Since Torchlight was a stylised hack ‘n’ slash loot-grinder, it reminded me of that other stylised loot-grinder of recent years: Borderlands. I played it once before but my words were rambly and a bit shite, so I won’t bother trying to link-bait you into reading it (savvy users can obviously abuse other functions to find it).
This isn’t “late to the party” because I did actually play Borderlands around when it first came out. This is more like a “revisited”, except instead of being a cheap ass-TV programme where they repeat the entire episode and slam on an extra five minutes, I’ve done everything from scratch. This time there are screenshots, at the very least.
To avoid any confusion, I’m just going to lay my cards on the table before we go any further: I like Claptrap.
Any FPS that starts with AIM ASSIST set to “ON” is suspect. I understand that gamepads exist, but that doesn’t make them right (any control mechanism that requires so much scaffolding to even be usable can’t be good, especially when there’s an alternative control mechanism right there that works perfectly out the box). Even then, Borderlands needs to be ini-tweaked so that mouselook stops sucking (would it really have been so hard to put a “disable mouse smoothing” tickbox in the options menu? Who the fuck invented mouse smoothing anyway?!).
It’s not the best way to start playing a game, having to fight it.
While we’re on the subject of mouselook and aiming, I have to be a boring old fart and keep talking crosshairs (I’m going to keep talking crosshairs until the industry listens up and reinstates crosshairs that actually work). The crosshair expands and contracts to indicate how accurate you are, fair enough — but does that have to eschew a little constant marker in the middle so I know where I want to be aiming (regardless of where the random numbers will actually send my bullets)? Deus Ex managed this more than ten years ago — an unchanging central marker, with arms moving in and out to denote actual accuracy.
It’s this that is Borderlands‘ biggest annoyance. It’s a shooter, its primary function is shooting, and it seems to almost deliberately make shooting difficult — you have to hold down the right mouse button to use iron sights (ugh) or a scope before you get something you can actually use to aim. Yes, iron sights are realistic, but then you can’t see where you’re pointing for all the muzzle flash and the giant gun taking up half the screen, so you’ve still got the same problem. No, you basically can’t play the game without a scoped gun.
I get the horrible feeling it’s all to do with that default AIM ASSIST setting of “ON”. If you’ve got auto-aim, it doesn’t really matter where the crosshair is precisely pointing, because the game is going to make sure you hit anyway — flailing the centre of the screen around in the general direction of the target is enough. But where’s the satisfaction in that? Where’s the satisfaction of landing the perfect headshot from long distance, when it’s really the computer that’s hit the mark for you?
So just give us a bloody dot in the middle of the screen all the time. It wouldn’t be a hard thing to add, and it would change everything for the better.
Even after all that faffing around, Borderlands is, despite the promises of MIND-BLOWING INSANITY delivered on the back of the box, in absolutely no hurry to get you started. The obligatory intro/tutorial drags on and on and gives you a few pointlessly easy run-around quests before it lets you out into the world.
Once it does finally get started though…
It seems to be a hallmark of action RPGs that you should always be facing hordes of enemies. The traditional FPS way of handling enemies is reversing and jumping and strafing — but because Borderlands is an open world game, this is a terrible strategy. Because, sure as sugar, your reversing will take you through another skag den and the horde will only increase in size. Which can be either fine or delightfully terrifying depending on your level versus the level of the area.
Actually, despite the back-of-the-box assertions, Borderlands isn’t actually that insane. Sure, it’s definitely a comedy and it does delight in stylised silliness — but it’s not mind-blowing insanity. It’s actually quite tame.
Let’s take the world-building, for example. My favourite topic, creature design, is handled really well here — the skags are suitably alien, but they’re not over-the-top or stupid; they make sense as local animals (and the magic fire/acid/lightning powers are no worse than Star Wars). The same goes for the flying rakk,underground crab worms, desert scythids and junkyard spiderants — they’re all strange-looking, but no more so than the aliens in any more serious franchise. Black outlines and not-quite-cel-shading aside, you could put these creature concepts anywhere.
The storyline isn’t exactly insane either. So people come following the myth of lost riches; that’s not insane, that’s perfectly natural. Then corporations and locals and the alien guardians are fighting over it — yep, mind is not blown yet, I can follow this. The world is full of bandits, fair enough. The world is full of psychos… Well, I pop the heads of most psychos before they get close enough to scream something lol so random haha xx. You’d have to be mad to live in a wasteland like that.
As I said: yes, it’s definitely a comedy, but it’s not insane — it’s just mildly amusing. I love Claptraps and all their silly little lines, but that’s not insane either, just kawaii no desu ^___^.
The weapons are a bit insane, maybe. Rapid-fire rocket launchers and explosive shotguns are fun enough, and there’s plenty of functional variety to keep you on your toes — from burst-fire rifles to slow but one-shot shotguns, every possible shooting style is catered for sooner or later by the loot spawners.
It’s an open-world first-person shooter with loot-grinding mechanics. Occasionally fun, occasionally a weary trudge… Its story is just enough to keep the action going but little more than that. Its world is brown with splashes of interesting colour. Its guns are varied and fun, if it wasn’t for that bloody crosshair…