Despite its enduring success, there haven't been a ton of "Diablo" clones over the years. Maybe one or two a year, but usually they're pretty forgettable knock-offs. "Borderlands" manages to take the loot-based precepts of "Diablo" and mix in true FPS gameplay for a resoundingly fun and addictive experience. If you enjoy Blizzard's hack-and-slash RPG, or you're just a fan of mindless shooters, or you dug the open world nature of a game like "Fallout 3," you're sure to find something in "Borderlands" for you to enjoy.
"Borderlands" is a first person shooter at heart. You kill enemies, who drop guns, and you can then use those guns to kill more enemies. Grenades, exploding barrels, rocket launchers. All pretty familiar stuff. Beneath the surface, though, there's a complex RPG at work, determining accuracy, damage and effectiveness in battle. Thankfully you can just go ahead and ignore this layer and enjoy the shooter experience, but RPG fans will undoubtedly get more joy out of maxing out their character than with any of the other gameplay mechanics.
By far the most impressive aspect of "Borderlands" is the loot. It's what gives the game its just-one-more-mission quality. Marketing materials will tell you that there are millions of guns, but really you're talking about dozens of base guns with variables thrown in, like different scopes, reload times and elemental effects. Even if the guns aren't quite as widely varied as you might expect, finding that ideal sniper rifle which has all the qualities you're looking for, is truly a delight.
I can't remember the last game which offered as seemless a multiplayer experience as "Borderlands." You select Xbox Live and start playing your solo game as usual. If friends or randoms want to join you, they can (depending on your privacy settings). There's no load screen or pause in gameplay when people join, there's no need to host another game, it's all smooth as silk. And the fact that everything you do carries over to your single player game, including all the loot you find and experience you earn, there's really no reason to not play with friends. And, even better, lag never seemed to be an issue, even with four players from different parts of the US.
Quite deep in development a visual change was made to "Borderlands" which gave it a more comic book art style. It made all the difference in the world. There's a rustic charm to the world of "Borderlands" that makes me want to see more of it. It's edgy, it's darkly humorous and it feels extremely multilayered. Unlike the pervasive depression of, say, "Fallout 3," everyone in "Borderlands" seems pretty upbeat about being in this craphole, and it makes meeting and killing new foes extremely entertaining.
Although there's plenty of text to read for quests and the like, there's not a whole lot of reason to. There's some fun backstory stuff hidden in quest descriptions, but really all you need to know is that you're hunting for a vault that has a lot of good stuff in it. The story is never particularly well served, even by the omniscient voice that leads you through your quest, and by the end of the game you still don't really know what happened. Thankfully the gameplay is entertaining enough to keep bringing you back.
Although the loot is definitely the most compelling part of "Borderlands," I can't help but feel like they didn't go all the way with it. I kept finding myself with the same basic guns, scopes and gun designs. I think I only came across four different scope types, for example, and that seems like an easy place to add some more variety, considering scopes are found on just about every gun in the game. The guns may be extremely varied, statistically, but looks-wise they do feel same-y.
One of the biggest draws of games like "World of WarCraft" and "Diablo" is that moment where you strut your stuff in front of other players to show off your awesome gear. That never really happens in "Borderlands," as the only way to show off is by dropping your great gear on the ground…something you don't really want to do. I just wish that there was some sort of visual character alteration to show, for example, that I killed an ultra hard boss, or something of that ilk. A sweet hat, maybe? As it is, the only character customization is a color palate change. The fact that I have no choice about what my character looks like, being stuck with the same four character models as everyone else, just bums me out.
"Borderlands" took me about 17 hours to complete on my first play through, bringing me to level 35. It was an extremely entertaining 17 hours, and I was eager to jump right in to the New Game + mode to take me the remaining 15 levels. And the variety of the different classes definitely encourages multiple playthroughs (especially with other, lower level friends). It's rare that a developer sets out to accomplish a goal, (in this case, "Diablo" with skill-based FPS gameplay) and hits it smack on the head by the end product. The folks at Gearbox did just that, making one of the strongest games to release this year.