Borderlands breaks the trend of other recent shooting games by having a lengthy single player experience with the option of co-op. The role-playing game aspects of levelling up and the barrage of loot unite with this shooting game to bring an addictive experience.
The game's story tells of residents on the barren planet of Pandora on the search for a fabled secret vault rumoured to be filled with unseen alien technology. The player controls one person joining the hunt, but after about an hour the story probably won't be any of your concern. There are heaps of quests; not many of them pushing the main plot but you'll find that the narrative isn't an important part of the game.
Borderlands starts with four characters to choose from, each having specific skill trees and abilities. Completing quests along with generally doing anything levels up your character, and with every level up brings the opportunity to add another upgrade to a particular skill. Quests are started by meeting people or checking out bounty boards. When they're available they can be completed in any order and multiple quests can be completed at once if you wish. Experience points, money and items are given for completing quests. Most missions consist of killing a boss, killing a certain number of enemies or collecting items. It won't take long to find guns you like as there's literally millions of them, and apart from some specific weapons that bosses drop you may never see the same exact gun twice.
There's thousands of shields in the game that feature their own statistics and abilities, some even being able to regenerate your health or ammunition as well as an abundance of class mods and artefacts to further enhance your character's capabilities. The only place to store items is on yourself at all times. So while there are rare guns certain characters drop exclusively, with no way of keeping them all you'll just have to learn to let go as you make way for the most powerful weapons you find.
Nothing you do is wasted because experience points are rewarded for everything. The game has a challenge log that rewards the player for the works, including killing thousands of one type of enemy, total air time in vehicles, total bullets shot and much more. Other Borderlands players can join your game by dropping in and out at any time and both experience and money are split between. Enemies will multiply depending on how many players are in one game so a full group isn't overpowered, though because the enemy's level will still match the host's, friends can be over or underpowered depending on their level. Everything done in co-op carries over including experience gained, missions completed and loot found. Unfortunately there's no formal way to trade items with your only option being to drop and pick up each other's loot in the game world. This will cause chaos amongst the random jerks of the internet if you don't know who you're playing with.
Short vertical beams of light emitting from loot saves the player having to look down to check dropped items constantly. Loot will adjust to give you health if you are low. You can conveniently pick up a lot of close loot at once by holding down the button instead of just pressing it. Holding down the button to pick up a gun makes it take the place of the one you're holding. This is a good idea but mistakes can be easy to make at first. The run mechanic is notable because it's only one click of the control stick to start running and you can jump, reload or switch weapons without stopping.
Borderlands has a sharp visual style where everything has a black outline similar to cel-shading. Looking down scopes show off an accurate depth of field effect. Frame rate drops are common in close combat and within large groups of enemies but aren't of any significant issue. The HUD shows all the usual info you would see in a shooter as well as your current level, but has the odd exception of a minimap. While the game features large environments they're usually a series of closed paths mixed together. Most of the time viewing the map is needed to figure out the right path to take and when you're trying to go somewhere you're forced to open up the map menu and simply remember how to get somewhere upon returning to gameplay. Environment layouts are artistically convincing but they're mostly static with no interaction possible with objects. It's especially noticeable while driving vehicles as barrels and small rocks can stop cars dead at full speed and it can be irritating if travelling through a narrow area with a car.
Enemies consist of varied insects, humans and flying attackers. All have weak points and this gives the shooting gameplay more depth. Enemy AI is mostly simple, with the common enemy reaction to run directly toward you. The sometimes dumb AI can bring down the experience of fighting presumably difficult enemies as it can be exploited for easy wins. It's possible to complete the end of the last story mission by standing still, and with a little research online this seems to be more common than it should. It's not the kind of intense satisfying closure to the game one would want. It's also odd that flying enemies can be "ran over" in mid air at a slow speed in a vehicle.
Groups of quests start and end in the same location, which provides the constant carrot-on-the-stick situation that will keep you coming back for more. If you don't go too far off the main story path Borderlands should take around 20 hours to complete. Beyond that there are many more side quests but no option to play quests already completed. An option called "Playthrough 2" is available upon completion of the game. This starts a new game with your stats carried over in addition to similarly levelled enemies.
The story of Borderlands isn't memorable by any means, but that's not among the main reasons this will be played. The big selling points are the loot collecting, co-op and levelling up, and Borderlands brings it home on all three. Borderlands isn't without it's problems, but with the very nature of an RPG being one of long gameplay length, combined with downloadable content and other updates this FPS going to remain in player's cycles for a long time.