If there’s one thing that keeps people coming back to games, it’s loot. We’ve know that since Diablo, and we see it every day as people grind away in World of Warcraft or Monster Hunter. But that kind of RPG gameplay has never really successfully been melded with FPS action, since percentages and skill trees tend to ruin the fun of shooting dudes. Borderlands tries to fill that niche, and generally succeeds.
You play as one of four mercenaries on the planet Pandora searching for The Vault, which holds infinite riches aliens left behind… Or something. Most of the game’s story is told in text on quest screens and it’s very skipable. I got the gist of what was going on, but there were definitely some plot holes I could have filled in if I read more. The game is very much like an MMO in that aspect, you’re free to go wherever you want and take quests from a number of NPCs who want you to kill things or gather stuff. While maybe not the most engaging, it definitely works and is fun.
The game touts it “bazillions of guns,” which is somewhat misleading. The guns are procedurally generated, so there technically are a vast number of possible weapons, but most of them aren’t worth more than vendoring. That said, there definitely are more desirable guns in the game than you could ever handle, and knowing you could find your new main weapon at any moment is really addictive. There are also shields, class and grenade mods that you can find, although the good ones are much rarer with those. It’s a shame there isn’t armor to be collected, but the guns are enough to instill a strong case of loot lust.
Most importantly, the game plays well. The shooting feels right, unlike a game like Fallout 3, where the dice rolls made your accuracy feel meaningless. Borderlands works as an FPS. You aim at a dude, you’ll probably hit him. The guns feel pretty good too, and you’ll definitely be drawn to certain types and really get a kick out of them. For me it was assault rifles, because I could boost the damage of those will skills as the soldier class. That’s another thing, the skill trees really work well in that they increase your enjoyment of the game without making you feel really weak without them.
It’s kind of odd that this is only a four player game. After all, it has most of the trappings of the modern MMO, save for much endgame content. What it really lacks is a better looting system. You have to pick up ammo and money, which doesn’t make sense. What’s the advantage of not picking up money or ammo? Just do it for me. This is made worse by the troublesome loot windows, which often appear partly offscreen. Also, there’s no shared looting system, first person to grab something gets it. To trade it, you have to drop it on the ground. So make sure you play with people you trust.
Ultimately Borderlands delivers an addictive experience that we haven’t really seen before. Yes, it has flaws. But that’s what patches are for. In the mean time, you’ll definitely get more than your money’s worth from this gem.