Borderlands Hands-On Impressions

We finally get our hands on Borderlands and spend our time punching midgets in the face, searching for hidden treasure, and tracking down a man missing a toe.

Gearbox Software is calling Borderlands the product of a marriage between two of the video games industry's mainstay genres: the role-playing game and the first-person shooter. Dubbed the "role-playing shooter," the game cherry picks the best gameplay aspects of both categories with the goal of creating fun, twitch first-person action with skill trees, tiered abilities, and the lust for filthy lucre.

To do this, the team at Gearbox has taken features normally found in dungeon crawlers and massively multiplayer online games--notably the scale of the world and the desire to clamber for loot--and thrown them into the mix with tried-and-true shooter mechanics. Though the game's stylized visuals will certainly catch your eye, digging a little deeper reveals multiple character classes, carefully tweaked skill trees, and guns. Lots of guns. We recently had the chance to take the game for a spin and get hands-on with a work-in-progress build of the single-player and multiplayer modes on the Xbox 360 and found that this is no ordinary run-and-gun game.

Borderlands puts you in the role of one of four vault hunters searching for elusive alien technology found on the planet Pandora. We don't blame you if your mind begins conjuring up images of a few games that have gone before--including a certain Bethesda game released last year. The team at Gearbox is open about having drawn inspiration from many of the seminal games within the two genres and takes pride in including elements from them during the shaping of the project.

The beginning is always the most logical place to start, and though our build had been stripped of the game's opening cinematics--which we were told will reveal detailed background information about exactly what's going on--once loaded, we found ourselves alone and thrust into a dusty, barren world. It was apparent from the outset that this dustbowl--replete with salvaged shanty towns--was a tad on the unsavoury side, and as tumbleweed rolled past, the muted colour palette of browns, reds, and grays only further amplified the sense of isolation and desperation needed to survive in this postapocalyptic world. This year's E3 saw the announcement that the game would move away from its realistic graphics for something the team is calling "concept art" visuals. The style is striking and gives characters and environmental objects thick black borders but stops short of a cartoon look.

As we scanned the sandy horizon, we began to hear a high-pitched mechanical voice beckoning us. It was then that we realised despite its forsaken facade, Borderlands isn't nearly as lonely as we thought. A short jog toward the makeshift community introduced us to Claptrap, a seemingly good-natured robotic character with more than a few passing similarities to WALL-E and Jhonen Vasquez's GIR character from the short-lived Nickelodeon animated series, Invader Zim. Claptrap gave us the guided tour of the area, and as we ducked and weaved our way through narrow corridors of cliff-face and hopped over corrugated steel barricades, we were given glimpses of some of the other residents of Borderlands, including leather and armoured bandits driving souped-up Max Max-esque vehicles. Claptrap's role is as much comedic relief as guide, and when he's shot during an ambush while attempting to open a gate for us, he mourns his leaking fluids.

Here in the town, we were introduced to the game's shooting and navigation mechanics. Anyone who has played a shooter in the past few years will instantly be at home with the left-trigger controls used for weapon iron sights (or scopes if available) and the right-trigger controls used to fire. Weapon damage straddles the line between FPSs and RPGs because the game will call on two specific factors to determine your hits and misses. The first is your weapon accuracy skill, which can be upgraded via your skill tree and raises as you level your character. The second is your proficiency with particular weapon types; like weapon skill points in RPGs, these increase with continued use of an item. Gearbox reps on hand pointed out that while each weapon subclass has its own proficiency metering system (pistols, rifles, shotguns, and the like), hits and misses are not determined by a "dice roll" system.

Procedural weapon creation in Borderlands has long been a talking point for the game. Rather than creating a set of standard weapons--such as a single pistol, shotgun, machine gun, rocket launcher, or alien technology weapon--and taking a page out of the Diablo and World of Warcraft books, weapons are dynamically generated as you play. For this to work, each weapon type has been fed a set of variables that are randomly combined to create an object, and while they may appear physically similar given their finite number of materials and finishes, it's unlikely you'll come across two of the same item with identical stats. During our play, we saw weapons that appeared similar but had vastly different properties, such as a run-of-the-mill sniper rifle and one that fired incendiary rounds.

Loot dead bodies for more weapons.

Ammunition in the single-player portion of the game seemed reasonably plentiful, and while picking up bullets from dead bodies should give you enough to keep moving, you'll be encouraged to scavenge to find extra booty throughout the environment. Quest items, ammo, and cash glow to indicate their presence in the world, and short vertical pillars of light help you quickly locate objects dropped by fallen enemies. When you get close enough to an object, all you do is hit the X button to pick it up, and you can also hold the X button to sweep across groups of items to grab the lot. Though easy to spot, we had a little trouble picking up objects because we found we needed to be standing right on top of them and looking directly at them to register.

Questing is a major part of Borderlands when it comes to levelling your character. Quests ranged from the obligatory kill quests of bandits and local wildlife to fetch and return missions. Completing these gave us access to key non-player character allies who in turn supplied us with armour, weapons, and information. Quest objectives were marked on our compass and map, and while there appeared to be much hand-holding in the lower levels, we're hoping the game takes off the training wheels to encourage players to explore the vast nothingness, particularly once vehicular combat comes into play. Gearbox is promising the final game will include between 130 and 140 side missions in addition to the main storyline. The game will also feature zones called "dog leg" areas that act as repeatable instances in the world. These will have respawning bosses that can be farmed to help improve your chances of getting a desirable weapon drop.

Online co-op is a big part of Borderlands.

Our demo quest chain culminated in a showdown with the local "badass" (the game's name for elite enemies), Nine-Toes, a leader of the bandits in the area. Killing him and his guard named Skags rewarded us with chests of weapons, each ranked with stats and green or red arrows to show their relative value to the gear we were carrying. Because this is a bounty-hunting game, you are encouraged to horde unwanted weapons and items and later sell them at vending machines to raise your cash reserves for medikits.

Character persistence is a major feature of Borderlands, and while you'll be able to go it alone to level your character in the single-player component of the game, you'll be able to pick up where you left off when you take it online with friends. A dynamic scaling system will ensure that if you're fighting alongside mates, enemy mobs will scale accordingly in difficulty. Experience, cash rewards, and ammunition are automatically shared among the players in the group regardless of contribution, though currently, there's no loot system beyond a first-come-first-served dash for weapon drops. This free-for-all mentality also extends to rare weapon drops, so you'll want to be in the thick of the action (and close to the corpse) when the fighting stops to ensure you get your fair shot at the spoils. There's also currently no option to inspect the gear of other players in your party to help distribute the gear. We can see potential for dispute, especially when matchmaking online with strangers, but Gearbox assured us it's all part of the plan to help foster the intended value of the game's items and keep players coming back for one more boss.

Four character classes will be available in multiplayer: Brick, a tank with a brutal melee attack; Mordecai, a hunter character with a specialty in sniper rifles and access to a bloodwing pet; Lilith, a magic spellcaster with phase-shifting abilities and area-of-effect attacks; and Ronald, the game's soldier character who can deploy a turret that provides covering fire and shields incoming attacks. As in offline play, skill trees will enable you to customise your play style by reducing the cooldown and effectiveness of your special abilities. We opted to play Brick and took immense pleasure activating his blood-lust berserker ability and using the triggers to control our left and right fists as we ploughed through waves of enemy midgets.

The game's "fight for your life" damage system means if you take too many hits, you'll drop to one knee and need assistance from a member of your team. Like Left 4 Dead, if you continue to take damage in this weakened state, you'll be knocked to the ground and killed, but if you successfully slaughter you attacker, you will be rewarded with a second wind; an unaided save that will put you back on your feet and allow you to continue, albeit with low health. It's a fun system and has you blasting away as you frantically try to knock the last skerrick of life bar from an enemy to get back in the fight.

Online cooperative play encourages teamwork to get through scenarios, though if you're the lone-wolf type, there's still some scope here to work at your own pace. The appearance of a giant flaming badass Skag late in our multiplayer session forced the group to come together and work as a single unit to take it down.

When in doubt, light people on fire.

Fun cooperative online play, solid single-player questing and exploration, and customisable RPG elements that provide the basis for unique visuals have us eagerly awaiting Borderlands when it hits the Xbox 360, PlayStation 3, and PC platforms this October.

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326 comments
lipskid
lipskid

Awesome game,played it still playing it,as far as whining about the loot system,dont play as sniper or play with people who arnt douchebags

TheTenth10
TheTenth10

loot system will kill interest in this game, as the close contact fighters will get it all ; usually play pet class (which is sniper here) or long range, making me loose all the loot.

ChristianKiss
ChristianKiss

Full of style and away from anything "we" have seen before. I'm definitely going to buy this game.

Lordkunta
Lordkunta

I expect a lot from this game considering how entusiastic the intervieweé was. :P Sure looks different though, looks fun. A must buy, I just hope they make a demo.

Temmex
Temmex

If you have ever played Diablo then the first come first serve thing is not new to you and im sure there will be many instances of douchbags sitting back and then running in last second to take the good stuff. oh well, gives a fun sense of urgency to the whole thing. looking forward to this game

Smoolander
Smoolander

This game looks absolutely brilliant. I love the damage numbers that appear when you attack something. Very much looking forward to getting this game.

istokes91
istokes91

this game is going to be absolutely mint. i cant wait. fallout style action wiv 3 mates, hunting down monsters. sounds class. roll on october!

rob_dAmAgE
rob_dAmAgE

first off, i'm not a fan of rpg's in the least. i gave fallout a try because it looked cool but eventually sold it because it just wasn't my thing. all i gotta say is this: for some reason, (maybe it's the style, maybe not?), i am looking forward to buying this game more than any other....

ciaxhieu
ciaxhieu

im definitely getting this on the pc but i do have some question about the loot system, from what i have read its a first come first serve. man there is going to be some dispute especially playing with stranger, i mean people out there are loot-whore (people who wants every loot possible) so this system could really kill online playing for me :(

Pelm
Pelm

it doesn't matter if this game has a cartoony cel-shaded look to it this going to freakin rock. I mean there will be a trillion guns to find and use all with their own special and unique stats, no gun is ever the same. That my friend is definetly something to look forward to and something that I personsly am very much into. So don't focus on what you see focus on what you'll get. About the rpg elements this is not a full fledged rpg like fallout 3 or oblivion BUT it does have the fps part like fallout 3 and oblivion had, so it doesn't really matter if this is an fps with rpg ekements because it was that way in fallout 3 and oblivion.

iRMB09
iRMB09

its not Cartoony, its cel shading, it looks more like a comic than anything realy

peterfaj
peterfaj

A combination of RPG and FPS isn't anything new actually.

peterfaj
peterfaj

Not another cartoony looking game...

Korrupt_Soul
Korrupt_Soul

Is it just me or does Rage look similuar to Borderlands?

rholding2000
rholding2000

it just looks good this but the tank, dps and heal system only works WHEN the focus can be gained as such. With free roaming aspects of the FPS calibur and the ability to attack any way you want, wouldnt this negate the tank role? RPGS mechanics work in the way if an attack is coming there aint a damn thing you can do about it, if the aggro switches you have to do a couple of things to reduce threat. It just looks brilliant this game but genres exist for a reason . . they seperate them from themselves. I hope this works as the next evolution will push it further, so far this just looks brilliant

jacyjymp
jacyjymp

Can't wait to hear the reviews come out of this game before I decide which of the big winter releases to choose from first. I have a feeling this will surpass dragon age, mainly because this looks like a cross between Fallout and wow, and dragon age looks a cross between lotr, oblivion and mass effect. I'm kind of bored with lord of the rings esque stories and bow and arrows.. The more post appoloiptic the better, just please make sure we have some new school inspired story telling (for once)

KoolzKatz
KoolzKatz

Very interesting, i just stubled upon this game after the Dragon Age:Origins interview asked if release of DA:O was changed because of Borderlands. Anyways, i like wat i saw, i might have to give this game a try

topsemag55
topsemag55

This is a great-looking game that I really want to buy, but I think they should fix the availability of loot in co-op play. Instead of "first-come, first-serve", they should generate enough loot for four players.:)

Decardcain
Decardcain

is there another change to hellgate ... but hellgate looks more to action rpg ... i didnt saw the skill trees menthioned in that video or the inventory i saw continiously the same line " you receive a ?? of dollars... didnt saw the crafting system ... is more shooter than rpg ... i prefer hellgate but thats another story...

jiffygiggle
jiffygiggle

Pure awesomeness. I've been waiting for a game with a lot of guns an RPG touch to it and cooperative paly on splitscreen all in an open world environment and this is it. My wet dream of video games has come to reality.

MNeuwahl
MNeuwahl

Edit on the previous post: First game in years obviously... not the first game..

MNeuwahl
MNeuwahl

Off topic: I really do not understand why when somebody shares an educated opinion they get modded down by all you other users, and when people make ridiculously idiotic remarks they get modded up... is this what the world has come to? Last time I checked the comment section was there to express your approval and disapproval of games, clips, reviews and the likes... On-Topic: I'm simply excited about this game because it's the first game that I have seen that has the potential of being a truly great game, simply because they are combining many elements from known "hit"-games plus they are adding their own recipe to the mix to boot. So far, by checking the interviews and the many reviews including the reviews here on GS it has me psyched and ?I am not afraid to proclaim that. I for one do not intend to be turned into a timid herd-animal that only tries to fit in with everyone else by liking what they like and disliking what they dislike. I'd rather have my own personality thank you very much. Like it or don't like it, but make up your own mind instead of following the crowd. My two cents, Mike

TheFreeloader
TheFreeloader

termadoyle We all know it wasn't the exploration that ruined Farcry 2. IT WAS ALL THOSE STUPID F***ING GUARD POSTS THAT JUST WOULDN'T STOP F***ING RESPAWNING. Damn I hated those guard posts.

moxyz1
moxyz1

i think the old art style was better imo, hope it sells for them though . i like Randy Pitchfords enthusiasm when he talks about his games ... very encouraging ..but glowing orbs to pick up after kills etc would kill the immersion for me in the world. i wish it was more realistic a type game as it would rock. after brothers in arms im also put off as well sorry, good luck you need it

madskillsnick
madskillsnick

Reminds me of deus ex with more rpg put in and new location so shud b sick. U can tell a game will be good when the developers are proud to have made it and actually excited when talking about it like the guy in the vid is.

Deco_fire
Deco_fire

want it. period. is fastastic. period. self made weapons. Awesome. Period.

MNeuwahl
MNeuwahl

Man I have to say I am psyched about this game. At first I just sort of clicked on the borderlands link here on Gamespot to see what the game was about, not expecting much as games have been rather watered down lately. (Read: the last really extraordinary game in my opinion was wow, which I quit playing a while ago due to it getting old in more ways than mere age) But yeah, back on topic. The game looks awesome, the more I read and see about it, the more psyched I get. Good job on the art, the style, the game mechanics and the AI loot generator. Love the non-grinding attitude, the real-time action, the being in control of what your toon looks like regardless of their gear. Man this game has so much good stuff jammed in, it's a sure buy from my end. Kudos on the project to Gearbox and I hope they score a slamming hit with this one!

Keitha313
Keitha313

Personally for me im more likely to buy this over Fallout 3 due to me not liking the whole stopping time to shoot something... Imo that just feels like cheating

Mar28jw
Mar28jw

Slochin says "ive been waiting for FPS/RPG hybrid",have you never heard of Fallout3

termadoyle
termadoyle

the graphics look awesome (the last time I saw cell-shading this good was in Afro Samurai). I just hope they don't make the game too complicated by putting too much useless exploration and looting. we all know what that did to Farcry 2. More FPS plz!

custerke
custerke

Can't freakin wait for this game, the whole concept is just total wickidness. The cel-shading graphics totally fits the over-the-top gameplay and story in my opinion. This will be 1 badass game, thats for sure. Defenitely when playing co-op. Defenitely getting this 1.

SlochLin
SlochLin

I'm really looking forward to this one... an FPS/RPG hybrid is something I've been waiting for. Not a total fan of the art style but thats something that will be totally inconsequential if they keep the story striding forward at a nice pace.

A3RDRT
A3RDRT

V_0_1_D, my suspicions lead me to believe these one liner comments praising the game about how they are going to buy it immediately and looks amazing are just the developers trying to build excitement as they know they screwed the game up royally and once it is out its all over, they are only trying to get peeps to grab it out of false hype.

V_0_1_D
V_0_1_D

you people saying that this game is gonna be awesome and s***... looks like you guys never played a real game in your life

TheFreeloader
TheFreeloader

Man, the CEL-shading has f'ed up this game so badly. The setting and characters are totally like Diablo/Fallout dark and gritty, but the cel-shading makes it look like the Saturday morning cartoon version of those games.

ELITEPOR
ELITEPOR

Looks like an AWESOME GAME!!!!!!!!!!!! CANT WAIT!!!!!!

jiffygiggle
jiffygiggle

can't wait for BorderLands!!! Going out of my mind!!! HELP MEEEEEEE!!!

Sgt_Pshyco
Sgt_Pshyco

This game is interesting and is a Sci-fi FPS this is one of my favourites game types

barryjones009
barryjones009

Looks a lot more interesting than most FPS out there.

Timesplitt
Timesplitt

@A3RDRT sounds like your pc sucks and they got time to refine it

A3RDRT
A3RDRT

They turned what could have been one of the finest games ever and destroyed it with cut and paste cutouts on a comic strip background, at least we can count on Bioware not destroying Mass Effect 2.

Hellcat-
Hellcat-

the only feature im interested in is co-op, everything else looks so-so.

JCTiggs
JCTiggs

Straight from the HORSES mouth...triple post and all.

LokiDWolf
LokiDWolf

Very impressive. Especially about building up your character in the game, then online, and more powerful back in the game. I love the AI feature as well. New plateau for game creators now. Also, love the look. Reminds me of Thirteen with the thick, black border around the characters.