It’s been a while since I’ve done my journal style of game reviewing, where I do a multi-stage analysis based on my gameplay over a period of time. I don’t do this for games I know I’m going to finish in ten hours like Arkham Asylum, Force Unleashed, and Halo Wars, but with games I know I’m putting in at least 25+ hours in, I think there is some stuff to be learned along the way, as well as after the whole thing is over.
Borderlands is one of the first games I’ve ever bought where I actually waited to see the reviews before I went and bought it. A Diablo-esque style of leveling and item drops sounds appealing, and an 87 Metacritic rating finally pushed me over the edge.
But it appears that pushed a lot of other people over the edge too, as the first two Gamestops were sold out, and I was reminded by smug employees “that I should have reserved my copy.” F*ck you, I don’t know every game I’m going to buy six months in advance.
I finally found one and have spent the last six hours or so getting acquainted with the Wasteland, err, sorry Pandora. Fallout 3 and Borderlands have a lot in common , and I’m sure you’ll see many comparisons throughout my review. The game has been described by its developers as “Fallout 3 without a stick up its ass,” though so far, I have yet to see that as the case.
Go Team Anorexia!
Players can choose from four types of characters, a sniper who uses a falcon to kill enemies, a hot chick who can become invincible (or invisible, I’m not really sure), a large guy who punches things and a soldier who spawns turrets. In every goddamn RPG ever, I ALWAYS pick the soldier/barbarian/warrior class, so I decided to go a different route and pick the sniper (the guy on the right above), though I quickly learned that you can really be anyone and level up with any weapon you want, though I’m going to try and play it by the book, and snipe for as long as I can.
What I found about my class that I quickly regretted is that there is simply no stealth in this game. I can’t sneak around and silently assassinate a band of raiders, because that option doesn’t exist due to my barrel sounding like a nuclear bomb went off every time it fires, alerting the entire cast of The Hills Have Eyes to my presence. And further more, when half of the enemies are completely melee based, sniping goes right out the window and I find myself scrambling for an SMG or a shotgun to get these spiky rabid dog things off my junk.
The plot of Borderlands so far is simple, and after the intro cutscene, is practically non-existent. There’s a vault (really guys?) with magical riches inside of it, and I’m trying to get there. I’m guided by a weird ghost/angel chick who is somehow inside my head and will most definitely turn out to be a bad guy I’m sure, and on the way, I stop to do about fifty thousand side missions to level up so I don’t get absolutely mauled in the main story arc.
As of right now, I have many more complaints about Borderlands than I do praises, so let’s get the praise out of the way first. I love the cell-shaded animation, it’s gorgeous. I love the concept of random item drops in an FPS, complete with different uber-cool weapon effects. I love the way the game controls like an actual FPS, which is a drastic step up from Fallout 3. I like splattering people and animals in my futuristic Batmobile-esque four-wheeler. But so far, that’s about it, and the game’s flaws right now are gnawing at my nuts like a spiky alien dog.
And speaking of spiky alien dogs, that brings me to my first gripe: Enemy variety and AI. So far there are two types of bad guys. Raiders, who all wear masks and have machine guns or bladed weapons (sound familiar?) and spike dogs. I forget what they’re actually called. They jump across the map and hump you viciously until you die. Both types of enemies have different levels within them. A baby spike dog grows into a whelp, into an adult, into a badass (literally, that’s an enemy class type), then into an alpha. I believe I saw a “fire badass” at one point too, which is exactly what it sounds like. But they’re all more or less exactly the same, except different sizes and more likely to f*ck you up as their level increases with yours.
One would never normally be scared in this situation, but you will be when it takes about dozen pistol shots to kill anybody.
The second problem with enemies rests in the AI. The spike dogs are psychotic, and will chase you to the end of the earth once they even get a whiff of you. The raiders, not so much. If you step outside their sight range, they completely forget you exist, even if you’re still clearly in view, just a bit far away. I remember raiding one base where I ended up fighting the world’s most idiotic boss battle. I stood outside the gate, sniping him in the head over and over with him not moving. Unfortunately he had such a quickly regenerating shield and I such an underpowered sniper rifle, the entire thing was a stalemate because I would run out of ammo before I could even come close to killing him.
And now we have my second gripe. Ammo. I’m not exactly sure how Fallout 3 did it, but with an hour or two, it never felt like you were starved for ammunition every two seconds, but in Borderlands, the stuff is harder to find than water. This might have something to do with the fact that since there are seven different weapon classes, there are seven different types of ammo, so you only have about a 15-20% chance of a dead enemy or a crate having the type you need.
Next comes the walking. Oh the walking. It’s amazing once you’re able to get a vehicle, and drive around the wasteland in a flash, but there are certain sections that force you to hoof it for massive distances, and there is no option to teleport back to a place you’ve already been. Fallout 3 may have gone overboard with quick travel, but a few key warp locations would work wonders for this game. And what makes this all the worse is that the game has decided to implement Call of Duty’s click-the-stick to run philosophy, so you have to do that the vast majority of the game.
So where am I now, after six hours? I’m stuck. Seriously. And it’s all thanks to the very worst issue I haven’t mentioned yet: respawning.
I’m in a dungeon, where I progress through 75% of it, then I run completely out of ammo, because it doesn’t drop fast enough. Then when I walk all the way back to go buy more, I try to go back to where I was and ALL THE ENEMIES HAVE RESPAWNED. Then once I fight my way back to the 75% mark, conserving ammo slightly better this time. I encounter an unbeatable enemy (a mere two levels higher than me), and he kills me so I respawn at the beginning. Respawning costs money every time you do it, as does buying ammo, so I’m broke, I don’t have any ammo, and if I want to turn around and go home, that requires me to trek 20 miles through raider camps and spike dog lairs which have now also respawned all their residents that I killed to get here. I’m quite literally not really sure what to do.
Come on Borderlands, let’s pick things up. This can’t be all you’ve got.
This scene alone pretty much sums up about five of my last six hours.