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Critical Reception: 2K/Gearbox Software's Borderlands

This week's edition of Critical Reception examines online reaction to Gearbox Software's open-world FPS Borderlands, which reviews describe as "a very entertaining shooter", if potentially less effect as an RPG.

Danny Cowan, Blogger

October 21, 2009

5 Min Read

This week's edition of Critical Reception examines online reaction to Gearbox Software's open-world FPS Borderlands, which reviews describe as "a very entertaining shooter and a rather bland RPG." Borderlands currently earns a score of 85 out of 100 at Metacritic.com. Dan Ryckert at Game Informer scores Borderlands at 9.25 out of 10. "A scoped revolver that sets enemies on fire. An acid-spewing shotgun. A golden sniper rifle that shoots electric bullets," he begins. "It's this intense focus on weaponry that keeps Gearbox's take on the apocalypse exciting long after you'd shelve most action games." Ryckert likens Borderlands' open-world gameplay to role-playing epics like Fallout 3 and The Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivion. "It's possible to wander for hours, transforming your active missions log into an ever-increasing 'to-do' list," he explains. "Take on one mission that involves harvesting crystals in a cave, and you may get distracted on the way by a nearby town, a legless man in need of assistance, or any one of the entries on the absurdly long list of XP challenges." Borderlands benefits greatly from its inclusion of cooperative multiplayer gameplay. "Borderlands would be a fantastic title to get lost in even if it was limited to single-player," Ryckert praises. "Get two or three friends to join you, and it becomes one of the best cooperative experiences in recent memory." "Every aspect of the cooperative experience is designed for maximum convenience and ease of use," Ryckert continues. "Want to join the game of a friend who is significantly farther ahead in the story? No problem: You'll get a ton of XP for taking on the advanced enemies, and any missions you complete while in this alternate timeline will be reflected when you reach that point in your own game." "Borderlands attempts many things, which in this medium can often end with a laundry list of features but no fully-developed ones," Ryckert admits. "This is one of the rare occasions where all of the new experiences a game brings to the table work out splendidly, especially when viewed as an entire package." 1UP.com's Thierry Nguyen gives Borderlands a grade of B+, noting that cooperative multiplayer is its greatest asset. "The one thing you absolutely need to know about Borderlands is that it's basically Mario Party for FPS fans," he notes. "Borderlands is a game where the single-player ranges from good to downright boring or frustrating; but when you add multiple players to a session, it becomes a delightful fusion of cooperative mechanics, a simple (yet effective) reward scheme, and solid gunplay." "A more traditional description for Borderlands would be, 'cooperative FPS with Diablo-esque mechanics,'" Nguyen continues. "You start off by picking a character: Roland the gun-toting soldier, Lilith the stealth/magic femme, Mordecai the sniper, and Brick the boxer/tank. Then you guide that character through a grand journey with multiple quest hubs and dungeons; most of the quests are of the simple 'go to a dungeon and kill/collect x amount of y.'" "The loot system also pulls from Diablo," Nguyen observes, "in that a bunch of adjectives in the name determine weapon factors such as damage, firing rate, magazine size, and so forth; you can open a chest or loot a basic enemy and get a surprise in the form of a SMG with a scope, a large ammunition clip, and explosive rounds." Nguyen finds that this style of gameplay, mixed with Borderlands' traditional FPS mechanics, make for a lacking single-player experience. "Playing Borderlands alone is an invitation for occasional aggravation and boredom," he warns. "The enemy A.I. is simply dumb for the most part. Most enemies follow the 'run straight at the player' tactic, with only the Crimson Lance (end-game baddies) utilizing any actual tactics. Fine for when baddies swarm you and your buddies, but dreadfully uninteresting when playing alone." In multiplayer, however, these problems fade. "When you add multiple (up to four) players to all that, it simply works," Nguyen says. "There's something to be said about collectively experiencing panic when the screen gets filled with 'badass level 35 angry shotgunner midgets' (actual game term). When you add players, the game adds tougher (and sometimes even more interesting) enemies to compensate." Tyler Wilde at Games Radar rates Borderlands at 8 out of 10. "Borderlands lacks the charm of Fallout 3, Mass Effect, or Half-Life 2, but it does offer a crap-ton of 'roided-out bandits, effed-up dog things, giant spider demons, and screeching pterodactyl beasts to shoot with a crap-ton of guns," he writes. "And that's really what it's about – finding weapons and shooting things with them." Wilde warns that those expecting a complex narrative from Borderlands may be disappointed. "After the character selection and gameplay introduction are over," he writes, "the once promising characters are reduced to a few catch phrases, your robotic guide quickly becomes annoying (and thankfully leaves you alone, mostly), and the devious Doctor Zed, who is introduced with great style, turns out to be a cardboard cutout (and so do the rest of the NPCs you'll meet)." Borderlands also occasionally suffers from repetitive gameplay objectives, though Wilde feels that its focus on varied combat keeps things interesting. "Most importantly, the combat is fun," he assures. "Shotgunning, detonating, and knifing waves of 'roid-raging bandits, squashing skags in rocket launcher equipped buggies, bringing down absurdly massive bosses with bouncing grenades and rocket launchers –- it's all enjoyable enough that the repetition is forgivable." "Borderlands is a very entertaining shooter and a rather bland RPG," Wilde concludes. "It rewards dedication with new guns and new things to shoot at, which is all kinds of fun for players who enjoy MMO-style progression. But if its charm and depth hadn't been abandoned so quickly, it may have been absolutely brilliant."

About the Author(s)

Danny Cowan


Danny Cowan is a freelance writer, editor, and columnist for Gamasutra and its subsites. Previously, he has written reviews and feature articles for gaming publications including 1UP.com, GamePro, and Hardcore Gamer Magazine.

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