GamesCom 2009: Borderlands Preview - Revisiting Pandora's Box of Tricks

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Oh Borderlands, Borderlands, my how you’ve changed. To think it was just over a year ago when we got to check you out for the first time and so much has changed since then. Sure, it may only be a new art style, but like I’ve said so many times before; it gives the title a second wind, a new personality and we’re sure it’ll give the title wings this coming October.

Borderlands is a role playing shooter that takes place on the lawless, bandit ridden planet of Pandora and tells the story of a group of misfits – each with their own motives for tackling the wilderness – who are searching for some powerful alien technology. You can choose to play the title as one of four characters; Mordecai (the hunter), Brick (the heavy), Roland (the soldier) and Lilith (the siren, essentially a mage); with each different class and character having their own specialities. For instance; Mordecai has access to a “blood wing” which is basically a flesh eating bat, Lilith can turn invisible for a short length of time with her “phase walk” ability, and Brick can activate a “berserker” mode that makes him relatively indestructible and makes his melee attacks brutally powerful for a short length of time. The reliance in the title is thrown on the game’s robust drop-in, drop-out 4 player co-op experience where the world’s difficulty level will scale dependent on you and your crew. You’ll be glad to hear that the characters are persistent and you take them with you everywhere, whether it’s single player, co-op over Live or split-screen.

Each character will have access to their own skill tree and can level up their skills accordingly allowing players to branch out on certain paths that will fit their play style. Gearbox pointed out that Roland was able to learn medic skills for instance and work up towards the medic healing bullets which sounds like be a great – and supremely fun – tool for the group to have at their disposal.

The game will be broke down into primary and secondary quests – of which we got chance to check both out behind-closed-doors. The primary quests, which are story related, make up for about 30 missions overall, with there being around 130 secondary (side) quests which will all carry their own rewards and bonuses. In the 30 minute demo we were treated to, we got chance to see the Gearbox co-op crew rescue Lucky from a barn in Lucky Quest, defeat a huge Skagzilla – the skag master – after luring him out of a cave with some bait in Big Game Hunting, and killing Mad Mel in Mad Mel’s Arena. The few missions we managed to get a good look at showed that the game boasted a good variety of missions – although, everything was heavy on the combat... like majorly!

There is a huge emphasis on looting in Borderlands which is probably why there is 3 million plus guns. It’s worth noting, in case you didn’t know, that the 3 million plus guns are procedurally created and they can differ in terms of clip size, firing speed, damage effects, stocks and different barrels amongst other things. The weapons themselves all have colour ratings on how powerful and how rare they are – think Too Human’s weapon and armour system. Purple are the “epic” weapons and to the delight of Gearbox’s co-op team they picked one up during the demo; “oh wow, I’ve got a purple,” “wow, a purple!?” You’ll also have access to some pretty fancy grenades as well and the incendiary grenades produce a nice fire effect when used. If however you take a bit of a beating – by the way you have regenerative shield, but not regenerative health – and you do manage to get taken out, it will initiate a “fight for your life” sequence. The “fight for your life” sequence is reminiscent of the Last Stand perk in Call of Duty 4, except if you get a kill whilst you’re down, you can get to your feet and continue in a weaker state. If that fails, one of your team mates can help you up.

If you get bored of fighting the local wildlife and wasteland bandits, you can melee your team mate and if they melee back, you can initiate a duelling session. At this point a dome will appear around the two of you and you can have a little spar with one another to find out who’s the champ – a little harmless fun but a welcome distraction that I’m sure will be used a lot throughout many a co-op adventure.

Getting around Pandora is fairly easy thanks to the inclusion of Mad Max style buggies where you can engage in some wasteland vehicular combat with the locals. The ability to drive as a two-some –we’re presume there will be bigger vehicles as well – and switch from driver to gunner on the fly is a nice touch... especially if you suck at driving like me... I have the uncanny ability to drive into a wall in the middle of a desert! If you want to get somewhere across the other side of Pandora quickly, you can take advantage of the planet’s Fast Travel system... providing it’s working in the area you want to travel to/from which we presume is controlled by the story.

The RPG elements on show were a mixed bag. On the one hand we got to check out the skill tree and how they levelled up, the huge amount of guns and ammo types, and the real differences between the classes... and they’re all pretty deep. On the other hand, we didn’t get to see much story or much interaction with the world and it seemed like more shooting and combat than anything else. You could chalk that down to the relatively short demo slots though; we only have half an hour and you can’t see absolutely everything, although we wish we could.

If I had to dig deep and put my finger on possible hang ups the title may have, it would fall squarely on two things; the story and how deep the RPG aspects really go outside the combat; both of which are hard to assess from a preview of a vertical slice of the game. Hey, I said I was digging deep. Other than that though, Borderlands is shaping up to be a winner and has something in there for RPG fans and FPS nuts alike. Have I said how beautiful it looks? Only a bazillion times, but the whole art style for me is a breath of fresh air from the photo realistic games that the market is currently saturated with. Expect to see plenty of content as well, with the main story taking around 15-20 hours to complete, but when you go through all the other side quests and what not, you’re looking at 60-70 hours. There is even a Game Plus Mode after you’ve finished that should you wish to play it some more. Quite simply put, Borderlands oozes class, style and charisma and we’re hoping for no hang ups this coming October.

Borderlands hits the Xbox 360, PS3 and PC this coming October 20th and 23rd in North America and Europe respectively.


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Game Info
Gearbox Software
2K Games


US October 20, 2009
Europe October 23, 2009

Backward compatible on Xbox One: Yes
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