RPS At E3: Borderlands

By John Walker on June 4th, 2009 at 8:28 am.

We’ve finally seen Borderlands running. And how. The new graphical overhaul has received a lot of attention, but so far only been seen in screenshots (and the very brief glimpses in this trailer). It’s good news to report that it looks even more splendid when it’s moving. The concept-art-as-graphics design has completely won us over. But what about the game itself?

Gearbox clearly know shooters. From their early days working on the Half-Life expansions to the Brothers In Arms series, it’s what they do, and they do it well. So Borderlands being an RPG was at first something of a surprise. Once you see it moving, it begins to make a lot more sense. Played from a first-person perspective, as one of four characters that take part in the story, it’s clearly a game that’s a shooter first, and asks questions later.

Letting you play the game on your own, or in co-op with up to four players, you can drop in and out of other people’s games, or invite them into your own, as you go through the desolate lands of Pandora, trying to discover the fabled Vault – a place said to contain riches of alien technologies. You can find out loads more about the core game in our interview with Gearbox from last year. Today I want to tell you about some new details.

The first thing that feels important to talk about are the words “LEVEL UP!” Earn enough XP to increase your character’s rank, and you’ll see the words spin onto the screen in giant, cartoony letters. LEVEL UP! It’s a moment of joy! Hooray! It captures so much about the attitude of Borderlands. It doesn’t have a straight face.

Of the four characters (lone ranger Mordecai, soldier and support class Roland, magical siren Lilith, and tank Brick) you’ll pick one and rank them up via their three unique skill trees. Take Brick, for instance. He can be specced as a brawler, tank or blaster, or of course a combination of the three. And I’d recommend tank, after seeing him go into his Hulk-like frenzy mode where he rushes off into the fray and just punches the shit out of everything he sees. It’s gruesome. In the good way.

We also caught a glimpse of Lilith’s phase walking – an ability that lets her temporarily move extremely quickly, invisible to the enemy, to gain tactical positions. It’s skills like these that are so essential when playing in co-op, using tricks to distract enemies so your chums can take them out.

For instance, there’s the Fighting Spider Ants. Insectoid enemies whose weak spots are in their squidgy behinds. Use one player to fight them head on, then another can shoot them in the bum for victory.

There’s elite versions of most enemies, but in a game where “LEVEL UP!” is bellowed on screen, they’re not called “elite”. They’re called “Badass”. The Badass Fire Skag, for instance – a hulking beast that’s permanently on fire, breathing torrents of flames out of its mouth. Some slightly more sentient enemies are armed, and often they’ll have a weapon you’ll like the look of. Shoot them and take it – find out what it does. During our demonstration the enthused Randy Pitchford was delighted to discover a recovered weapon was a cannonball shooter.

There’s a reason he was surprised. Borderlands’ weapons are procedurally generated, improvised by the game, presenting potentially half a million different types. To keep this clear, they’re to be colour-coded with the familiar WoW system – green for regular, blue for special, and purple for the sort you’ll get all kinds of excited about. These can be dropped by enemies, which surely presents the possibility of imbalance – a very powerful weapon early on might give you quite an edge. Well, yes, says Pitchford. And they’re deliberately leaving it that way. Get lucky, and you’ll be a very powerful player.

There’s multiple extras that can be added to guns, as if they weren’t damaging enough. Add on fire effects, or electricity, or acid if you want to watch the faces melt off your enemies.

This looks properly fantastic, so far. We can’t wait to get our hands on it for a proper play. So long as the missions are compelling, the RPG aspect is looking deep and involved, without ever preventing this from being a fast-paced shooter. More more more.

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40 Comments »

  1. Erlend M says:

    So it’s like Diablo, but a tongue-in-cheek sci-fi FPS? Sounds good to me.

  2. DrazharLn says:

    I think this could really be that combination of shooter and RPG I’ve been looking for and that Fallout 3 and Mass Effect failed to deliver on.

  3. Irish Al says:

    “Badass”?

    Oh dear. Better start wearing a baseball cap and put on some weight.

  4. The Apologist says:

    Yay for this.

    Can’t wait…

    Sorry if I missed this in previous coverage, but any idea when we get our sweaty little hands on it?

  5. Bananaphone says:

    So we’re only shooting bugs and other alien things? Boo.

  6. Rei Onryou says:

    Yayness. That is all. I really hope this delivers.

    Also, will we see lots of giant mining machines? I hope so!

  7. Alex says:

    I guess with the cheeky route they’re taking the game, it won’t be too much of a problem if an ant drops a shotgun as it dies.

    From the sounds of it, the weapon variation will be like what I expected in Bioshock before its release. Endless Lots of variation and customization possible, where you might not see the same weapon in your friends’ hands, ever. I wonder how big the functional differences will be, though.

  8. Lobotomist says:

    Amazing. This is surely the game to look forward too

  9. Ashurbanipal says:

    This has piqued my interest. It looks like it’s got character, and I like that.

  10. Subject 706 says:

    Er…Am I the only one who thinks the weapon system is utterly retarded? I’d rather have fewer, more “proper” guns, than an electro-acid-flame-thrower-rifle.

  11. Super Bladesman says:

    I’ve been looking forward to this for a while, and I’m only getting more excited now that we’re beginning to hear more and more.

  12. danielcardigan says:

    Is this going to have much single player appeal? A shooty Diablo, unlike Hellgate, could be fun.

  13. Mr Pink says:

    Procedurally generated weapons! Yes! More developers should do this, I can’t think of a game since Diablo 2 that has done it properly (correct me if I’m wrong). Loot is so much more exciting when it’s truly random. I am super excited for this game.

  14. danielcardigan says:

    Loot makes or breaks those types of games. I don’t think Sacred, Titanquest or Silverfall managed to get it quite right. Haven’t tried Sacred 2 yet, though.

  15. Reverend Speed says:

    Now genuinely interested.

    4-player co-op post-apocalyptic-driving brash-rpg with procedurally-generated arsenals?

    Yeah.

    Yeah, alright then. =)

  16. gulag says:

    “Subject 706 says: Er…Am I the only one who thinks the weapon system is utterly retarded? I’d rather have fewer, more “proper” guns, than an electro-acid-flame-thrower-rifle.”

    Normally I’d agree, but if I’m playing a game with enemies that are permanently on fire and Badass, I want a Holy-Magma-Harpoon-Grenade-Gun!

  17. CMaster says:

    This sounds like it could be an awful lot of fun, especially if the coop really works (even better if it can be saved). Can imagine spending a couple of weeks of nights working through the game with the 3 others reguarly on my vent server.

    If you are playing single player, can you swap between the 4 characer, or do you just pick 1 from 4? That wasn’t clear.

  18. Baris says:

    Oh god, this looks so good. I may just have to temporarily ditch my friends and replace them with PC people for this game.

  19. Bobsy says:

    It’s just Fallout with guns.

  20. Markoff Chaney says:

    Badass indeed. I hope my wife is still excited about this when it comes out. Co-Op killing with the one you love is a great thing…

  21. The Sombrero Kid says:

    I think it looks good, for the record i’ve always thought the new art style was a brilliant ballsy move that paid off in my eyes.

  22. PHoNSC says:

    Bobsy, you made me laugh.
    Looks spiffy, but I suppose time will tell.

  23. Bhazor says:

    The art style is really growing on me.

    Any indications about how ammo works?

  24. Muzman says:

    It all sounds rather unique doesn’t it. It evokes ‘First Person Gauntlet’ to me more than Left 4 Dead does, based on that; more arcadey and presumably with an element of competition between players for powerups as well as co-opererative death avoidance.

  25. Flint says:

    A scifi FPS with vast outdoors mixed with Diablo? Sounds like a game custom-made for me.

    Cannot. Wait.

  26. Dolphan says:

    In what universe is an electro-acid-flamethrower-rifle a bad thing?

  27. Oddtwang says:

    A universe inhabited by alkaline beings who stand in pools of salt water all the time, of course!

  28. Duoae says:

    I’m really looking forward to this game. Should be a lot of fun :) Comparisons to Crackdown are not entirely unjustified and i loved that game :D

  29. ACESandElGHTS says:

    Professor says:
    “What is it about game designers and their desire to make monsters that look like giant vaginas?
    I mean, seriously, that thing has a CLITORIS.”
    April 30th, 2009 at 6:34 pm

    I’m surprised the good Prof hasn’t commented on the Penis Car, top right of this page. Seriously, that thing looks like Ace and Gary’s car from the Ambiguously Gay Duo.

  30. The Innocent says:

    @Bhazor

    There are also half a million ammo types.

    Seriously though, this looks really interesting. Each new little thing I hear adds a new little bit of appeal.

  31. Matt says:

    One thing that strikes me (from the screenshots anyway) is the awesome blueness of the skies.. we needs more blue skies in games!

  32. dingo says:

    In WoW purple makes most people only yawn these days.
    Orange is the new purple…

    Borderlands is on my watch list but I need more info before I can start getting psyched or not. The switch of the art style looks cool though.

  33. Rook says:

    So, it’s like Hellgate, but not retarded?

  34. gully says:

    @ sunject706. all the weapons are “proper” until you add the element you want. and cummon are you complaining about finding a shotgun that fires rockets (entirely possible). one weapon that the dev team found was a sniper that 3 seconds after you shot a target, the enemy explodes. don’t tell me that isn’t cool.

    you will also be able to add blades to your guns. there will be vehicluar combat and a huge amount of items and gear.

    no official release date yet although randy did let something slip about october. just waiting for the official e3 demo vid or even some shaky cam footage would be nice. give us fans and us over at the BL community a chance to see it.

  35. Meatloaf says:

    It sounds like this game doesn’t take itself seriously in the least.

    This is a wonderful thing.

  36. pignoli says:

    Pretty excited by this now. If it’s pulled off right, it sounds like it’ll be proper ridiculous fun. Funny thing: with every bit of coverage for this my anticipation increases in propertion to the amount it decreases for Dragon Age every time I hear about that.

  37. Tegyguy says:

    This is going to be awesome, especially with a buddy in split screen. Im so glad they added split screen to this game. They need to make more games with split screen support. I’m loving this, cant wait.

  38. superking208 says:

    I hadn’t heard the characters’ names yet and I must say how perfect they are for the archetypes they’ve chosen. I’m into nomenclature and that was what struck me most about all this…

  39. Paxton says:

    “I can’t think of a game since Diablo 2 that has done it properly (correct me if I’m wrong)”

    I know I say this for everything, but Asheron’s Call did it quite beautifully (though not to quite the level of variety that Borderlands has, it seems). Did AC come out after Diablo 2 or before it? I dunno. =P

  40. CMaster says:

    @Tegyguy – L4D had some (very badly implimented) split screen functionality. It is a feature it would be nice to see more though (but then, as a child in the pre-internet days I wanted split screen a lot. Very few games actually offered it though).