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Borderlands Preview

29 Jul 2009  by   Paul Younger

Although we were lucky enough to see Borderlands in action at this year’s E3 event,  a hands-on session with the role-playing-shooter somehow evaded us. With Gearbox Software’s Randy Pitchford sitting to my right, I had the chance to explore the first few missions, or quests, in the totally FUBAR world of Pandora.

At first glance, it’s hard not to think “Fallout 3″ when you look at Borderlands, and Pitchford clearly expects comparisons to be made between the two RPG-shooters.

I cheekily asked Randy why, if someone had Fallout 3, they would bother to buy Borderlands.  He smiled and said, “if you like Fallout 3, that’s great, because we know you’re going to love Borderlands.”

However, Borderlands concentrates more on shooting, and less on the RPG side of the game, meaning you can expect fast-paced action. But, while the focus may be on action, character development has not been neglected. There are four basic character classes in the game, Soldier, Tank, Hunter and Siren.  There is a constant sense of achievement as you progress through the levels – it seems as if you’re always leveling up and finding new toys to play with.

And it’s the toys I want to really talk to you about.  At E3 we were told that there were going to be between 600,000 and one million weapons.  This has now changed, and we can expect millions of different weapons waiting to be found in Pandora.  It’s important to note, however, that these weapons won’t be completely different to each other.  Pitchford told me that instead of just having one shotgun, or one pistol in the game, the team wanted to offer people a variety of customised weapons.  What Gearbox then did was input the basic weapons into a big old weapon customisation machine, which then generated the weapons .  With different scopes, mags and a whole host of other attributes, players can expect to make some pretty hard decisions about which weapons to keep and which to drop.

And all of the weapons, pretty incredibly, feel different too.  The way they fire, their weight and power all make it feel you’re using a different weapon each time.  Even guns of the same base feel different with the procedural generation system at work.  It’s fun, and also gives players a different kind of choice, which I think is vitally important.  You can find out more about this in our video interview with Randy, as he explains the influence of Diablo in Borderlands’ arsenal of weapons.

And speaking of Diablo, let’s talk a little bit about the classes in the game.  If you’ve been following the progress of the title at all, you’ll know there are four classes and you play as one of four playable characters. The good news is that Borderlands offers some great multiplayer options, making use of the other three characters you don’t choose.  You’re able to stat up your character and take it to any other players’ world without losing your stats or loot.  You’ll also be able to keep any loot you acquire in the multiplayer campaign modes, and bring it all back to your world.  Combine that with the four-player co-op feature, and you have here a game which offers shooter fans as much variety as you can currently get in the genre.

But it’s the art-style which impresses the most, and it’s surprising that it was not the development team’s first choice.  Nope, the art-style in the final game is based on the concept art – Pitchford explains that the team looked back at the early concept art for the game and found a unique, stylized way to present the game world and characters.  The cell-shaded look adds a great deal of atmosphere to Borderlands and it’s hard not to get drawn into the stylized world of Pandora. 

From what I’ve seen of Borderlands, it looks like a solid, action-packed shooter. However, when you factor in the RPG elements and, more importantly, the staggering amount of loot on offer we have a game with a considerable amount of crossover appeal. Moreover, the game also has a great deal of charm – it’s quirky, it’s fun and it doesn’t take itself too seriously. For more on Borderlands, check out our video interview with Randy Pitchford.

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