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Thursday, January 21, 2010

First Play: Borderlands

"First play" is a bit misleading, I hopped onto Borderlands a bit ago after finally defeating and subsequently walking away from Dragon Age with mixed feelings and a serious need to shoot something.

And if you need to shoot something, look no farther than Borderlands. One of the game's strengths is the unabashed mashup of RPG and FPS elements - but the shooter mechanics sit front and center. Deus Ex fans will feel like they're playing something familiar and yet not all together similar when it comes to the overarching design of the game. Walk, shoot, collect stuff, and in this case - earn XP and upgrade your character. Borderlands keeps things simple ... you don't manipulate stats or skills, you have a simple tree of passive bonuses which fall under a main active ability which is dependent on the character class you pick. It's refreshingly straightforward and one of those odd moments where simplicity just works really, really well.

Graphically, Borderlands has a combination of the unique and cliche, basically a cel-shaded Mad Max world with hints of futuristic decor here and there. Cliche-wise, even Borderlands can't resist the "sexy female voice whispering orders in your ear" routine, though the mystery lady only pokes up every now and then to push the overall story forward. There's actually not much real dialogue in the game, save for some introductory passages, quips from various characters and your own witty retorts. Character interaction is limited mostly to mission boards - which isn't much. Did I mention the RPG elements are very lightweight? Very lightweight.

My general dislike of random online people has kept me from trying this online so far, which is probably a shame since that is where most reviews say is where the game shines. This reason was why the game was last on my post-holiday list - but so far, it's been a very solid experience. Solo play suffers from two things - monotony and occasionally being stuck far away from a store. Enemies respawn in areas with some regularity in the game so you'll have a "been there, done that" feeling to areas quite often. This plays right into the problem of sometimes being out in the boondocks and realizing that everything behind you is respawning as you play. Thankfully the game scales some enemies - but not all, so your progress doesn't feel like all grind, yet you'll find new challenges in places as you level up.

So far, I'd say the game comes down to - how much do you like shooting skags? Skags are the de facto mutant doglike enemy in the game, and you'll spend a lot of time fending off groups of them. I'm a FPS fan, so the solid core mechanics with the RPG twist works pretty well for me, but I like shooting skags quite a lot. For players who wanted a deeper RPG experience, though, you'll need to look elsewhere.

Without factoring online play in, I give the game a soft recommendation based on the above. Look for more in the future, especially as I try online later.