Borderlands (2009)

Sometimes you do not need original ideas. All you need to do is collect the idea of other and improve upon. I figure that must be Gearbox’s motto. Many reviews talk about the possible combination of weapons, how the game is like a first person diablo, etc… All these comparisons are so relevant, because they literally took the game mechanics from other games.

Luckily, they pretty much only took the good parts of games, and in some cased the addictive aspects. And, for the most part is all first together well for one important reason: the game built for co-op from the ground up.

The single player game play is pretty lack luster. It isn’t really difficult, and it is a bit tedious. But, add a few friends and what was previously mundane becomes amazing. This is not only because because its more fun to play a game with friends, the game also does a good job scaling up based on how many people are playing. Not only do you face more enemies, you encounter tougher, and more varied enemies.

There are a few other improvements on the typical FPS game style. Many FPS now have some version of an incapacitated mode, particularly co-op games. In these games you go down, and have to wait for an ally to come over and heal/revive you. Well, Borderlands added a new twist called “Second Wind.” Basically, if you are incapacitated, and you get a kill you regain a little health and mobility. It works quite well, and I would like to see it in more games.

Unfortunately, there are some glaring issues with the game that would have been unforgivable in a single player game, but are mostly forgiven due to the fun of co-op:

Poor AI. Running out into the open and engaging in a firefight with some one that is behind cover is never a good strategy.

Lack of boss battles. The trailers for the game mostly featured two of the three big boss battles in the game. And while there are other lesser bosses in the game, for around 30 hours of game play, I would have liked to have seen a few more epic boss battles. At least they let you go back and fight Skagzilla again, which is always fun.

Traveling sucks. Even though you can sprint endlessly, and you get a vehicle after a little while, you spend a lot of time in the first third or so of the game walking around. Part of this is due to the quest system. Seriously, humanity has colonized another planet, had physics defining force fields, wrist communicators, and you have to get and turn in quests in person? Lame.

And, while you do get a vehicle that helps cut down on travel time, there are some serious issues with it. The biggest may be that you only get one vehicle, and it can only hold two players. Seems a little weird in a game geared towards four players. The other big issue is the weird damage system it employs. You can ram into enemies and instantly kill them. On the flip side, you can be killed instantly by enemy vehicles, which is really frickin frustrating in some areas in the game.

Some of the missions tend to get a bit repetitive. While you do not do a lot of “get ingredients for soup” missions that are so prevalent in World of Warcraft, you do spent a lot of time doing the same kind of activities. For the most part, most of the missions basically require you to go somewhere and kill something.

Level caps, seriously, wtf? I view level caps as a built in deterrent of continued play. Borderlands has a built in cap of 50. This basically allows you to max out an entire specialization branch in your skill tree (which isn’t a good idea). I was able to easily get to level 50 without even coming close to finishing a second play through. And, when I hit 50, I turned off the game and haven’t played since. By this time, I had already done all the quests on the first play through, and earn all of the achievements.

The first DLC has been release for the game, but it doesn’t increase the cap, and doesn’t really offer anything for me. Sure there is a new area, but I cannot advance my character by playing it, so I haven’t come up with a good reason to play it.

The second DLC has been rumored to contain at least two additional skill points as quest rewards, so that could work as a defacto level increase without actually increasing the cap. And, it looks like it will add some more arenas into the game. And, since the arenas were one of my favorite parts of the game, I may pick up this DLC and skip the first.

So, based on my experience with the game, I am going to give it a split rating, first based on the single player mode, 0 (average), and second, for the online co-op, 3 (cult classic) on the undecim scale.

Left 4 Dead (2008)

Left 4 Dead is a better game than I expected. Shortly after it originally came out, I co-op’d the first stage of the first campaign. The game had a heavy feel of the Flood from Halo. And, quick frankly, the flood stages in Halo are always the worst, so I got a sour first impression.

Now, a year later I have finally got an opportunity to play the game in earnest. And, I have to say it was pretty fun. Wes and I started playing yesterday. And, we got off to a bit of a rough start. The rooftop of the first campaign was particularly brutal. I don’t even know how many times we replayed that rooftop.

Eventually one of Wes’ friends, Ryan, came on, and after several more attempts we were successful…sort of. Wes got himself killed, and Ryan sacrificed himself so I could get to the copper. Good times.

My brother joined in for the next area, Dead Air. And, I can say without a shadow of a doubt that the game is amazing with four people. We had a great moments, particularly when Wes was off the comm. It was a part where we needed to turn on a van to break down a barricade. This triggered a huge horde flood. The three of us on the comm coordinated into a closet so we handled the flood without incident. Wes however, was left out and the open. The zombies picked his bones clean in seconds.

Today we finished up the other two areas. And, I think I actually liked them a bit more than the ones we played yesterday. However, they were rather similar. I liked how they were a bit more open. The hospital and the airport consist of primarily enclosed areas. Vanberge joined in the carnage so we were able to get another four player slaughterfest going. Highlights included Jason and Wes going toe to toe with a tank and getting obliterated.

Since I am not sure when Left 4 Dead 2 is going to come from Amazon, I think that I am going to purchase the DLC to check out the other areas.

Based on the past two days of game play, I am going to give the game a 2 (above average) on the undecim rating scale.