On the newly colonized planet of Pandora, four bounty hunters travel in a van in search for a mythical vault; Mordecai (The Hunter), Lilith (The Siren), Roland (The Soldier) and Brick (The Berserker). You pick one of these bounty hunters as your playable character and step off of the bus. You're immediately introduced to a energetic and annoying robot named Claptrap who gives you an ECHOnet device. This allows you to speak with a mysterious woman who aims to guide you to The Vault, and thus begins your journey.
As you play the game and are sent on hundreds of errands, you do hope that the slow start to the story would pick-up and introduce interesting ideas. However; it's almost non-existent throughout. The "go here/fetch this/kill this" quests do have some context but is easy to glaze over and ignore.
The game is a mix of FPS and RPG type games. When targeting an enemy, their shield and health bar is displayed. In traditional RPG-style, numbers appear to show the damage you are dealing to them. You can deliver a critical hit to almost every enemy by shooting their weak spot such as a bandit's head or the inside of a Skag's mouth.
As you kill enemies, you level up your weapon proficiencies which increases your effectiveness with that weapon. You can become a master of any weapon you like, regardless of the character you chose.
With every level increase, you gain extra health. At Level 5, you gain your unique character skill and can start assigning a skill point at subsequent levels. There are 3 talent trees and you can spend your point in any of them, so it's up to you if you want to specialise or diversify. In terms of unique abilities, The Siren can turn invisible and sneak attack enemies, The Hunter has a pet bird, Bloodwing who targets nearby enemies, The Berserker pummels enemies for heavy damage with his fists and The Soldier can deploy a turret which has both offensive and defensive properties.
The shield system and the way the vehicles handle is very reminiscent of Halo. The shields do have stats like all the other items, so some recharge faster and some have stronger protection, or possibly extra bonuses like health regeneration or extra resistance to elemental damage. Regardless, I thought the shields take a rather long time to start recharging.
When you run out of health, you go into a downed state and start to bleed out with the screen slowly fading. If you manage to kill and enemy in this state, you get 'second wind' where you instantly heal 50% health and full shields. If you bleed out, you re-spawn at the last New-U station with a percentage of your money taken as a penalty.
Your character can sprint as long as you want without becoming fatigued. This is a huge plus when travelling long distances when you don't have a vehicle. Shortly into the game, you get to spawn vehicles at certain access points. You get a choice to kit it out with a machine gun or rocket launcher and customise the colour. There is a fast travel system which is introduced too far into the game for my liking. It's fairly limited too as you have to find a post to initiate the fast travel option and can only travel to other posts that you have discovered.
Borderlands has a high emphasis on looting, but in my opinion it's far too much loot. Quite often there will be 3 or 4 lockers next to each other with an item or cash in each one, as opposed to having one locker with lots of loot inside. Often the enemies will drop several small wads of cash rather than one stockpile. Maybe it makes sense for multiplayer where you will be battling it out for ownership of the treasure, but for single-player; it just makes it more tedious.
There are three types of vending machines: weapon, ammo, and medical. While each one sells items in their speciality, any item can be sold to the machine. These vending machines are always convenient, particularly when ammo drops become scarce for certain guns you prefer to use such as the rocket launcher.
Much fuss is made of the randomly generated weapon system. The guns are separated into different categories: combat rifles, repeaters, revolvers, sniper rifles, SMGs, shotguns and rocket launchers. Each gun has a manufacturer which has certain characteristics such as higher damage or faster reload times. As you progress in the game, weapons can have elemental damage like shock/corrosive/fire damage, or extra properties such as firing multiple bullets. Items are colour coded to show the rarity, white being common through to orange for rare.
Since you will be picking up new guns with every kill, you would think you'd be swapping out weapons every couple of mins. However, often the loot is very underpowered so I simply glance at it, then usually just keep it to sell at the vending machines. It might have been a better option to allow you to modify your existing gun, rather than having hundreds of useless weapons that you don't care about. Organising your items can be a little unruly. Personally I found it a bit fiddly to compare items since it doesn't filter out similar weapons.
Early on in the game, time and time again you see the same old enemies so ends up feeling stale. As you progress far into the game, the enemy variations increase and you will see completely different style of enemies. Bandits are the most frequent enemies and there are different behaviours within the various types; Brutes have high health and powerful guns, Psychos charge at you with knives, Midget Shotgunners are self explanatory.
I found the difficulty quite imbalanced. Early on you get a quest that is way too tough for you. You have to do other side-quests and come back to it when you are a higher level, but you will only get such side-quests if you talk to certain people which is easily over-looked. Later on when higher quantities of quests are assigned to you, if you do them in order of difficulty, by the time you get to the harder quests; they have become too easy. There is no difficulty options within the game so the only option you have is to do more side-quests if you find it too hard, or restrict yourself to increase the difficulty. Even though you perceive these missions to be side-quests, it's basically mandatory to do them because higher level enemies have defence bonuses against you as well as being offensively strong.
One major reason why the game really drags, (particularly in the first part of the game) is the constant re-spawning. You will be sent on missions to raid a bandit camp, but return here a few minutes later and it seems a new group has settled in. Sometimes you will destroy everything in the cave and are made to backtrack to exit, only to find stronger enemies have suddenly made their home here. I can understand this sort of practice in a short game, but Borderlands will take around 20 hours, so this only detracts from it.
I am a fan of cel-shaded graphics and the game uses them well. I guess it does make the somewhat boring locales of desolate wastelands look better than it should. There's some slight texture pop-up when entering an area but no other problems. If you look carefully, Borderlands can be quite a brutal game; bodies explode, limbs fly off, flesh melts from acid and it's all so gruesomely entertaining.
Whilst single-player is playable, the game was designed with co-op play at heart. In doing so, you fight against tougher enemies but will gain more experience and better loot.
There's plenty of content within Borderlands but I'd say it's a bit too much. The first half of the game takes far too long to do, and it becomes frustrating when it makes you slog back through certain sections with tougher enemies. It ends up feeling like a total grind and a chore to play. It does become more interesting when new types of enemies make an appearance and you begin to discover new types of guns with elemental attributes. The game-play starts feeling fresh at this point and less of a grind but it should have happened sooner.