We partake in the simple pleasures of Gearbox Software's stylish FPS-RPG, where wild midgets run rampant and shoot-n-loot is the order of the day.
"Loot" is one of those magical words in gaming - it belongs with "headshot," "achievement" and "level up" in that lexicon of terms that'll give any gamer - World of Warcraft or Diablo players especially - that warm, fuzzy feeling inside.
Borderlands, Gearbox Software's recently made over FPS-RPG, is trying to grab hold of that feeling, but it's taking a different approach from either of those games. Sure, there are plenty of treasure chests to open in Borderlands, but otherwise you're not going to be slashing down demons and skeletons and hoping they drop something with a colored name (Gearbox and 2K say there are hundreds of thousands of randomly generated weapons). No - you shoot them. In the face.
Which sort of makes Borderlands a cross between Fallout 3, WoW and Diablo. It's got the first-person shooting, open-world structure and post-apocalyptic setting of Fallout (though it takes a more cartoony and light-hearted approach to the theme), the rhythm of WoW's quest chains, and the skill trees, character building, and of course, compulsive loot whoring of Diablo.
The formula worked effectively in the hour or so I spent with Borderlands' single-player campaign. I trekked across a few areas of the vast game world of Pandora, taking on quest chains given by a few NPCs that had me doing "kill X amount of animals" and "gather X amount of items" tasks before culminating in a boss fight.
Sounds simplistic in terms of quest design, but this was the very beginning of the game and the action is what's supposed to pull it along. For each kill you get, you earn general experience as well as proficiency in a particular firearm (submachine guns, pistols, shotguns, etc). Level ups grant you more health and power, while boosting proficiencies earn you better accuracy and power.
It was kinda dull and a bit aggravating because my proficiencies were so low that half my shots missed, at least until I finally unlocked my first skill point, which gave me the ability to spawn a turret with a forcefield that would take down enemies while providing me with cover. It added a nice wrinkle of strategy to the game's shoot-n-loot formula.
Skills played a much bigger role in my time with Borderlands' four-player co-op mode, where I actually got to take a look at the real role-playing side of this FPS-RPG. In Borderlands players can pick from four classes: a soldier who focuses on either offense, support or healing (which is done with "healing bullets"), a Hunter who specializes in swords and snipers, a Rogue-like "siren" class who can go invisible, and the tank archetype, which is what I chose.
A quick glance at his skill tree revealed the only possible choice for me: a melee-oriented "berserker" path that lets you run into the fray and pound fists into bad guys (all the while having an auto-heal) by alternating left and right trigger presses to punch. Borderlands' co-op certainly isn't Left 4 Dead from what I could tell - the team strategy was basically down to everyone sticking together, killing all the bad dudes and healing occasionally. But running around smashing midgets and giant spiders in the face while my teammates doused them in flames using explosive bullets? And then picking up the loot in the post-carnage free-for-all? Yeah, it was a simple pleasure but an exhilarating one.
Aside from the melee abilities, it didn't really feel like playing the tank was any different from playing the soldier, which I did in single-player. All classes can use all the guns, so I was this hulking dude using a sniper rifle, which my WoW experience tells me should only be for the damage-dealers and not the tanks. There wasn't much sense of distinct team or class dynamics playing against each other, but you know, that was never really the case for Diablo, either. I didn't get to test the other classes or skill trees, but it seems that Borderlands is all about just killin' things and gettin' items. Nothing wrong with that, and the game seems to have that part down pat, though I wonder if it can hold up in the long run. I'll say this at least: as far as current gen loot-intensive games go, it's looking better than Too Human. So there, that bullet's been dodged.
Look for Borderlands on PC, Xbox 360 and PS3 on October 23.