after locale of meat puppets strung together by what otherwise could be linear pathways with a bare modicum of motivation would get boring and uninspired even if I had three buddies sitting with me exploring the world.  Sure, the weapons can be ridiculous at the best of times but most of them are instantaneously pawned away for a few more useless dollars that you horde while waiting for the shops to randomly fill with a new selection of also useless items.  These are the same weapons that were the selling point for the entire game, all relegated to limited inventory space or sold for more useless points.  "Uninspired" seems a shame to say anymore, but that's what this is.  The few highlights were the pitifully few boss fights which gave you not only more character development than literally any other individual in the game with the exception of Tannis, but after the second "find all five of Tannis' lost journals" quest you know enough about her to be disappointed by the fact that all she does is send you to the next location.  It's sad because these were some of the more interesting characters, even if they were trying to eviscerate you.  "Eviscerate" is also a stretch given just how painless death and defeat is, when immediately after you fall to gunfire you're given the chance to respawn a few seconds of mildly inconvenient walking back from where you were only to adjust your strategy and press on.


"Mildly inconvenient" seems to wrap up Borderlands pretty well.  Between bland quests, an abundance of useless equipment, uninspiring characters, and a world that is literally bursting with possibility, it's disappointing to say that one of the biggest anticipation's of its release year is such a drag now when stacked up next to experiences like Bioshock Infinite and Bastion.  Even Brink was more interesting, and I must be one of the three people who actually liked Brink.

If you haven't played Borderlands yet, you're better off finding a Youtube video summing up the highlights.  This isn't to say that there isn't interesting bits, but they're hours apart, and those are hours your better served playing something else.  Here's hoping the sequel makes up for all of the lost potential.
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About LazarianParadoxone of us since 6:17 PM on 07.22.2009

Grad student gamer on a budget. Reviewing the games you should have played by now.

Steam: Hachimaki
Xbox LIVE:LazarianParadox


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