Stranded (And Bored) In The Wasteland

Borderlands Screenshot

HIGH Millions of guns to choose from, theoretically…

LOW The "adventure" is pure contrivance, utterly lacking a soul.

WTF Where's the onscreen mini-map? Why do weak guns auto-equip?

Several years in the making, Gearbox's Borderlands has been a highly-anticipated title since 2005. Originally envisioned as a kind of open-world Halo/Diablo hybrid, the developers have combined FPS gameplay with a structure that borrows character-building elements from RPGs. In addition to this intriguing combination, the game sports another notable hook—an absurd number of randomly-spawned loot guns for players to find and employ with deadly purpose.

Set on fictional planet Pandora, the game occurs in a barren wasteland that exudes a vaguely post-apocalyptic feeling thanks to ramshackle settlements, large stretches where creatures and raiders attack, and a serious amount of the color brown. Into this environment, four characters are bussed: Roland the soldier, Mordecai the sniper, Brick the brawler, and Lilith, the token stealthy female. This group is searching for The Vault, a legendary cache of advanced alien technology hidden somewhere on the planet.

Although it has a good premise and seems to have all of the elements necessary for success, Borderlands fell quite a bit short of what I would've expected from a well-known studio with such significant time in development. Primarily, the biggest issue with the game is that it has a painfully narrow scope and ends up being nothing more than one long, extended, totally overt grind. It's more a platform for play than a complete, well-rounded game. Although I'm not a fan of grinding for grinding's sake, I have no problem with it if it's implemented well. With engaging gameplay and sufficient reward, it's entirely possible to have such a structure comprise the base of a successful game. In Borderlands' case, I don't think the necessary tricks have been pulled off.

The first sign setting off warning bells for me were the character interactions, or lack thereof.  Basically, the NPC "characters" hardly qualify as such, being nothing more than personality-free constructs placed to dispense quests. Although I didn't expect hours-long backstories for each one of them, there are a number of games today that at least make vague gestures at spicing this end of things up. Borderlands' missions are presented to the player in we-know-you-won't-read-this text blobs and are never interesting or original, being mostly comprised of kill or fetch-and-kill. The situation might not feel so blatantly mechanical if there were actually some kind of minor plot-based cause-and-effect to show achievement upon completion of tasks, but there's absolutely no concern for this sort of thing.

Borderlands Screenshot

Yet another example illustrating Borderlands' tunnel-vision, there's no effort spent trying to make Pandora feel convincing or deep in any way. Rather than a living, breathing world to explore, the areas created are simply places where quests are fulfilled. There are no citizens to interact with; no ambient energy animating the environments. Why bother exploring the wastes when interesting items and events aren't present or active unless the player has accepted the correct quest? Deserted plateaus become hotbeds of activity once the right switch has been flipped, but remain otherwise unmemorable no matter how many times the player passes by. This sort of old-school design offense completely annihilates the potential value of exploration or discovery that's become fairly common in the game's contemporaries.

In fact, such a choice makes me wonder why the developers were so keen to have such a huge play area in the first place. A considerable amount of time is spent simply traveling between locations over and over again despite players having access to a rudimentary warp system (which only becomes available several hours into the game) and awkwardly-controlled vehicles steered by moving the aiming reticle. The world of Borderlands feels as though there's entirely too much dead space presented to players with nothing significant to fill it. It holds no inherent entertainment value.

With an empty world, empty characters and repetitive quests, what does Borderlands do right?

I have to admit that the variety of weapons is interesting, especially once some of the more exotic things start appearing. Pistols are just pistols, but pistols that set enemies on fire are noteworthy. Sniper rifles that explode enemies into nuggets are even better. I can't say that having this ridiculously robust selection of guns was really effort well-spent while everything else feels so painfully thin, but there is some value here.

Besides being an immense firearm fetish opportunity, the co-op (obviously a main focus of the game given its structure) is also well-done. Players online can drop in and out, and there's even splitscreen for those that need the option. Although it's a fine platform for friends to play together in, I hesitate to celebrate it too heartily since I believe that just about any game is improved by having a buddy or three along for the ride. This title in particular receives only moderate benefit from the company of another living, breathing person. The content's just too transparently grind-happy and dull no matter how many jokes are cracked between partners on a couch or online. When teaming up myself, the most common sentiment expressed was that both of us would have rather been playing something else. Despite being positioned as a mainly co-op title, it lags behind the excitement delivered by titles like Left 4 Dead, Gears of War, or even Resident Evil 5.

Although Borderlands seemed ready to be one of the next big things, the overwhelming focus on grinding and gun-collecting can't carry the entire game, in either co-op or single-player. With only cursory attention given to story, characterization, variety, incidental content and world development, the result is a very lopsided final product that will likely find more favor with the nothing-but-action FPS crowd than those craving more balance in something termed an FPS/RPG hybrid. Borderlands' one-note design and myopic implementation has resulted in a product that's woefully empty, unconvincing, and out-of-touch with current standards. Iit may be brand new, but I think its age is definitely showing. Rating: 5.0 out of 10.


Disclosures: This game was obtained via publisher and reviewed on the PS3 Approximately 9 hours of play were devoted to the single-player mode, and the game was not completed. An additional 3 hours of play were spent in multiplayer modes.

Parents: According to the ESRB, this game contains blood and gore,intense violence, mature humor and strong language. It should be pretty obvious, but this title is definitely not for the young ones. Tons of guns, tons of shooting, and tons of monsters and freaky-looking dudes getting killed. Plenty of salty language, lots of blood… do I even need to say anything else? I think you get the picture. No kids.

Deaf & Hard of Hearing Gamers: You will be at a slight disadvantage when playing this game. Although there is an on-screen enemy indicator that functions fairly well and there are visual cues when the player is under fire, there are still plenty of times when hearing the sounds of growing beasts or gibbering enemies will go unnoticed by players with hearing impairments. In such cases, it's likely that the player will take some cheap hits and be surprised from behind or from the side more than a few times. Gotta stay on your toes with this one, and even then, a few issues during combat will still crop up.

Brad Gallaway

Brad Gallaway

Brad Gallaway has been gaming since the days when arcades were everywhere and the Atari 2600 was cutting edge. So, like... A while.

Currently, he's got about 42 minutes a night to play because adulting is a timesuck, but despite that, he's a happily married guy with two kids who both have better K/D ratios than he does.

Brad still loves Transformers, he's on Marvel Puzzle Quest when nobody at the office is looking, and his favorite game of all time is the first Mass Effect -- and he thought the trilogy's ending was Just Fine, Thanks.

Follow Brad on Twitter at @BradGallaway
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42 Comments on "Borderlands Review"

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Vico
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Vico
5 years 4 months ago
I just played this game few days ago (LATE), and i love it. It have a nice loot system, and the procedural-item-random-thing made want to kill more badass and open more catches. I agree with brad about the gameplay it’s so repetitive, it’s like if it’s moving you have to shoot it, and the areas are pretty much the same. I don’t know about others but the loot system seems made me want to comeback for more the graphics(cel shading) is brilliant, it’s not like a true barren land like Fall Out 3 but rather comic style. I don’t like… Read more »
Anonymous
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Anonymous
6 years 1 month ago

the industry must think like a school system in which you fail if you have below around 75%, thats why i appreciate sites that use letters as I consider a C as a much better showing of average.

Kuja01
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Kuja01
6 years 7 months ago
I agree wholly in agreement with the reviewer. I played through the game from start to finish in the course of about two weeks with two of my best friends. First of all, the PC version is a very VERY clear port of a console game. They didn’t even try to disguise it as a reasonably ported game. Playing it on PC feels like they intended for us to play it on the XBox. Controls feel awful. Secondly, there is little replay value here. In Diablo 2, I was very compelled to play more, get more crap, and play through… Read more »
mat
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mat
6 years 7 months ago

I got borderlands with my xbox 360 but i do get the big fuss about it it’s borring! can you tell me what is the big fuss about

Necros
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Necros
6 years 8 months ago
Nice review. You raised some valid points but I disagree for some parts. Granted I’ve only had the game for about 3 days now but I’m really loving it. I think of it as more of a FPS with RPG elements, instead of a RPG with FPS elements. I used to play World of Warcraft a lot, and the quest system reminds me of that. I don’t mind that style of play at all. I’ve only played solo (I don’t have a headset and I rarely play anything online) but I can see how co-op can be a whole lot… Read more »
ThaChoppa
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ThaChoppa
6 years 9 months ago
Hype Hype Hype. Thats all this game (coaster for my drink) is. The review is spot on. I have not read all the comments but one thing is clear, Fallout 3 is the first FPS/RPG hybrid not IMHO. Randomly generated loot doesn’t make a game an RPG fyi. Dry garbage. Go here get/kill x item/creature, bring back. As for the person that said this crap “game” was the same premise as Diablo you are sadly mistaken. Diablo had a story that made my mouth water, bl made me feel dehydrated. You “gamers” that like this kind of grind just remember… Read more »
Brad Gallaway
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Brad Gallaway
6 years 9 months ago

Just to clarify for the polite, open-minded people who commented– anytime you come across a cache of items, it’s a pain in the ass to click on each individual item to collect it. Holding down the button will ‘suck in’ all the items at once, and if there’s a gun there, it will auto-equip it even if it’s weaker than what you currently have active. it’s a stupid decision on top of a stupid decision, thus my comment.

Thanks for reading.

Anonymous
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Anonymous
6 years 9 months ago

You are totally right, the review came in with preconceptions – played the game for a very short amount of time (not even enough to get into the whole vault story mystery going) and provided a review more boring, lacking, & and falled than he would make the game out to be!

Al
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Al
6 years 9 months ago
I’ve just listened to the relevant parts of the podcast and that still doesn’t change my basic argument that absolute scores don’t actually matter, only relative scores. It’s called inflation. But inflation is a nominal phenomenon and doesn’t affect real value. It doesn’t matter if prices double if everyone’s wage doubles. The problem with game score inflation comes about because 10 is the absolute limit, but then the natural human response to this is to subconciously adjust to using a logarithmic scaling system. It really doesn’t make sense for an average game to marked 5/10 when the industry perception of… Read more »
Al
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Al
6 years 9 months ago
[quote=Brad Gallaway]We use a scale that goes from 1-10… Unlike the majority of the internet that seems to grade based on a 7-10 scale, we actually try to use ALL the numbers, and a 5 (since it’s exactly in the middle) is just AVERAGE. Again, just for clarity’s sake: Borderlands received a 5 because Borderlands is AVERAGE. At this site, anything below a 5 is BELOW AVERAGE and anything above it is ABOVE AVERAGE. [/quote] I’ve always had a problem with GameCritics scoring system and the attitude that goes with it. It doesn’t actually matter what scale is used as… Read more »
Dudicus
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Dudicus
6 years 9 months ago
I don’t think you should let this review stop you from buying Borderlands. I think the review reflects a matter of taste, rather than any fatal flaws in the game. First and foremost, this is a shooter’s game, and it does it better than many I have played. The targets are varied, and the enemies are tough. (BTW, It’s easy to avoid repetitive battles, just exit the game, then start again, you automatically respawn at your home base without losing anything) and the loot is great. Secondly, this game is about guns, guns and more guns! You can try out… Read more »
Li-Ion
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Li-Ion
6 years 9 months ago
I was pondering for some time if I should get Borderlands, since it got pretty good scores across the board. But when in doubt I always check out the reviews in which the game scores the worst and read why the game gets a bad score. And this review put the last nail into the coffin, since I hate games that build solely on grind. I don’t mind some grind, as long as there is a story interesting enough to pull me through. But I rather play a game that’s 6 hours and fun than 24 hours of mind-numbing grind… Read more »
Anonymous
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Anonymous
6 years 9 months ago

Why do weapons autoequip? Lol. Learn the game’s controls before writing a review, hack.

Idiono
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Idiono
6 years 9 months ago
Ok, first things first I have to put out there that I have enjoyed playing Borderlands lately, and have gotten to level 25 without too many speedbumps along the way. That being said, I do agree with this review for several reasons… Gripe #1. The grind: it is rather (read: very) repetitive, and having only played it in single player mode I feel that while the boss missions themselves are fun and challenging, getting to and from them is merely a drawn-out chore. Which brings me to my second gripe. Gripe #2. The AI: also quite repetitive, both on the… Read more »
RandomRob
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RandomRob
6 years 9 months ago

Even as a FPS this game is a clunker.
XIII without a story. XIII was a crappy shooter, but the story at least made it work! Borderlands is dry as toast, disappointing & dumb. Oozes wasted potential. After all the noise Gearbox made over the past 2 years about “redefining the adventure genre”, this is a joke. Sold my copy after about 15 hours of relentlessly repetitive gameplay.

Good review. I think I’ll stick around 🙂

Anonymous
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Anonymous
6 years 9 months ago
I felt this review perfectly described my feelings. I’m sure there will be many who enjoy the game, in the end it’s a matter of preference. But there’s no denying that the average expectation and the game’s promise exceeded the actual result, and that it is in the end a long grind, with no storyline, no interesting missions, no interesting characters, no exploration etc. Artificial Intelligence in Borderlands is a complete joke, with enemies running straight at you, or just standing still when fighting. And when not fighting, they walk around their camp 24 hours of the day, everyday, with… Read more »
Brad Gallaway
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Brad Gallaway
6 years 9 months ago
That’s a good point and a great question to ask, and exactly why I left myself a little back door in that statement. as for fighters, i find that most quality fighting games are at least enjoyable enough to finish with multiple characters. are they better with real opponents? absolutely, but they’re still fun to play by yourself if nobody’s around. (the good ones, anyway). As for MMOs, i don’t play them so i can’t really speak to them with any degree of authority. However, from what i’ve heard talking to people and the bits i’ve gleaned, i wonder how… Read more »
Cricket
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Cricket
6 years 9 months ago

“…if a game NEEDS multi to be fun, then that’s a fail except in very rare instances…”

Out of curiosity, Brad, where would that put fighting games, MMORPGs, and multiplayer-only action games (i.e. Team Fortress 2) — games that have the single-player experience as a secondary consideration at best?

Brad Gallaway
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Brad Gallaway
6 years 9 months ago

Hi Z,

Thanks very much for the apology, that’s damned decent of you, and more than 99% of the internet would ever do. Much appreciated, and no hard feelings at all. I hope you’ll keep coming to the site and listening to the podcast. = )

Regards!

Zelazny7
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Zelazny7
6 years 9 months ago

Hi Brad, I am writing to apologize about my attitude in earlier comments. I treated your review unfairly and for that I’m sorry. The Gamecritics’ podcast and the other commenters in this thread have opened my eyes and made me realize what reviews are really all about. Please forgive my earlier snarkiness as the poorly-thought ramblings of an un-enlightened reader. I’ll give more thought to my comments in the future.

RedIsDrunk
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RedIsDrunk
6 years 9 months ago
It’d be silly to compare it to Fallout 3, at that. Borderlands lacks atmosphere, humor, and sadly polish that Fallout 3 had. A game that could of used another polish pass itself. It lacks even the depth of the games it takes it’s nods from. If Diablo II’s entire length took place in the trappings off the first campaign, Borderlands would have much more in common with it. But instead you’re relegated to the same set peices and small handful of enemies, using guns that all function alike whether it has a blue paint job or green. I don’t believe… Read more »
Brad Gallaway
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Brad Gallaway
6 years 9 months ago

Seconding what Dale said.

We use a scale that goes from 1-10… Unlike the majority of the internet that seems to grade based on a 7-10 scale, we actually try to use ALL the numbers, and a 5 (since it’s exactly in the middle) is just AVERAGE.

Again, just for clarity’s sake: Borderlands received a 5 because Borderlands is AVERAGE.

At this site, anything below a 5 is BELOW AVERAGE and anything above it is ABOVE AVERAGE.

Dale Weir
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Dale Weir
6 years 9 months ago
[quote=Anonymous]Borderlands obviously is not a 5(A 5 game is completely unplayable shit that absolutly no one would buy or even download)[/quote]For you to think Borderlands didn’t deserve a 5.0 is one thing, but you clearly don’t understand our (or most outlets’) review scale. A 5.0 game is an average game–that’s 5.0 out of 10.0. Brad felt Borderlands was an average game so he gave it the score that reflected that. It saddens me a bit that you think a 5.0 is such a worthless score. It saddens me more to think that there are other gamers just as ignorant as… Read more »
Anonymous
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Anonymous
6 years 9 months ago
people get different opinions basically based in what they like, even critics tends to like or dislike somethings. Borderlands obviously is not a 5(A 5 game is completely unplayable shit that absolutly no one would buy or even download), yeah it has an incredible co-op system that renewal gaming experience, the singleplayer lacks a bit of history and the npcs looks so unnatural, but who cares about that? this is a Shooter/Rpg game, the only thing you really needs to do is to shoot at things loot and then looks forward the next level, nobody cares about exploring huges maps(like… Read more »
35 Year old Gamer
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35 Year old Gamer
6 years 9 months ago
Brad, I appreciate the review. I suggest that most gamers read multiple reviews to see what everyone thinks. Some reviews are quite poorly written and poorly organized — there are many terribly written reviews of Borderlands out there — but this is not one of them. While gamers may disagree with some of your criticisms, they are helpful to read. If I am going to drop $60 for a game (which is not a lot of dough, but money I could spend somewhere else), I want to know WHY some people didn’t like it, as opposed to everyone saying, “Wow,… Read more »
Michael S
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Michael S
6 years 9 months ago
[quote=Chi Kong Lui][quote=Michael S]I think this may a reason for your differing view, although I agree with your points for the first part of the game in single player – its pretty bland. However, playing this game with friends for hours on end is the best fun I have had in a video game in years.[/quote] We’re going to talk about this more extensively in our upcoming podcast about game review myths, but I jump the gun anyway and say that just because a game is loads of “fun” does not necessarily make it a good game. As critics using… Read more »
Anonymous
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Anonymous
6 years 9 months ago

Why, haven’t you heard? Any game that gets a rating less than 9 is clearly utter crap that should never be touched by the lowest of the low.

Brad Gallaway
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Brad Gallaway
6 years 9 months ago
1> Basically every one who likes Borderlands says the same thing: i had a blast with my friends. That’s great. i don’t begrudge you the experience. The thing is, my personal philosophy is that 98% of games need to stand on their own legs to be considered ‘good’. if a game NEEDS multi to be fun, then that’s a fail except in very rare instances. basically, multi makes a game BETTER, but it doesn’t make a game good. that aside, i played the multi and didn’t like it any more than i did the singleplayer, so this needed-to-be-reviewed as multi… Read more »
Zelazny7
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Zelazny7
6 years 9 months ago
[quote=joe]I dont buy the argument, that some how your opinion is only valid, if you are ninja-level good at the genre. Or even if it is outside your preferred play styles.[/quote] I agree with you, opinions don’t have to be based on much. And in the case of Borderlands, they were based on a mere 9 hours of single play and 3 of co-op with a half-leveled character. You wouldn’t have written a review of Halo based on the two hours you played it would you? Well what Brad did here isn’t a whole lot better. I’m not saying he… Read more »
joe
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joe
6 years 9 months ago
[quote=Zelazny7]If someone isn’t very good at or doesn’t really like first person shooters, I wouldn’t expect them to like this game. But I would say the same about Bioshock or Halo. [/quote] Not untrue. I have spend the better part of the last 15 years avoiding shooters. My entire experience with the halo series ended about 2 hours into the first game. Half-Life… didnt care. Doom, not for me. Far Cry, you can keep it. When I started playing Gears of War, I was so unskilled at console shooters, I had to play on “casual” and still struggled. Since then,… Read more »
Zelazny7
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Zelazny7
6 years 9 months ago

Based on the reviewer’s review history it’s obvious Brad favors RPGs. Given this bias, it’s unfair of him to review a game that is as much an RPG as World of Warcraft or Diablo (read: Barely at all).

Again, Brad is not reviewing this game as an FPS with RPG elements but rather as an RPG/Adventure game which it never claims to be. If someone isn’t very good at or doesn’t really like first person shooters, I wouldn’t expect them to like this game. But I would say the same about Bioshock or Halo.

Chi Kong Lui
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Chi Kong Lui
6 years 9 months ago
[quote=Michael S]I think this may a reason for your differing view, although I agree with your points for the first part of the game in single player – its pretty bland. However, playing this game with friends for hours on end is the best fun I have had in a video game in years.[/quote] We’re going to talk about this more extensively in our upcoming podcast about game review myths, but I jump the gun anyway and say that just because a game is loads of “fun” does not necessarily make it a good game. As critics using such an… Read more »
Michael S
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Michael S
6 years 9 months ago
“Disclosures: This game was obtained via publisher and reviewed on the PS3 Approximately 9 hours of play were devoted to the single-player mode, and the game was not completed. An additional 3 hours of play were spent in multiplayer modes.” I think this may a reason for your differing view, although I agree with your points for the first part of the game in single player – its pretty bland. However, playing this game with friends for hours on end is the best fun I have had in a video game in years. I think you are doing readers a… Read more »
goatart
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goatart
6 years 9 months ago

thank you for clearing that up. In the end I envisioned your answer while I was typing my questions. The explication of Borderland’s atmosphere was exactly what I was looking for.

btw I completely agree with your comments on Demons Souls. The levels ARE characters ha.

Anonymous
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Anonymous
6 years 9 months ago

[quote=Anonymous]WTF does why do weak guns auto-equip even mean? … don’t hold down Square, fuck. Just tap it.[/quote]

Two F bombs in only 3 sentences.
He must really mean what he says.

Ouch

Anonymous
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Anonymous
6 years 10 months ago

WTF does “why do weak guns auto-equip” even mean? If you don’t want to auto-equip a given weapon, don’t hold down Square, fuck. Just tap it.

Brad Gallaway
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Brad Gallaway
6 years 10 months ago
To the first few folks, i repeat: “the result is a very lopsided final product that will likely find more favor with the nothing-but-action FPS crowd than those craving more balance in something termed an FPS/RPG hybrid.” To Goat: fair questions. first of all, i do want to state that i never expected BL to be Fallout. that was not what i was looking for, and i wasn’t comparing the two, at least consciously. BL is its own kind of empty and barren, totally apart from what Bethesda crafted. Secondly, BL and DS are worlds apart, in every aspect. grinding… Read more »
goatart
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goatart
6 years 10 months ago
Brad I’m torn by this article because I often really enjoy your criticism, but this seems a bit problematic. Basically reading this review makes the game sound like an FPS Demon’s Souls with guns. Lots and lots of grinding in order to progress thru a world that isn’t really created for limitless exploration, very goal-oriented with RPG elements thrown into the bag for a greater feeling of customization. Unless you were expecting another Fallout 3 I’m not really sure from your article how Demon’s Souls succeeds where this game fails, unless it is as simple as personal bias. Is Demons… Read more »
Anonymous
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Anonymous
6 years 10 months ago
Seriously, I don’t think your review of the game is accurate, and I sense a lot of illogical hate. You must play a lot of point and click games or something, because I find the shooting system extremely well done, a la traditional Gearbox style. (We’re talking about the base shooting mechanics in this particular instance). Granted there isn’t a single storyline, but this game is really meant to be played as co-op. Play with some friends… Yeah, you can play with random folks, but as long as you all communicate and are on the same page, it’s really a… Read more »
Anonymous
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Anonymous
6 years 10 months ago
My first few days with Borderlands was the most fun I’ve had playing with my friends in a long, long time. I think the reviewer completely missed the point. I had a great time coordinating our party of 4 to defeat enemies, using the synergies of the skills each character brought to the table (we had a siren, sniper, and two differently-spec’d soldiers). The “grind” in this game is a grind, yes. It’s the same solid, super fun experience of shooting and killing stuff for hours and hours on end, with the same ante-upping reward that Diablo gives you: “sweet!… Read more »
Anonymous
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Anonymous
6 years 10 months ago
This game is not Fallout 3. That seems to be what the reviewer expected. The story and motivations for doing anything are completely contrived to get you from one zone to the next in order to kill tougher enemies and get better loot. It worked for Diablo, it works for WoW and it works for Borderlands. What it does better than those games, though, is provide instantly gratifying, twitch-shooter combat that is visceral, intense and liquid smooth. The controls are precise (the default scheme is CoDs layout), the skill trees add endless hours of min/maxing to get your character just… Read more »
joe
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joe
6 years 10 months ago

OK, im picturing a game where I can run around and shoot, on a big FarCry2 map. So the RPG stuff is not that good (I hear everyone saying that), but why is it not a good shooter?

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