Borderlands Preview (PC)

What's interesting about Borderlands is that while at E3, I used a notepad to take notes on every game I didn't have hands on time with. For me, hands on time makes me remember better, whereas I forget small things when I'm just watching. That's just how I work. Out of all the games I saw and wrote notes on, there was only one that required a full page and scribbling over notes to fit everything on, and that was Borderlands.

Is that good or bad? Normally, I'd say it is what it is, but for this game, it's definitely a good thing.

Gearbox Software, in conjunction with 2K Games, made Borderlands similar to a popular game, Fallout 3. That's the first thing we were told, that the developers played Fallout 3 and wanted a game that had everything that Fallout was missing or didn't do well. A commendable endeavor, considering how highly acclaimed the latest Fallout game was, and that the venerable Bethesda Software made it.

Borderlands is different in many, many respects. First, it's an FPS/RPG that only gives you one mode, first person. It takes place in "Pandora", a wasteland that is literally as the game's title implies, on the border, nearly deserted, with little to do or seek. Except that players are fortune hunters, and that fortune hunters always know where to look to find that special something.

Meet the team: (from left to right) Roland, Lilith, Morecai and Brick. Guess who's Brick.
Borderlands looks like a mix between Mad Max, Fallout 3 and a decent FPS.

That said, everything in Borderlands is playable. There are no fake backdrops, no inaccessible areas (that aren't fifty miles up); everything is there for your sandbox entertainment. This ties in perfectly with setting, no real cities or laws, just a long road of desert, hidden treasures, and insufferable people who still live in the barren Pandora.

On the FPS side, Borderlands is unique because it not only features lots of guns, it has over half a million different guns. Yes, half a million. No, Gearbox didn't go in and make half a million guns...that'd be crazy. They made a system where guns can have any number of special parts, and the number of exchangeable pieces is pretty high. Weapons, to say the least, play a very prominent role in this game. There are also over 150 different enemies that players will encounter during the game, which should be plenty of fun.

On the RPG side, those guns can be customizable, but it's not really the point of the game. Finding new weapons by undertaking missions is far more relevant to the adventure, and will yield better results as well. But that doesn't mean everything can be found. Skill sets are set for each of the four characters to level up, and there are plenty of abilities and attributes to hand out. We haven't seen all of them, but we have a few.

As a team, the odds here are great. But alone? That's why you don't play alone. Don't worry though, the game is easier for loners.
Expect mostly desert, since it is a deserted city on the Borderlands, but there are plenty of different locales to visit and enjoy.

The four characters are Brick, Lilith, Mordecai, and Roland. Brick, as his name suggests, is a giant of a man and has an ability Berserker, which if you know what the berserk health pack in Doom did, you know what this does. Lilith has Phase Walk, which lets her move very quickly and be invisible to the enemy while she's moving. Mordecai is a sniper and has a pet Falcon, which he uses for several special attacks, and we know nothing about Roland except the name. For now.

Each of these characters has their own skill set, and there are three different types of skills: the active skill, the adrenaline skills, and general skills.

On to more RPG elements, all players are completely customizable. Teams of four don't have to have each player be a different character, because as the developers ensured us, everyone will be so different after customization that you'll never find someone quite like you.

There are a few things to know about Borderlands. The game is made to be played cooperatively, meaning up to four players can play, online or off (two players per console, and system link is available), but it can just as easily be played alone. There are no AI counterparts; if you're playing on your own, the game will automatically adjust its difficulty to your style of play, though there will also be less loot to find. There is a lot of loot, so much that it has its own color indexing system when dropped (yellow means average, purple means rare, etc.), and half the adventure is about finding loot, because upgrading skills will not get players to the end of the game alone.

Think that gun looks cool? There are probably a thousand different versions of it.
We love the art direction of Borderlands. It looks fantastic, and even better on screen.

Characters are persistent, meaning if you play on your own and then join a friend's game, everything you do on either game will save for your character. There are literally hundreds of optional missions all around the world that can be played or avoided. There is more than one cooperative game mode, though what those other modes are is still under wraps. They are, however, based mostly around adventuring.

Finally, there will be multiplayer in Borderlands, but not like your typical multiplayer matches. The most basic multiplayer is a simple duel: melee one of your buddies, and if he hits you back, it's on. A fight to the death. And once it's over, everything goes back to the way it was.

An arena is also available for more specialized competitive online play, though it will be limited to four players. Gearbox also told us that there is always a chance of a downloadable update to have more players, if there is enough demand for it.

All and all, Borderlands was a surprise for us at E3. I surely wasn't expecting it to be so grossly giant in scale. As someone who wasn't a particularly large fan of Fallout 3 (not my kind of RPG, though I appreciated it's gameplay), this looks like a very innovative, stylized FPS/RPG that will have people from both genre camps enjoying.

Borderlands is set for an October release for the PlayStation 3, Xbox 360 and PC.

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