Games need to evolve, period... Borderlands looks to be that evolution.
'Borderlands'...that's the name of Gearbox Software's latest and potentially greatest science-fiction shooter/RPG hybrid that boldly mixes the graphical style of their concept art with Gearbox's extensive experience in the shooter genre. Not content with just offering a huge open world style environment to explore, in the way of the planet of Pandora, Gearbox have approached their game by doing something that no one really has tried before. They have mixed the shooter and the RPG together, coming at it from the direction of a first person shooter first and foremost.
Since we haven't yet got our hands on the game, this is a highlight article, one of those that I'm fond of doing when I feel a game needs a massive spotlight shining on it and all the praise it can get for trying to be different, when the genre is clogged with endless World War 2 and Modern war-game clones. There aren't enough gritty fun science-fiction shooters in my book, so Borderlands is one of mine/our most anticipated games of 2009.
Scheduled for release on October 20th in the US and 23rd in the rest of Europe and Australia, it's a bold game that breaks the mould of the traditional first person shooter by offering several important features and elements - the first and foremost of these is true persistent character based drop in/drop out co-op gameplay for four players. There are no tethers or restrictions placed on where you can/can't go in Borderlands co-op, you're free to explore the planet of Pandora and get into as much trouble as you want.
The game has areas that have level based bad guys; various colourful names are used to describe these enemies from grunts, to the 'elite' style Badasses (which is the best name for uber-enemies yet). Borderlands will equip your foes with weapons and loot that are created by their procedural technology software, known as GearBuilder, this means that no two enemies will have the same gun and since GearBuilder is capable (at the time of writing) of producing around 17,750,000 or so guns/equipment combinations, you're going to get some serious replay value out of the game.
Randy Pitchford has been heavily touring with press, lots of sites in the US and so forth have managed to get their hands on Borderlands whilst the rest of us can only watch, read, absorb and drool at the thought of a game that's capable of making all of these interesting and in some case, unique weapons. The game also borrows from various science fiction themes and shows, such as Mad Max and Firefly for the look and feel and combined with the fresh looking art style, elevates itself above the drab grey and brown palette of the run of the mill shooters that have come before it.
Borderlands also borrows certain MMO conventions when it comes to loot, items are colour coded with white being normal and purple being super rare. With such a plethora of loot you're just going to have to sift through it, sell the stuff you don't want, trade and constantly refine your arsenal, this is all part of Gearbox Software's master plan to allow you to grow your character. This is also where the RPG elements come in. Not content with breaking the mould in terms of a shooter, Gearbox are going all out to make sure that Borderlands has a balanced RPG side as well. With four specific characters and roles, there's going to be something for everyone in the game.
Brick, a Berserker character can soak damage and deal horrific blows in hand to hand to his foes.
Lilith is a Siren, a sneaky assassin who can phase walk and eventually cause enemies serious pain with her abilities. She moves quickly. Her phase walk allows her to remain invisible and then when she becomes visible, she can inflict massive damage against her opponents with a shock wave.
Roland is a Soldier; he can deploy a turret and acts as a good support class. Roland's turret has a shield effect and can be upgraded to heal nearby team members.
Mordecai is a Sniper; an excellent ranged combatant and has a pet bloodwing. The bloodwing is an alien bird like creature that Mordecai can send off to attack enemies.
It is possible to alter your character (though we haven't seen how much yet) and rename them. You can also customise your character by picking from various skills in their specific skill trees, allowing them to upgrade their firearms skills, specific abilities and more. This is again part of Gearbox's plan for character growth. As you level up and gain more skills, more loot and more power you'll be able to see your character grow in terms of their abilities and feel their power in the earlier levels of the game.
Choice is a big keyword in Gearbox Software's master plan too, choice in where you go, what you do and what you use. You'll also discover buggy like vehicles that allow you to get around Pandora quickly and not content with that, you'll be able to customise these vehicles too from the look to the weapon loadout.
Pandora is an alien world, there are varied environments to explore and I'm keen to point out that whilst it has a post-apocalyptic feel, this is NOT another Fallout 3 clone, it's far from it. Gearbox have taken the time to think about their world in even more detail, provide interesting challenges and draw on their extensive shooter experience over the last few years. They've created an immense diversity in their enemies' physical appearance as well, applying the same generation technology to the enemy look and their equipment.
I know I'm onto something special when I read about Randy and the other developers being surprised by the things they find. So, it's when a game can constantly surprise the developers making it, with new weapons and things that they didn't expect, that's the mark of a good and fun game. The proof of the pudding is always in the eating and I for one can't wait to get my hands on Borderlands. I know I'll be exploring Pandora and going out of my way to discover the secrets, side-missions (around 130 or so) and getting into all sorts of trouble with my buddies.
Look for an in-depth review closer to Borderlands release. This is the game to keep your eyes on and if you need more information, come and join the Borderlands community over at the Gearbox Community Forums