Iím at a bit of a loss trying to figure out how best to describe Borderlands.† Thereís a certain part of me that wants to say that the game is as addictive as some street drugs and leave it at that.† However, being that I try to write about difficulty and accessibility in games, I suppose Iíll start out from that standpoint, and see if I can keep from gushing about how bloody awesome the game is.

To start out, there are no preset difficulty levels, and while Iím usually reluctant to say this, in the case of Borderlands, it doesnít turn out to be a problem.† Pretty much everything in the game, including your character, has a level – things above your level are very tough to take on, while those a bit below your level are incredibly easy (one or two hits with any weapon and theyíre finished).† In true RPG fashion, if something seems too tough at one point, you can simply level up until you do so much damage that taking it down is a breeze – boring, but effective.

Admittedly, this mechanism only works to an extent – some of the ďbossĒ creatures are tough to take down even if youíre at a much higher level, and some, at first glance, look bloody impossible.† However, with a bit of consideration, even these tough foes can usually be taken down.

One foe, for instance, is inside a vehicle arena, with a one-way ramp, in a vehicle far superior to yours – taking him on, vehicle to vehicle, is a sure route to a quick respawn (although, to its credit, the game puts the respawn point right next to the arena, so you can easily jump back in).† Time after time, I tried to take him on in a vehicle battle, and failed.† And then, I realized that he was still cruising around the arena, waiting for me to jump back in – but I didnít really have to engage him the way the game wanted me too.† Instead, I stood next to the barrier – on foot – easily dodging his now long-range attacks while picking away at him with a sniper rifle until he was defeated.

That, of course, is only one example – in many of the boss fights, the game encourages trying to take on the battle in whatever way you like, and if your first approach doesnít work, you can usually find one that does before the fight spirals into the realm of frustration.† And because the penalty for dying is fairly light (a bit less cash to spend on new toys, and maybe a bit of travel time), you can experiment without too much damage.† The ďwoundedĒ system is also fairly useful, as when your health goes to zero, you donít respawn immediately – you have a chance for a little while to take down an enemy, which restores some of your health and allows you to fight on.† As many of the boss fights also feature regular enemies in the arena, there are often sufficient targets to allow you to get back into the game, with enough health to be able to get behind cover, restore yourself, and get back into the battle.† Finally, there is usually a save point before most of the big battles, as well as an opportunity to replenish health and ammo, so you are rarely thrust into the most difficult battles unprepared.

The result was that, so long as I leveled my character and only took on missions when they were at normal difficulty or below, there were very few fights where I was completely frustrated, and it usually only took a few respawns before finding a suitable strategy for victory.† My main playthrough has been using the Soldier character, as I like the ability to engage the enemy at medium range and play fairly defensively.† Itís possible that the other characters are a bit more difficult to play, but all of them have features that seem to help them survive, at least when sufficiently leveled.

My main complaint, as always, is that there is not a save-anywhere system as you would find in most traditional FPS games.† However, Borderlands has a checkpoint system that is, for the most part, quite well thought out, with checkpoints clearly marked in the game (and the ability to travel instantly between many of them makes in-game travel significantly more convenient).† As a result, you donít generally tend to feel the pain that normally occurs with checkpoint saves, and itís actually a rare occasion when you wish for the ability.

So, from a playability standpoint, Borderlands seems quite solid – in single-player, at least.† I still have yet to convince multiplayer to actually work.† More on that, as well as much, much more of my general impressions about the game, once I wrap up the first playthrough.