Borderlands First Impressions

I’m not good with first impressions because I usually play games too long for a good “first impression” but not near long enough for a review. I want to write about the experience, but I’m usually well past the point where I know if I love or hate a game when I’m ready to talk about it.

The other issue with Borderlands, aside from the fact I am not supposed to have this game, is that I am finding it impossible not to compare it to Far Cry 2 or Sacred 2. The similarity to Far Cry 2 being the overland travel and open-world shooter concepts. Sacred 2 is merely the most recent serious offering into the “RPG-Lite” dungeon crawl loot droppings of Diablo fame.

(Author’s Note: “As for not supposed to have”, I have an annual birthday moratorium where I am not supposed to buy any games, movies, or books. The reason why is unknown seeing as how no one ever buys me games, movies, or books despite that being all that is on my wish list.)

I am so far not encouraged in the ways that Borderlands resembles Far Cry 2. The problems of Far Cry 2 were all about poor execution of potentially good ideas, adding minutia to solid gameplay mechanics, and essentially making sure that anything that could be fun had some element of tedium. I think this was supposed to add tension, but it added frustration and monotony. Shortly after reading the article I just linked to I gave Far Cry 2 another go. After driving for nearly an hour to get to an objective I got out to do an assault. I literally panned 360 degrees to make sure no one was about to ambush me, then as I moved forward I heard that tell-tale engine roar and was run over by a truck that literally spawned out of nowhere! Half my play session for the night ruined by an incredibly poor design. I got rid of the game after that incident.

Borderlands is far more forgiving even if you get killed. Enemies tend to be far less random and it’s usually easy to tell where they are coming from. Maps are sprawling but oddly well contained. I still feel the lack of quick travel is a hindrance. This is the biggest resemblance to Far Cry 2, and the long map load times are going to become a problem compounded by a lack of quick travel. I think quick travel may be unlocked later as there is a “bunny” icon on one of the interface screens that is disabled. Why not have it unlocked from the start is beyond me. I have to slog through the same enemies but at least the respawning is a lot less aggressive and there is some reward for doing it. One of the big issues with Far Cry 2 is that killing random enemies was rarely a reward. Getting a new gun in poor repair or a downgraded vehicle was not an incentive to engage in random encounters.

On to Sacred 2, I think it is safe to say that I am not in agreement with the Buttonmashing official review. This is not a slight to the other writers, in fact it’s a strength of the site, but I found Sacred 2 entirely too boring. Most of it was a feeling of disconnectedness; the game offered too little information and yet had way too much going on. I could never really tell if my actions or decisions were having a discernable impact. There was very little strategy, or maybe there was but the game imparted so little information that it was difficult to tell. My biggest gripe, though maybe not the reason I put the game down, was that loot drops felt way too similar. Improvements were often incremental, there was very little change. Why use that sword instead of this sword? For one, the game was not great in how it communicated to the player as it was, but when you did parse the details it often felt like very little reward was being given. Instead I was hauling a lot of junk that I ended up selling most of the time.

Here, so far, I feel like Borderlands has improved. They have asked me to make tough choices, but they give you the information they need. Furthermore, the weapons are more than their stats. The stats may say “Weapon Zoom 2.0” but you can test that for yourself. A zoom through a scope may be easier to aim then down iron sights for example. There is a lot of repetition of models, which shouldn’t be surprising and isn’t. There is a lot of junk, but thanks for making it clear that it’s junk! I don’t like how stingy the game is with inventory though. I can only store 12 items at the start? No long term storage? For a game that is all about loot, the inability to keep anything long-term is a huge letdown. Again, maybe this is unlocked later, but why?

Borderlands is not a perfect game, but I will say that it is the game I wanted with Sacred 2 even though one is a first-person shooter and the other is an isometric dungeon crawl. The presentation is simply fantastic in Borderlands, not just the art style but how it does every little thing. I love the graphics on the vending machines, the way that the red chests fold out and present your findings, and even the few characters you interact with. There is some creeping doubts about how it is similar in all the wrong ways to Far Cry 2, and I can only hope that as I continue Borderlands will not fall into the same traps.

My one regret is that I went with the PS3 version of the game, and that’s going to limit my multi-player options. I haven’t been doing much multi-player these days, but I like keeping my options open. As soon as I hit that “installing” screen I remembered why I typically buy for the 360. Fortunately, it too less than 5 minutes to install. I will say that PS3 games do actually look better than their 360 counterparts, but will anyone be able to tell the difference with cel-shaded art?

Comments

  1. I never felt the love for Sacred 2 either. I’m quite enjoying Borderlands so far though. My hunter and his hawk of DOOOOM is awesome and I’ve started to venture out past the area around Fyrestone enough to get a feel for the world.

    If you come at Borderlands with the proper mindset, in that it’s almost like and openworld, FPS version of Etrian Odyssey or other dungeon crawlers, well, I think it really works in that regard. Coming at it as anything deeper or more in-depth is probably going to lead to anger and hatred.

  2. I actually wrote all this Monday evening before my play session. After writing this and reflecting how the game was playing last night, one thing I appreciate about Borderlands is how it has embraced a lot of classic shooter elements.

    Last night I spent a lot of time circle strafing hordes of skrags. Attacking a bandit shack can be a very tactical exercise. There is a nice effect when you destroy a shield even though a bandit is still standing. I discovered crab worms.

    I think Borderlands is succeeding at doing what Far Cry 2 attempted. While there is no elaborate set-up for combat, how you approach and the execution can be very satisfying. Not to mention it can become appropriately frantic.

    Also, the weapon variation is just enough to be satisfying. There is such a variety off the base models. It took me a long time to give up my pistol with a blade on the end, but newer drops just were too powerful to ignore. I have been using the same shotgun for awhile now simply because it has a reflex sight (much easier for aiming even without the zoom bonus), a melee blade, and a 12 round cylinder.

    The game is not deep and it is getting criticized pretty harshly for it. Yet it is just a simply fun gaming experience. I am extremely jaded coming off Halo 3: ODST and was pretty well set to be disappointed. While not super impressed or blown away by Borderlands, it has managed to meet most of its claims. We’ll wait and see about the “bazillions of guns”

  3. I have the Steam version of the game. My initial impressions:
    *Awesome opening intro up until you select your character. Claptrap is clearly the R2-D2/GLaDOS/PROXY of the game. Still there’s something missing about him. His animations in the main menu are funny.

    *Clearly by looking at the menus and the way they operate with this bastardized “keyboard or mouse we don’t know method” shows this game was made for consoles.

    *Online is a pain. Gamespy? Hello 1997. Why not use Steamworks or Live? So I have to maintain yet another separate friends list—one that operates like Wii codes at that.

    *Forget joining a public listed game. The system just hangs with all the refereshes.

    *Will and I attempt to co-op. We trade Gamespy names via outside the game itself. At least Steam is good for something. No go on the co-po.

    *After opening four (4!) ports, rebooting the router, and exchanging information we’re finally able to connect.

    *2.5 hours later and it’s fun. Not deep, but yeah, fun.

    In now way should it have been a hassle in this day to just get in and play. Will and I both commented this is why we eventually get games for consoles. However, there are many “easy connect” options out there for games on the PC. Why do I think TF2 and L4D are so popular? Because you can essentially just jump in and go.

  4. Joining an online game in the 360 version of Borderlands consists of opening the Guide, finding a friend and sending an invite or going to the list of open games (which does hang for about three seconds) and joining a game. Pretty simple.

    Joining an online game in the PC version of Borderlands consists of finding out that the server listing screen hangs the game, doing research on the web (I had looked at the Steam and Gearbox forums) to learn which router ports to open, resetting the router to make the changes take effects and tracking down my GameSpy ID. While this is not terribly complicated for someone who knows what they are doing, your average console gamer would have a hard time with this.

    When comparing the 360 and PC versions, it is clear that Gearbox relied on the LIVE infrastructure to handle voice communication, as the PC version has absolutely no options or controls to handle it. They also relied on LIVE’s friend system, since GameSpy’s friend system is lacking.

    I feel like Gearbox pulled a wool over my eyes. I remember reading that the PC version was the one to get (http://www.destructoid.com/gearbox-pc-version-of-borderlands-destroys-consoles-142856.phtml). My hardware is up to the task. Aside from some tearing issues and an annoying flash that appears when I’m in the menus, it is graphically superior. I also prefer using the mouse to aim. However, the 360 version is the superior version (between the two) because the online system is complete and allows players to easily take part in the game’s biggest feature.

    I feel like I made a terrible mistake. I bought the PC version and rented the 360 version. I can always buy the latter, but I’m stuck with the former. This is one large problem I have with digital distribution; if I get a stinker, I’m stuck with it.

  5. @Nat

    You are absolutely right when you say “Clearly by looking at the menus and the way they operate with this bastardized “keyboard or mouse we don’t know method” shows this game was made for consoles.”

    When you hit the menu, it is clear that you are supposed to use the keyboard to work with it efficiently… except for switching between the Buy/Sell/Buyback windows. You have to use the mouse for that. Why? Did they not play in coop games before they released it? When in a coop game, you have to move fast in those menus to keep the impatient players happy. The 360 version lets you fly through the menus. Didn’t any of their testers complain about that, or am I being too picky?

  6. Bummer about the co-op issues with the PC version.

    I’ve been thinking of my first few hours with the game, and I’m definitely enjoying it. Glad to hear you’re warming up to it, Jason. One of these days there’s going to be console-crossover in multiplayer and the world will be perfect.

    I think I’m ready to give the multiplayer a try now. I’m playing as a Hunter as well, so I could use a tank to help out, but two Hunters might be interesting, too. We definitely need to get a game going one of these evenings.

    • I finally got a chance to spend some quality time with the game and it clicked perfectly with me this evening. Except for the time when I accidentally lured a super psycho into town and had him slaughter me repeatedly. Sigh.

  7. Oh, and be careful in multiplayer games:

    http://gbxforums.gearboxsoftware.com/showthread.php?t=79479

    Looks like you have to make sure you save before you exit out of a multiplayer game.

    • Good to know. Luckily, the only character I care about it Ron Solo, my 360 Soldier. I play him only in single player. Every other Borderlands character I’ve created is for online, and if anything happens to them, I’ll just start again. My first online character is glitched in that he missed his first weapon slot upgrade, so he can only equip two weapons and I can’t fix it.

      Also, the more I play the PC version, the more I regret that purchase. I’m really unhappy with Gearbox and I hope they can fix the things that I believe to be wrong with the game.

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