Friday, November 23, 2018

Borderlands (PC) - Review

In the Borderlands of fun.

I've been on a streak of completing games that have been high on my "to-play"-list for many years, and I must say it feels good. Borderlands is no different, I've been meaning to play it ever since I first saw my now-ex bf play it back when it was released in 2009. Back then I was neck-deep into WoW though and had little time for any other game, something I've mentioned many times before and basically what I've been trying to rectify since.

Watching over the shoulder of my ex, I liked the way Borderlands looked. While I thought the intro gavethe impression of the game being a bit try-hard, it looked like it had some fun shooting and looting going for it. Having tried it now though, nine years later, I can say that whether you have any fun in Borderlands really depends on how you play it.

Borderlands is essentially the simplest kind of shooter. Ever heard of Space Invaders? Yeah, it's actually not many steps removed from that. You can pick from four different classes - Soldier, Sniper, Siren and Berserker. Note that I've only played the game as a Soldier so obviously this review is limited to that viewpoint. I have a tendency to choose what many say to be the most "boring" class, so maybe I should reroll and give it another go. Unfortunately what I experienced as a soldier gives me no desire to do so.

Graphics have changed a bit though.

Not that Borderlands is an awful game, even if I am really making it sound that way right now. It's just very... meh. It was difficult not to compare it to Fallout 3 and New Vegas, because they both take place in a post-apocalyptic setting with a lot of different gear, wonky characters to meet and zany enemies to fight. While Fallout 3 and New Vegas definitely also has its flaws, that's a whole 'nother post, suffice to say that a lot of the things they have got in common mostly work in Fallout and not so much in Borderlands.

What kind of things for instance?

Well, Borderlands is loot-heavy. A lot revolves around gathering or purchasing new gear and comparing it to already existing gear. Unfortunately you rarely get excited about any of it because they all feel pretty same-y. Maybe this is where the different classes come in? As a soldier I was pretty much limited to just using arms (not the ones you flail with, the ones you shoot with) but as I understood it it's not much different with the other classes, just which weapons you choose to use. In Fallout, I often use pretty much every weapon I come across at some point, giving me a lot of variety in how I choose to tackle an enemy. Here, I found that there was really only two types worth using - one spray and pray for close combat and one sniper gun for far away. The only time I swapped was because I ran out of ammo.

It's raining guns.

There are skills to put points in, but they don't feel like they make much of a difference really. Some of them are even specifically for multiplayer, and therefore pointless (pun intended) if you're playing at it alone. This says a lot about the game actually, and I will get back to this.

You'll meet NPC's, most notably probably the Claptraps (who along with the guy who seems to threaten to kill himself, because that's cool, are the faces of the game), and fight a lot of monsters, but the game is really struggling to make me care. There are also little details that just doesn't make me feel like the world is real (which is obviously a tricky word to use with something that is technically not actually real). While some things I do have a permanent effect on the surrounding, they are few and far between. Most locations are only available through teleports and so feel more like stages than actual sites. Most places in Fallout are seamlessly connected, you open a door to the subways or a vault and you are there without a loading screen in between that teleports you to a new location. It makes a world of difference for immersion, at least for me. Borderlands is just a whole bunch of disconnected areas for you to do quests in and that makes everything you meet and fight in them feel disconnected as well.

Not only that, you interact with the areas in the exact same way every time you return. Enemies come charging at you in the exact same way every time you turn the same corner. If you play this game often enough I am sure you could play it blind-folded, because there will be literally no surprises.

The DLC I tried were just more of the same.

And the quests themselves are never particularly inspired, at least not the lot I came across during my total of 14 hours played. While in Fallout you can find some really weird and memorable quest chains, in the eight hours I managed to get myself to play singleplayer of Borderlands I can't recall a single quest I did except for "kill named supermob X". It really wasn't much different in multiplayer either. Also, something I sort of have mentioned already, the quests seem to have little effect on the surroundings. Killing off a tribe of bandits or the beforementioned supermob doesn't mean the tribe or the moblings will be gone or changed in any meaningful way. They will still be there the next time you pass through, as if you hadn't done anything to them.

Even if I might be exaggerating reality a bit, this is exactly how it feels when you play the game - as if everything is just a giant Sisyphos project and you are struggling without a purpose. What is the goal of the game anyway? I have no idea actually. If there was a main quest chain in there somewhere, it completely failed to catch my interest.

Graphically I was happy to see what felt like a fresh take with the cel-shading, and I am sure the game would've only felt even more dull without it. While it only emphasizes the promise that Borderlands makes and can never deliver, because the game definitely looks like it could be a lot of fun, it's still one of the better components of the game. I mostly enjoyed the enemy designs as well, both gameplay wise and aesthethically. It's interesting then that combat still manages to be overall quite boring, but that wasn't down to the enemies or how they acted as such. Instead I put it down to the beforementioned issue of repetitiveness. While a fight with a group of enemies could be fun the first and second time, when you ran into them the tenth time and knew exactly what was coming, the fun had definitely worn off. And to show that the circle always is complete, I read reviews of Fallout 76 and find that a lot of the critique of that game reminds me of the problems with this game, at least regarding world-building.

Overall Borderlands left me with a feeling of almost wanting to be mindless. And maybe this isn't trying to be a memorable or awe-inspiring experience, it's supposed to just be some thoughtless run and gun fun! In many ways that takes me back to my comment about Space Invaders. You'll see and fight the same enemies over and over and maybe that is supposed to be the fun - you're simply not supposed to have to think much about what you do. And I would never have realized that might be the case if it wasn't for a funny coincidence.

The graphics are pretty much the only thing that makes the world come alive, at least a little bit.

After having played Borderlands for eight hours on my own, I decided to give it another couple of hours to wow me before I uninstalled it and moved on. As I was playing that final push, one of my oldest and best friends asked me on Steam if he could join me. Sure thing, I thought, it can only make the game better, surely.

And I was correct. The multiplayer skills in singleplayer mode had already given me the hint that this game didn't seem designed for singleplayer experiences at all. Running around with someone you enjoy playing with, allowing you to heroically save each other from gunfire or death and discuss which loot should go to which person really made all the difference. Most games are made better when played with a friend but that doesn't necessarily mean a game can't have a fun singleplayer mode, like Heroes of Might and Magic 2 and 3. Here I'd say the difference between singleplayer and multiplayer fun is almost as profound as in a Mario Party game.

But in the end Borderlands still suffers from a great lack of depth. It seems to try to mask this by showering you in loot like some sort of Diablo-clone and let you talk to wonky characters that still manage to leave no impression. Throughout my game time with Borderlands I never once thought "oh I just need to do this" or "I wonder what happens next" or even "huh, that's cool". When I play a game like Pokémon I'll look at the time and wonder what happened to the last two hours. With this I look at the time and wonder how it's only been twenty minutes.

In before someone chimes in "you should use this and that mod though"; firstly I am against a game needing mods to even be fun and secondly I really don't think mods could've fixed the issues that made the game tedious in the first place.

If you happen to have a buddy and you're looking for a game you haven't played together yet and you can find this cheap, then sure, I think it could provide you with a decent amount of fun for a decent amount of time. Otherwise, there is a lot better things you can do with your time. Play Borderlands 2 maybe?

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