Now that Iíve completed one entire playthrough of the game, here are some additional thoughts on Borderlands.

While Borderlands is, to a certain extent, an open-world game, it is much less so than more traditional ďstreamingĒ open-world games, for example Fallout 3 or Oblivion.† The game is broken up into various zones, with various tasks to complete in each – newer zones usually only unlock as you complete missions that advance the main storyline.† While there are a handful of missions that go back to earlier areas, once youíve completed the missions in the area, there is usually little incentive to return – the enemies by then are too low-level to give you much in the way of benefits, and there is nothing else to achieve.† So, in a sense, the game is open-world in the sense that you can do tasks and visit arenas in the order that you want, but on the whole, the progression is mostly linear.† Of course, as the game is based less on exploration and much more on the arenas of combat created throughout the levels, this isnít entirely a bad thing, but if exploration is more your thing, youíd probably be much better served by choosing a more traditional RPG (I hear Dragon Age is bloody huge, but Iíve been playing too much Borderlands to even consider it – and, of course, if you’d rather just have more story and less guns, Fallout 3 is a good, if slower-paced, choice).

The art style of the game is certainly interesting, and the hand-drawn textures and colorful atmosphere serve as welcome respite from the usual drab color schemes of most downtrodden or post-apocalyptic worlds.† The character designs are all right, and some of the enemies are quite well-done – one particular enemy, the Badass Skag, continues to both awe and terrify me whenever I come across it.† Admittedly, some of the textures arenít as nice up close, but the simpler style works better than the usual ďrealisticĒ textures that degrade far more on close examination.† Also, certain sections can look a bit on the drab side – oh, hey, hereís some more generic canyons – but given how often youíre dragged into combat while moving about, thereís not a lot of time to stop and comment on the scenery.

While the world is colorful, and full of intense battles, the ambience leaves a bit to be desired.† Sure, the world is populated by people, but aside from a few charismatic characters, the only real NPCs who are present at all are the enemies themselves.† The other characters are more or less welded to whatever spot theyíre initially standing on, and most rarely move, meaning that a lot of them are indistinguishable from the scenery – and, honestly, from each other.† I can think of perhaps a half-dozen unique characters in the game that you donít end up shooting in the head.† Of course, being part of the background, none of the non-enemy NPCs take particular notice of you – most barely have any lines, their missives instead listed as static text in a quest-completion window.† (And speaking of the voices, the character voices are generally okay, but sparsely used – Roland is probably the best, sounding like a gung-ho soldier type, Brick sounds sufficiently angry, and Mordecai pleasantly sarcastic; Lilithís voice, to put it politely, is distinctly unpleasant to listen to.)†† Theyíre also wholly non-interactive – if they donít have a quest for you, trying to interact with them spits out a canned line of dialogue at best.† Other than that, theyíre like a piece of scenery – attempting to loot (i.e. pickpocket) or shoot them has no effect whatsoever.† This is particularly disappointing because, later on in the game, youíll definitely feel like shooting at least one of them in the face repeatedly – but more on that later.

The quests themselves, as they are, are pretty unremarkable, and require little thought – essentially, theyíre simply bait to get you fight hordes of enemies in various arenas and dungeons set up throughout the game, with reward object X either at the end of the arena, scattered along the way, or dropped by the areaís respective boss.† Given that the combat is really the meat of the game, with little else to do beyond it, the quests serve the purpose of vaguely advancing the story and getting you into one fight or another, but thatís about it.† Skill trees, levels, and loot management aside, this game really is FPS first, with a side order of RPG-lite.† If RPG elements are more your thing, again, Iíd have to recommend something like Fallout 3 over this (or any other RPG with decent guns, if any recent ones exist) – but if you like shooting things in the head first and foremost, with some RPG added to spice things up a little, you wonít be disappointed.

Honestly, the gunplay – and guns – are where the most fun is.† Vehicle combat is okay, if unimaginative – you get two samey weapons, and most of the time, you can just run over anything you can see on screen for easy XP.† Outside of that, though, the combat is intense, the weapons are generally fun to use, and the AI is smart enough to give you a bit of a challenge, especially in the later levels.† When youíre in combat, making use of everything you have at your disposal to win, itís easy to lose track of time, and when youíre not in combat, you usually wish you were.† When youíre wandering around a ďsafeĒ town, with nothing much to do, youíll want to spend as little time as you can resupplying and getting new quests so you can get back into the fray.

Of course, the battle is pretty much all about the guns.† While each character has a special skill that they can deploy, the various guns in the game are the main event.† While itís true that the procedural system can generate all sorts of interesting stuff, many of the guns seem quite similar, with little besides stats to distinguish between them (although this is somewhat ameliorated by the time you get into the later levels).† In fact, in many ways, the system is similar to Mass Effect, but with seven standard weapon types instead of four.† Admittedly, it does go a bit beyond that, but there are only so many base models of weapons, with the occasional cosmetic change and difference in color scheme.† Additionally, instead of being able to add various mods to different weapons, as in Mass Effect, each weapon comes pre-equipped with various features, and so it all depends on what is randomly generated for you.† Most of the common guns in Borderlands are quite similar, albeit with a bit more variation than Mass Effect (which had about two weapon models for each type, and a bunch of color palatte shifts) – different scopes and other design bits, but still, overall may of the models look quite similar.† The real difference is that, unlike in Mass Effect, the stats actually have an impact on how the weapons perform, and you’ll definitely be able to tell the difference between using a mediocre weapon and a high-quality one.† Rarer weapons also have much more in the way of unique qualities and elemental effects, and some – usually recovered from various bosses – have some rather unique shots and capabilities (and, now that the game is patched, you can actually see each weapon’s full collection of characteristics without having to edit config files).

While having some variation is nice, though, the quest is generally to find the best guns you can, and stick with them until something better comes along.† This means that, despite all the variation in weapons, most of the stuff you pick up is going to be used as little more than a chunk of cash that takes up a slot in your inventory until you get to a vending machine to sell it off (thankfully, the game doesnít bother with any bartering nonsense – the price you see on a loot item is the price you collect, which makes selecting which loot to haul back much easier).† Really, weapons are everywhere – in vending machines at first, mostly, sometimes in crates, but also frequently dropped by enemies as the game progresses.† Sorting through it all can often be overwhelming, especially due to the randomness of the stats – sometimes, Iíe come across a ďcommonĒ (white or green class) weapon that works far better in practical use than a super-rare purple or orange one.

And when something works, you use it, especially in the class of weapons youíre particularly proficient in.† Despite having picked up hundreds of weapons across my first playthrough (as soldier), I could accurately describe the game as ďA Tale of Three Rifles.Ē† Or, I suppose, really a tale of three Cobras – a class of accurate, scoped, hard-hitting, fast-firing rifle that more than gets the job done.† The first, an Air Cobra, was powerful enough to get me most of the way through the Dahl Headlands, only to be replaced by an even better Blast Cobra, which added some explosive damage to the mix.† Then, by level 25, a vending machine pulled up the War Cobra, a non-elemental but high-damage weapon, which I used pretty much singlehandedly to beat the final boss of the game, much later, at level 36, and a gun that still has a permanent place in my active equipment well into my second playthrough – simply because, since that time, nothing has come along that does a better job against absolutely everything.† Sure, there were plenty of other guns that were somewhat useful – later on, I got a static sniper rifle able to quickly put heavily shielded enemies out of their mercy, and a corrosive revolver that, with one shot against any non-badass crimson lance soldier, would virtually guarantee their demise a few seconds later.† While those, and others, were fun to play around with and added some much-needed variety, they were all quite secondary, and Iím convinced that I probably would have been able to beat everything in the game, from level 25 onward, with just that one single rifle and the action skill.† And while that rifle was great, it would have been nice if the game had actually given me some weapons that were capable enough to give it a run for its money.† Having different weapons and effects for different enemies sounds like a good idea to add some tactical complexity, but it becomes less compelling when some other weapon can easily replace all of them in terms of effectiveness, especially across that span of time.† Thatís not to say that I donít love that rifle – and Iíd probably kick and scream if you tried to pry it away from my character.† I guess what Iím trying to get at is, randomization or not, you ought to be able to get cool new ďthe best evarĒ weapons on a regular basis as the game progresses.† The fact that there was one awesome rifle at a fairly middling level, and nothing nearly as good after that, seems to be a weakness.† A million different gun combinations is all well and good, but when 99% of those combos yield guns that arenít all that effective or fun to play, that number loses a lot of its punch.† Add into that the notion that most guns are not nearly unique, but rather variations on a theme, and out of all those combinations, youíre desperately looking for the proverbial needle in the haystack that stands out at all from the crowd of near-identical weapons.† (I should note that on playthroughs with other characters, I was able to get a variety of effective weaponry, but there is a consistent pattern of being unable to find accurate, high-damage combat rifles, and when that’s your character’s specialty, it does get a bit frustrating.† Go for a different specialty, though, such as Mordecai’s Sniper and Pistol proficiencies, and all of a sudden you’ve got a veritable feast of effective options – but others, such as the selection of launchers for Brick, are decidedly less useful.)

Again, that being said…† even with a lot of sameness, by and large, most of the weapons are fun to play around with.† Admittedly, the early shotguns, submachineguns, and slow-firing pistols are a bit on the lackluster side, but most of the later weapons are quite fun to use.† The revolvers provide plenty of power, as do most of the assault rifles, and the rocket launchers make quite a boom (although the area effect seems dodgy – a low wall can offer complete protection from enemy rockets, and unless you’re aiming directly for an enemy’s feet, even a shot that’s a bit off provides next to no splash damage).† The sniper rifles are a bit on the variable side, with the clip-fed, faster-firing ones generally turning out to be much more useful (the lag between shots on the slower rifles can quickly become aggravating, something that frustrates on the slower-firing shotguns as well).† Some of the repeater pistols, even later on, can be fairly lackluster, although the TMP-style guns are quite fun and serve as a generally effective backup or alternative to your SMG.† The elemental effects also add quite a bit, especially on the slower-firing weapons, as the continuous effect of a successful hit can make up for the slower firing rate, or allow a charging enemy to effectively take itself down before it reaches you, giving you a precious opportunity to reload.† All in all, variation aside, most of the guns feel like they pack a punch, which is an important thing to have in an FPS-centric game.

So, overall, the combat is quite good, and gets better – and tougher – towards the end of the game.† The plot, on the other hand…† needs some work.† Let me just say, at this point, the next part is going to be full of spoilers, so if you donít want to see them , you might want to skip this part.

The plot, in summary:† Youíre on this planet, Pandora, in order to track down this thing called the Vault, which has all sorts of cool alien weapons and awesome stuff inside it – or so everyone says.† As you go along, an incredibly shrill, incredibly annoying holographic lady shows up on your HUD to tell you a bunch of annoying nonsense that doesnít tell you anything more useful than whatís already present in the text for the various quests.† So, you go around, doing various random stuff that, nevertheless, moves you steadily forward towards the vault.† Then there are a bunch of plot twists, the bandits give up but a bunch of soldiers come in to claim the vault, and the last levels become quite linear as you fight both the soldiers and alien vault guardians in a slow, grinding process that eventually leads towards the vault.

(As an aside:† along with the normal weaponry present in the game, there are also supposedly Eridian weapons, which are from the various alien defenders.† Up to now, Iíve found just one of these, in the hands of a human level boss.† Youíd think that, as you fight the alien guardians, theyíd drop some more of these cool weapons, but think again – despite shooting at you with them, when theyíre killed, most often they drop nothing at all, or when they do, they drop ultra-common regular weapons like assault rifles!† How does that make any sense at all?† Iíve seen a few more on subsequent playthroughs, but theyíre far more rare than they perhaps ought to be, especially given that the main plot of the game is supposedly all about finding them.)

Okay, so you do all of that, and you fight your way to the Vault, where the leader of the soldiers, dick that she is, laughs at you and uses the key to unlock the vault. (I mean, seriously, she can hold you at bay with two Lance soldiers?† By that point, you can pretty much empty an entire base full of them without breaking a sweat…)† The bloody thing finally opens, and what is revealed?† Cool technology?† Big, shiny weapons?† Nope – one giant angry tentacle blob that quickly offs all the soldiers and turns into the final boss.† Honestly, the thing is more like a shmup boss than anything else – the basic idea is to run around like mad, dodging all its attacks, while pumping hundreds of bullets into the thing until it dies.† Now that itís dead… big, shiny weapons, right?† Nope – even though itís the final boss, all it drops is a bunch of ammo, a bit of cash, and some super-common weapons.† And, of course, the holographic crazy lady shows up for one final screw-you moment, filling you in on the fact that her whole deal was to con you with promises of loot, just to get you over to the vault in order to ensure that the bicentennial horror was defeated – obviously, the hundreds of other soldiers and vault guardians lurking about werenít nearly enough to take care of it.† So, deflated, robbed of any decent end-game reward, you slink back to the scientist who helped you out earlier to give her the now-worthless key to the Vault.† And what does she give you?† Something cool?† Some penultimate weapon as a reward for beating the game?† Nope – she just pays you some cash in order to ďbuy your silenceĒ and blows you off.† So, needless to say, she got to say hello to one high-caliber corrosive revolver round.† Then three more.† Then, most of a clip from a submachinegun.† Of course, since sheís yet another non-interactive NPC, she just stood there, showing absolutely no reaction as acid and explosions sparked across her body.† I would have gotten more reaction if Iíd shot one of the ubiquitous explosive barrels.† Even in this last, futile act of revenge against the plot, I was denied.† Finally, I headed back to the Middle of Nowhere (oddly, my favorite location in the game) and quit – there was, literally, nothing else to do.

Of course, soon after that, I began my second playthrough, which really is quite a different beast than the original game.† Right out of the gate, youíre facing high-level enemies – on a supposedly easy early mission, to go and collect some stolen food from some low-level skaggs, I was suddenly facing a huge, badass-style one that could breathe fire – along with a regular badass one and a half-dozen others.† Needless to say, it was one heck of a fight.† The second playthrough also gives you even more new weapons, and some of them are pretty powerful – even so, I think Iíll hold onto that rifle.

I suppose I should also talk about the multiplayer, but honestly, there isnít very much to say – Iíve never actually been able to play with my friends, because I canít connect to them.† Some are on console, which apparently canít play with the PC version, and I canít seem to figure out how to connect with PC players either.† Iíll certainly give it another try – but so far, all I can say about multiplayer is that itís a jumbled, confusing mess that doesnít get the job done.

So, overall, despite all my complaints, I still think that Borderlands is quite the awesome game, and Iíve logged many tens of hours with it since its release.† Is it the best game ever?† Probably not… but then again, Iím not sure if any game Iíve ever played could live up to that.† It has its strengths and weaknesses, but what it does focus on, it does remarkably well.† If youíre looking for an immersive storyline and expansive environment, there are other games out there that better fit the bill.† But if you like guns, lots of guns, and using them on a whole lot of angry things, itís hard to get much better than this.