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Borderlands, Claptrappery ahoy

With the announcement of the fourth edition of the Borderlands downloadable content this week, I thought this would be a good time to go back and finally write that review for a game that Enosh, Elrood and I have sunk countless hours in over the past year.  We picked up Borderlands shortly after the game came out and have been traveling through the wastelands of Pandora ever since, through three bouts of downloadable content, hours of arena battles, and over eleventy billion random gun, shield, and grenade mod drops.

So yeah, probably time someone on Faceplant said something about this game.

Borderlands is one of the definitive co-op games of this generation, allowing up to four players to romp through the wasteland of Pandora in the search for endless loot upgrades.  You start the game as one of four playable characters on a bus that is arriving at Firestone, a small civilization on the outskirts of the wilderness.  You’re trying to find and open the vault, a mystically fabled weapon or money cache that attracts countless hunters and bandits to Pandora in attempt to be the first to open it.

And that’s the plot.  Yeah, not much there.  Honestly, though, after spending a few hours wandering through Pandora with your friends trying to complete random tasks, you’ll hardly even notice that there’s much going on in the story department.

Who are these people? Don't know don't care. Back to the killing!

There are four playable characters, Roland the soldier (shooty guy), Brick the berserker (punchy man), Lilith the siren (spell casty girl), and Mordecai the hunter (sniper jerk).  Each comes complete with their own skill trees, weapon preferences, and special abilities to help you slaughter an endless number of spider ants in your search for better loot.  (Though you’ll have to slaughter a lot of spider ants regardless.  Those suckers just keep coming.)

First, the good things about this game!

Spider ants: They're very upset at you

This is definitely one of those games where you’ll tell yourself “just one more weapon drop” for over three hours, only realizing that you’ve accidentally wasted an entire evening at about three in the morning because your eyes start to go misty.  There are tons of things to do and see in this game, though to be fair, most of the objectives involve running into an enemy base and killing everything that moves with rockets, assault rifles, sniper rifles, ect.

Where Borderlands really shines is in the weapon upgrades.  You can play through this game numerous times and be guaranteed to see a weapon you haven’t seen before at least once.  The loot is endless, literally endless, and you’ll find some awesome shooty-devices among the endless piles of garbage you’ll find.  By the end of my time in Borderlands, I had two rocket launchers that shot out three rockets simultaneously, and ripped through shields of fleshy guys with ease.  I also had a sniper-shotgun (yeah, that’s right) that electrocutes people, and a mod that caused infinite ammo regeneration.  Aw yeah.  Decked out.

When playing with friends, you need to make sure everyone picks a different class.  Each of the four main characters has something to bring to the table when fighting in a group, though it should be noted that you can choose to spend skill points in a different tree than your friends if you’re dedicated to playing a character one of your chums won’t let go of.

While the story leaves you feeling hungry again in an hour like a bad Chinese restaurant, the characters are another matter.  Each character spouts an endless stream of catchphrases when they’re out and about which can get a little old.  By the end of the game, I was chuckling when my character would approach a cache of crappy guns and act like it was the best thing he had ever seen (It’s like Christmas!!!).

And this brings us to Claptraps.  As soon as you step off the bus in Pandora, you’re greeted by a one wheeled, short robot that asks you to do some stuff.  This robot is a Claptrap.  Some people love them, some people hate them.  I think they’re fantastic.


Through your travels you’ll come across many, many Claptraps.  Most of them have been mortally wounded, requiring you to find a repair kit to fix them up.  You’ll usually get a bag space upgrade for your trouble, and if you’re lucky Claptrap will take you to a super-secret gun case as a way of thanks.  If you’re not lucky, you’ll follow Claptrap around as he wanders aimlessly, right up until he starts shouting “look at me, I’m dancing!” when you know it’s probably time to mosey on.

And later in the game, Gearbox starts dressing them up, and there’s a cowboy one and one with a monocle…  it’s hard to explain.

However, where Borderlands really shines is in the downloadable content.  Each of the installments so far has brought something new to the table for the game, from the complete scene change in the Zombie Island of Dr. Ned, to the dark and gritty arena combat rounds in the Underdome.  The Secret Armory of General Knox, however, gives us more of the same from the main game, but this piece of content feels more polished than the main game.

But, for all it’s fun, loot grinding goodness, there’s some things that bring the game down as well.

First off, vehicles.  Learning to drive the vehicles when they become available takes some getting used to.  They drive like tanks, and by the time you get the hang of them, they blow up so easily you’re better off going on foot into the enemy hideouts.  You only get one vehicle in the game to use, though more were added for the Secret Armory downloadable content.  Still, it feels a bit like vehicle combat was added into the game almost like an afterthought.

Okay, you go right. I'm going to go find a corner and start crying.

Second, as you might have guessed, the plot sucks.  No big twists, no big shocks, no feelings of doom as you play.  It’s a straight forward loot grind from the first step off the bus to the last dude you burn to death.  Most of this, I think, is from the game’s MMO quest style gameplay, where NPCs will give you walls of text to explain what you have to do next.  So of course, you just blow through all that and just follow the waypoints to the next area.

The last thing you should be aware of…  The Underdome is the weakest of the three current downloadable content pieces.  This is because instead of having any pretense of a story, quests, or purpose, you’re locked into arena combat for an indefinite amount of time.  To totally complete the Underdome, you need to finish long, 20 round arena bouts.  You can’t stop and start over later.  You have to do them in one sitting.  This will take you at least four hours for each arena.  Make sure you’ve eaten before you try this, because you’re not going anywhere for a while when you start this one up.

Still, for all its flaws, the three Faceplant writers have sunk endless hours into this game, and I highly recommend anyone considering to get this game to do so.  You might want to get your friends in on it, though.  Just a thought.

The fourth piece of downloadable content, it has been said, focuses on a Claptrap revolution, lead by a deadly ninja assassin Claptrap.  If this is something you want to be a part of (and I can’t imagine anyone not wanting that much awesome in their lives), you’d better get on that bus to Pandora now and level your way through the Secret Armory to get ready.


2 Responses

  1. I couldn’t help but notice you called my character a jerk. There are a couple things I’d like to add. First of all, I need to mention that Mordecai’s special ability is utterly worthless. As a sniper dude he carries around a hawk named Bloodwing that can attack an enemy for him. While by the end of our second play through I had leveled him up so that he could attack six enemies at once, cause those enemies to drop a ton of money and health pickups, and do a decent amount of damage, the bird has some major flaws.
    First and foremost is his range. If you’re up on a cliff shooting spider ants in the butt while your compatriots are running around amongst the crazy things shouting “Oh God he’s groundpounding! Why won’t he get off me?” The bird is worthless. If you launch him, all he will do is flap around your head and get in the way of your sights. It seems to me that as a sniper, if I can shoot it from my spot above the fray, my stupid bird ought to be able to swoop down and attack it.
    This is not an argument against playing as Mordecai though. Leveling up his sniping abilities is pretty sweet. Not only do crit hits do some sweet damage, but there is a certain enemy you meet as you approach the box, I mean vault, with insanely high shields and low health that can be killed with one or two shots if Mordecai is leveled up the point that he has a 100% chance of bypassing shields. Your friends will love you for this.
    Mordecai also has a gunslinger skill tree that has something to do with pistols, the weakest weapon in the game. I didn’t do much with that. After we beat the game I went back and respeced, which you can do for big bucks but money becomes irrelevant at a certain point, and focus my energies are sniping and health regen.
    I probably have more to say on this game, but that’s plenty enough for now.

  2. Claptraps! I love that name. Sounds like a fun game, but loot grinding = time sink. I hate being an adult sometimes.

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