There's also far more to the characters than first meets the eye. Sure, our protagonists don't learn valuable life lessons or are forced to reconcile themselves to the essential meaninglessness and confusion of the post-modern condition (yawn), but what about the people they encounter? Now, trust me, when I first started playing the game, I also had my doubts about how much character depth a game without a conversation system could provide. And collecting audio logs isn't exactly the greatest innovation of all time, either.
But it works, and it works well. Collecting the Patricia Tannis audio logs may not be original in terms of gameplay, but listening to a brilliant (if arrogant) woman slowly losing her mind is simultaneously hilarious and deeply sad. That particular character alone, who can make you giggle with her insane comments about music and unexpectedly move you by hallucinating about her dead mother, is enough to make the story of Borderlands a memorable experience. And Patricia Tannis is not the only great character in the game - from the scheming yet oddly likeable Marcus to the strong and intelligent Helena Pierce to the delightfully grumpy and sarcastic General Knoxx, the world of Borderlands is populated by people you may not want to meet, but you definitely want to hear about.
What about all that shooting of bandits and monsters, though? Certainly that's what you spend most of your time doing in this game, isn't it? Isn't that shallow and unartistic?
I'll have to answer that question with another question: aren't danger and excitement part of the human condition? And when placed inside a narrative framework that has been thought through, can they not constitute a perfectly valid artistic experience? Yes, it's fun to play Borderlands. But since when is art no longer allowed to be fun? Shakespeare can be fun, too.
Gameplay, graphics, narrative - all these are aspects of the aesthetic vocabulary of game design; they are the language of the art form. I would never have enjoyed Borderlands quite so much without its narrative, its setting and its satire; but I wouldn't have enjoyed it without the gameplay, either.