Pandora’s Box Art (Borderlands)

Years after the first Borderlands game came out, I purchased it and tried it out. And now, years after buying it, I’ve finally mustered the attention span to fully dive in and immerse myself in its world.

I’m currently level 26 and have made my way to New Haven, and so far I’ve been pleasantly surprised by the amount of content available. I decided to complete all of the side quests in the Arid Badlands, the starting zone, mostly because I’m not that great at the game and if I attempted to only do story missions as they first became available, I’d be skag meat by now. Safe to say, I opted to go collecting skag meat for a few levels, instead.

I swear, Claptrap, tell me you're dancing one more time and I will shoot out your eye.
I swear to God, Claptrap, tell me you’re dancing one more time and I will shoot out your eye.

I think one thing that attracted me to Borderlands, despite its visual style (more on that later), was the gun system. As I’ve mentioned in a previous blog post, Ratchet and Clank happens to be my favourite video game series of all time. One thing that franchise focuses on in terms of gameplay is various unique styles of weaponry, from a gun the shoots flying stars which split off and home back in on a target, to a gun that shoots black holes. Borderlands feels like a logical step up from that era of play, with third person cartoonish combat replaced with first person shooter. You may not be able to upgrade the guns as you can in Ratchet and Clank, but you are instead upgrading your character, in both levelling up and weapon proficiency skills. The weapon classes and quirks (explosive ammo, scopes, etc) mirror the custom guns aspect of Ratchet and Clank, whilst the actual loot system is more akin to World of Warcraft – another personal favourite.

I find Borderlands to be similar to Fallout 3 on many levels, mostly the base gameplay. You’re in a wasteland, there’s RPG elements, there’s bad dudes, there’s guns. Shooty shooty pow pow loot grab dash. All that good stuff. The thing is, I never really liked Fallout 3. (OPINION ALERT!) I found the overall theme and aesthetic to just be too… gloomy. And don’t get me wrong, that doesn’t make it a bad game, it achieves what it sets out to do. But that green filter over the screen just depresses me, and the serious tone just doesn’t really appeal to me. Fallout 4 looks like it’ll be less dreary, at least, so maybe I will be able to get into the Fallout universe sometime. But Borderlands’ cel-shaded landscapes appeal to me in ways Fallout never could. Aesthetically, it’s brighter, clearer, and a damn sight less bleak.  I’m not exactly a kid who needs a bright and cheerful world to feel at home, but I’d take the Arid Badlands over the Capital Wasteland any day. It’s just personal preference.

That moment when a purple is in every way worse than the rifle you found five levels previously.
That moment when a purple is in every way worse than the rifle you found five levels previously.

The loot collection system is more satisfactory than any other RPG I’ve played. It may help that it uses the white, green, blue, purple, and orange system that I’m already accustomed to in the sense of feeling accomplished. However, whilst collecting loot was infuriating at the start of the game due to limited backpack space (this was actually one of the things that originally put me off), your backpack grows over time and soon you’re hauling a whole personal armory on your back. The random chance of gun you’re going to get is enrapturing, too. Throughout the entirety of the Arid Badlands zone, Sledge is hyped up to be the main boss dude that you have to confront before moving on with the game. At level 19, after struggling through the entire level, I found a purple assault rifle immediately before the Sledge fight which had promising stats. Figuring I’d give it a go, I took him on with it, downing him in just five seconds of continuous fire and dozing down all the minions that were giving me trouble beforehand. 7 levels later and this gun is still superior to any other I’ve found.

One thing I’ll fault this game for is its inventory system. Comparing guns against each other is a pain in the ass, and on a controller the story grows worse. This was the other thing which caused me to question playing Borderlands to begin with. You can only track one quest at a time, there’s no minimap, and I only just discovered the page for milestone goals yesterday due to having never hit the Y button in the quest log screen. (Alright, maybe that one was on me.) I play with a controller on PC due to personal keybinding issues (and I’m a noob scrub who needs to git gud), and whilst controller support per se is not an issue, the prompts still all show the keys I’d need to press rather than buttons, causing some initial frustration whilst I was new to the game. Some of these problems are addressed and improved in Borderlands 2, I know, but some still remain. It is, however, an oversight I believe I can cope with when posed against the rest of the awesomeness of Pandora.

I’m glad that I finally have a shooty pow pow loot grab dash game that I can happily stick on and get lost in for a while. I’ve had some problems, personally, getting into a good FPS that comes with replayability and decent content. Fallout was too bleak, Destiny was too expensive; speaking in broader terms, many other FPS games are campaign based or just never really grabbed me. It’s been a while since I’ve been so completely satisfied with just playing an RPG, and whilst I may be six years late to the party, it’s still as an enjoyable experience to me and it must have been on release. It’s just that now, I have Destiny and soon, Fallout 4 to compare it against.


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