According to my records it only took me 20 or so days of play to run through Borderlands, which is about my normal pace for an RPG that I enjoy reasonably well. Of course, it took me more like 52 calendar days to make it through. I was thinking about this the other day, how my video gaming has diminished so significantly especially since my daughter—who somehow didn’t really hamper my gaming style in the first few months—became more active with crawling and interacting and such. Even though there are times when I get a tiny bit bummed that I don’t have a lot of time or money to devote to gaming (say 700 hours or $876.70 per year), I really have no complaints. Among other things I savor games a little more and since there were 32 some odd days in between various play sessions for me to contemplate Borderlands as I played it, I digested it better than I have some other games I’ve played quickly and discarded just as fast.
Borderlands is, as many others have noticed, a FPS MMO. Granted, it isn’t massively multiplayer, but it definitely follows the MMO structure and the main difference is the combat is real-time FPS as opposed to cooldown/semi-real-time third person like most MMOs. For people who don’t mind the MMO conventions, which I would say describes me, it’s not offensive in the least. The FPS controls are tight and the distinctive cel-shaded look makes playing Borderlands feel a lot like living in a graphic novel and I’m a huge sucker for that kind of thing.
The plot of Borderlands is tenuous at best, with you looking for a mystical Vault and in the process championing the underdogs (underskags?) of the planet against the oppressive bandits and mercenaries and greedy interplanetary corporations who want either to just be generically oppressive or generically greedy. You’re led around by a mysterious woman who contacts you via your communicator and never reveals anything significant about herself nor is it really explained why you blindly follow her instructions. My single biggest complaint with Borderlands lies here, in the indistinct narrative that ought to tie the game’s endless fetch questing together but actually turns out to be nothing more than one gigantic 30+ hour fetch quest, and not even one that has a satisfactory ending. If you come into this game looking for fulfillment in the story department, you’re going to leave sorely disappointed.
In a very real way Borderlands is all about the journey. It’s a grind game for grinders. The game narrows quickly into a cycle of fetch quest, new area, enemy encounter, loot management, quest turn in, lather-rinse-repeat. If you can’t stomach this sort of thing without a compelling plot to string you along, avoid Borderlands. I believe this is why people say Borderlands works best as a co-op game, because tedium is always more fun when you can make your own enjoyment with friends. I haven’t played co-op yet because for better or for worse I may not actively seek out grind-y games, but I’m not opposed to them so I finished the game all by my lonesome and felt reasonably happy most of the time doing it. Call it a quirk of my personality but as small and shallow as it is, I find enough reward in incrementally improving my kit to push me through even though I like to talk about how important narrative is to me.
To be fair, there is enough mystery in the sketchy plot to at least have curiosity be a minor factor in getting through to the end of the main quest, but toward that end it becomes clear that the dramatic moment you keep hoping for never will (perhaps never can) materialize. If you didn’t have as much fun as I was able to seeking out higher XP levels and slightly different (i.e. questionably improved) primary weapons, that may be the point the controller gets broken in frustration. For me, it was a disappointed shrug and then even after the game’s credits rolled I continued playing and achievement hunting for another 30-45 minutes.
I’m not sure Borderlands is the sort of game I’m dying to get DLC for, nor am I sure I’ll revisit it anytime soon. I’m not trading it away right off, I know that. I’m going to let it sit on the shelf for a bit and see if I get the itch to come back to it. Also, I keep hoping someone on my friends list will magically decide to pick it up (again?) and ask me to do some co-op with them. I have other games to play in the meantime, and it wasn’t so spectacular that I can’t bring myself to pry it from the 360′s disc tray, but for a gaming OCD like myself, especially one with an undying love of beautiful cel-shaded graphics, Borderlands almost accidentally hit a lot of my weak spots. Like a boss with glowing orange “shoot me here” areas, I came down pretty easy as a result.