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Borderlands - How Style is Important

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I finally finished the main story line for Borderlands (I still have expansion packs to work through). I kept getting pulled away by other games, so I've been finishing it little by little. I'd forgotten how much fun the game is. I'm going to describe it as a mix of Fallout3 and Diablo2. It's a first person shooter in a wasteland environment, with a loot, reward system, and level system similar to Diablo. It supports 4 player coop and is available for PC, Xbox360, and PS3.

The game has a distinctive visual style. Gearbox\2K Games used a shader (probably a modified toon shader) for the entire game that gives it almost a comic book style. They did this to match the style of the concept art for the game. The result is that all the characters and environments look hand drawn. It looks amazing and really makes the game stand out without needing to push the bounds of realism. Teaming this with a quirky sense of humor really gives Borderlands a unique flavor. This is the part that the developer really got right. Without this unique style, Borderlands would have just been another game in a pile of similar mediocre games.

The loot system in the game draws you back even after you've completed each difficulty. While it is fun to play the same portions multiple times with your friends, the possibility that you'll find a better shotgun or class mod gives you a reward. The system and the concept are very similar to what you see in Diablo or WoW. Without regulation on the items, the draw isn't quite as great, but it's still fun for those of us who play casually and haven't found the perfect set of equipment yet. Seeing this in a first person shooter was unexpected.

The level system works well for the most part and mirrors what you've seen in other games. Level progression teams with the loot system to give you a steady stream of carrots. I could write a whole article just about loot systems and level system, and I may, but I'm not going to here. You've seen level systems before. It adds to the game, but there isn't anything novel here.

There are a couple parts about this game that annoy me. The use of comparative level as a damage divider\multiplier always seemed like lazy balancing to me. The way it works is if I'm level 9 and the monster is level 12 I don't do much damage per shot. If I'm level 13 and still have the same gun I'm suddenly doing massive damage. I'd rather see this worked out as part of the loot system than as a magical number I need to increase. It's a quick way to balance and pace the progression of the game, but it constantly reminds me that I'm in a game and artificial limits are being placed on me.

The loot system can also be fairly finicky. It's not uncommon to find one or two ridiculously good random items that you don't outgrow because all the new item drops are junk by comparison. This may have been done on purpose, but I would prefer it if the loot wasn't quite so extremely random and improved as you move forward steadily so the level multiplier could be removed. If I can find a gun at level 10 that is still good at level 30, but not progress any faster because of it, it makes me wonder how much the loot really matters. It's not that the level and loot systems don't work; it just makes me start thinking about the system when I'd rather be enjoying the game.

Borderlands is a solid and entertaining game for 1 to 4 players that you should try out for the style alone. Rather than trying to stand out with new mechanics, Borderlands uses solid reliable mechanics but stands out with a unique visual style. Borderlands 2 is on its way. I recommend either picking up Borderlands at a reduced price, or getting the sequel when it arrives and taking a look at the style of the game and how it makes the Borderlands shine. Borderlands 2 is available for pre-order.



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