RPG Tangent - Borderlands

Author: Andrew /

So I just had a thought. D&D is a paper role playing game (that wasn't the thought). As a role playing game where the players design the experience, I think it's valid to look at other games that enhance (or possibly ruin...) our views and the way we design, run and play our D&D games. As such, I'm making an "RPG Tangent" set of posts to discuss other games that approach our genre and possible things we can pull from these experiences.

So, the game in question today?


Borderlands is an awesome little gem of a video-game created by Gearbox. It's being marketed as an "RPS" or a role-playing-shooter. Their entire goal was to take elements of popular games of late such as the likes of Doom3, Fallout 3, World of Warcraft, Diablo, Mass Effect, etc (popular shooters and role playing games in the video game market) and make a game that blends the features of these games into one insane, awesome, shoot-fest with integrated gameplay elements of a role playing game.

Essentially, what Borderlands feels like to me is a first-person Diablo with guns and less role play. Now, usually, I'm all for RP and think "the more, the merrier!" but in the case of Borderlands, I never felt I needed it. It wasn't a world I felt like impacting with words and the sheer absense of friendly NPCs around (save your home bases scattered about) makes the player not really mind being unable to chew the fat with the locals.

The game takes place on Pandora which is some weird kind Mad-Max rip off with a stylized western feel. Most of the local friendly NPCs are backwater-yokle types with a country twang that really works. The vast majority of the dialogue cracks me up all the time and the NPCs do their job of serving up missions (or quests, if you must) and spicing it up with some good-ole, down home plain talkin'.

The story is baseline at best. You're one of four mercenaries, Mordecai - the scout, Lilith - the siren (the stealthy one), Roland - the soldier and Brick - the.... well, Brick. You're hunting for "The Vault", a rumored cache of alien weapons and technology. That's about it. You start in a town made of ramschackle tin shacks and blown out barracks, etc. You check the bounty boards, the claptrap robots (who are hilarious) and the NPCs talk "redneck" style to ya and it's great.

So, the story is shallow / simple, the role-playing is nonexistent, so what's so great about Borderlands? The combo of the things they put in the game.

You know loot? PHAT loots, even? Yeah, this game is riddled with it. There are literally hundreds of THOUSANDS of guns, if not more. The trailer actually advertizes 87 BAZILLION guns! This is really sweet, in that they actually went to the trouble of developing a separate AI purely for procedurally generating guns. There are fictional gun manufacturing companies that make all these guns with varying stats such as damage, accuracy and fire rate. There are also variables and bonuses that some might have such as increased clip size, improved rate of fire, increased damage, elemental damage (caustic acid, explosions, fire, etc), etc. Every gun has rarity color taken straight from WoW (white-green-blue-purple-orange). One of the things that makes this a blast (pun very much intended) is getting a new gun and testing it on some of the crazed maniac bandits and beasties that roam the wasteland of pandora. You go out with your new shotgun, sniper rifle, machine gun or what have you, and blow-stuff-up!

One other thing that makes this a great game is the upgradable elements. You upgrade the weapon slots you have. You start out being able to only carry two weapons at a time, but as things go on, you unlock slots to be able to cary up to four. You have slots for class ability upgrades, shield upgrades, grenade upgrades (the grenades in the game are normal and you purchase or find upgrades that apply properties to them such as sticky, bouncy, proximity mines, health-stealing, etc), etc.

There are also the skill-trees. Like Diablo and WoW and many other games now that give you "skill paths" to follow, you've got that in Borderlands too. Playing Brick, I was able to go with either a brawler tree (where you beef up his special ability to go crazy and start beating the living daylights out of everything in sight), the tank tree (where you beef up his ability to take damage, thereby triggering great offensive abilities when in the thick of things) and the blaster tree (where you upgrade things that beef up his explosives, usually). You can put points into any tree you like, mix 'n' match, etc and it's great. All the skills are useful and what's more, they're really fun. One of the ending blaster skills even allows Brick to regen rockets for his rocket launcher, 2 every minute! Yes, some of the skills are silly, but the entire game is over the top and it's pure and total entertainment.

The style of the game is awesome as well. The graphical style (which they're calling "concept art style" *yawn*) is, as Peter Griffin would say, "freakin' sweet!". Everything is done with a mix of colors and browns and greys so things seem dusty, but not "un-vibrant". Everything is also given heavy, black linework throughout the textures, giving it an almost sketchy and comic-bookish style. I thought, going into it, that roaming a desert would be boring, but it's far from it. The art is varied and the characters are interesting to look at and everything just feels great.

The sound quality is great and the gameplay is tight and responsive. Borderlands makes no bones about what it does and it does it all really well.

The one gripe I have about this game is the multiplayer. When it works, it works great, but getting your networking to work well (and this is just on PC) can be a bit of a pain. You usually have to open some ports on your computer's router and make sure the connection is working right. That said, it's not THAT hard to work and what's more, not everyone has to do this. From what I've heard, they're working on fixing the networking problem as well. If you don't want to futz with that, it's also available for 360 and PS3. This is NOT a game breaker by any means, just a minor annoyance.

What can we learn from this? Sometimes a brawl really is a fun part of the game. RP is great and has its place for sure, but sometimes it's nice to just whip your sword or axe or magic impliment out and go crazy on some bad guys. Sometimes RP can be its own reward but sometimes it's a blast to just wade through a pile of gold and weapons and get all decked out. Sometimes seriousness is great and can set an awesome mood, but so can humor and hysterics, if done right. Borderlands is a shining example of this and I think everyone should pick this up and enjoy it. I, having seen game design, learning it and trying it, can tell that this is a massive labor of love, with an approach where the creators unabashadly took inspiration from other games in the industry by name, instead of keeping it all a secret, not caring that something might look like a rip-off. Their goal here was fun and I have to say, they succeeded with flying colors and a little (ok, a lot) of blood-spatter!

It's rated M for crazy shooter violence, some language and over-the-top Mad-Max fun!

I hope this gives you guys some fun ideas and also gives ya something to pick up and play with on your computers (or your PS3 or 360). HAPPY GAMING!



Lincoln said...

I agree entirely. I've been playing this game every day now for the past couple days, and I can't really stop. I'm always looking forward (sort of >.>) to going to the weapon vending machines and looking at the weapons of the day (they change on a time basis, 100% random, makes me angry sometimes because the game seems to hate me and refuses to give me a decent sniper >:( ). On top of that, money really can be important in this game, It's not a game where you can go trade stuff, or give out money. You can't drop money, you can't really "trade" items... Sure, you can drop items on the ground for others to pick up, but this leaves space open for ninjas to steal your loots :p...

As far as the graphics go, they're pretty darn cool. Even with my piece of poo computer (really, it's terrible... with the required settings being a 4.0, and the recommended settings being a 5.0 for this game, my computer is a 4.2, most likely because of my monster graphics card that the rest of my computer can't even fully use.) Asides from the huge black patches i get (because of my cruddy computer), and by black patches i mean just that, the ground in many areas for me is black... Basically, there are huge patches of just... black. The terrain ends abruptly into a giant patch of nothingness. It doesn't really hurt the gameplay, i can run on it, etc, although it does make depth perception darn near impossible (at early levels i fell off a couple cliffs into groups of mobs that tore me to shreds :[ ), once you get used to it though, it really isn't all that bad, and there isn't much of it... I have yet to hear of anybody else with this same problem, but if anyone knows how i may be able to fix this problem, I'm obviously all ears... I've tried everything I could think of.. (reinstalling, uninstalling, redownloading, installing, fixing, etc.)

All in all, AMAZING game, I recommend you get your hands on this game, it's something you definitely do NOT want to miss out on if you love first person shooters, or casual RPG's.

As Andrew said, the RPG aspect isn't HUGE, but it's enough that you know it's there. There are plenty of missions to keep you busy, in fact that's ALL you do, as far as i can tell, they really did pretty much remove the grinding aspect of the game... I have yet to NEED to go out and just kill things non-stop until i level up. That said, quick overview:
-Very very fun
-great design
-RPG *thumbs up*
-no grinding *two thumbs up*
-Plenty of missions (two thumbs and a big toe up)
-multiplayer is best way to play the game (in my opinion)
-loot system is VERY fun (frustrating at times :p)

"HAPPY GAMING!" (quote of Andrew :p)

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