Four years. That’s how long it’s taken me to finish Borderlands. Four years of indifference, of completing one or two missions at a time before disinterest demanded I play something else. Then, a couple of weeks ago I decided it needed to be removed from my hard drive. So instead of refusing to spend any more time with a game that generates no enjoyment and just delete it like a sane person might, I took it upon myself to see it through to the end. Call it a compulsion, call it getting value for money, call it idiocy; I find it difficult to consume media in half-measures, be it games, movies, or books. Borderlands then could be seen as four years of tenacity, but perhaps continuing in the face of boredom was just silly.

For me, three critical and central mechanics to the game completely failed in implementation. Setting aside the story – which served well enough to establish the game world – Borderlands’ missions,  skills, and loot systems all could have benefited from further development and refinement.

For a loot-em-up, the loot lacks any real definition, and consequently, any excitement. A bajillion guns there may be, but when the variance between them is indistinct, there may as well be only one. The inherent lack of any chance to find anything particularly special was perhaps the biggest let down in this area. Looking at the successful implementation of item drops in, say, Diablo(s), shows a propensity for the game to populate the world with opportunity to obtain unique (as opposed to Unique) items with greater frequency. “Named” enemies, mini-bosses, and bosses, all presented a chance at getting some cool new gear with a significant advantage over what the player was using at the time.


Borderlands’ approach is to provide incremental improvements or gear that is a step sideways instead of forward  – do I want the pistol that does fire damage or corrosion damage? In the end, the choice barely has any impact on the game. Perhaps you’ll chose something that aligns with your skills, to maximise the benefit, but perhaps you won’t, and each is an equally valid proposition. There’s no motivation to keep playing when there’s no reward, and the dull missions that seem inspired by the very worst of MMO quest structures don’t help.  Go here, kill things, go there collect other things. Return to mission hub, and grab all available missions, run out into the landscape and complete as many as possible before returning to do that shampoo thing: rinse and repeat.

This apathy towards improvement is also what kills the skill system. Approximately none of the skills make any difference to how the game plays, or to how the player uses their character. If you chose a sniper class at the start, you’ll be sniping a lot, if you chose the heavy class, you’ll be in at closer range. Ultimately the choice of character is the most important decision, and that shouldn’t be the case. Each skill tree should feel distinct, and offer to the player the ability to customise the character to their play style. I actually came back to the game at one point to find my skill points reset (bug? game update?), and this was after had played for quite some time without noticing anything amiss.

Diablo did this perfectly, allowing for multiple “builds” of each class, but Borderlands fails to recapture this spirit. Even the overlooked Hellgate: London (the game Borderlands rips off), implemented this system better, and while it suffered from some of the same issues of mission structures, it performed much better in the realms of loot and skills, providing weaponised rewards and unique paths for each class to follow.

Some might argue that Borderlands is best enjoyed in the company of friends, and I can’t particularly disagree. However the same can be said of Diablo, of Hellgate,  yet both were enjoyable without the need to wrestle with matchmaking systems or douchebag players. I commented recently in social media spheres, that DNF was more fun than Borderlands, and I stand by it. While DNF was terribly designed, and mish-mash of ideas and themes, it was at least self-contained. Each level may not have flowed the way you wanted it to, but it was succinct, and to the point. And it had lots of dick jokes. Borderlands on the other hand offered a mundane  meandering wasteland that was painful to traverse, and though I quite enjoyed Claptrap’s comic relief, absolutely nothing else about the game garnered my interest.

With Borderlands 2 now released, and  a lot of people calling it “game of the year”, I can only shake my head. Perhaps one day, in a fevered Steam Sale, I’ll make the regrettable purchase and subject myself to another four years Borderlands. Then again, maybe I’ll play something good instead.



~ by accurateobservation on December 18, 2012.

One Response to “Borederlands”

  1. You’re terrible 😛

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