Borderlands: Game of the Year Edition
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Good Times with Weapons

I’m normally wary of Western RPGs, given their basis in complex pen-and-paper roleplaying mechanics, although there are occasional titles that break the mold, such as Borderlands, which combines RPG and shooter gameplay. I originally played it on my PC, although there were plenty times when my computer couldn’t handle the game, although it had a place in my heart. Several ports to consoles would come, among them being Borderlands: Legendary Collection on the Nintendo Switch, sporting the definitive version of the first game, Borderlands: Game of the Year Edition, which feels right at home on the hybrid system.

The game is set several centuries in the future, when mega-corporations seek to control various planets across the galaxy and mine them for their mineral wealth and resources. Prior to the first game’s events, one of said companies, the Atlas Corporation, uncovered an alien Vault with advanced weapons technology, another found on the planetary setting of Pandora. One of four playable characters seeks the Vault and its key, with various colorful personas encountered throughout the game and good backstory accounting for a satisfying narrative experience, although whichever protagonist the player chooses doesn’t seem to affect events.

Fortunately, solid gameplay backs the storyline, with the player’s character initially limited to two equipped weapons between which they can swap at any time, a shield generator, and a grenade modifier that determines the attributes and strength of throwable grenades. These limits eventually increase to four equippable weapons along with a class modifier with boosts to various attributes of the character’s skill tree, into which they can begin investing points at level five, with one skill point gained per level after that. The first ability the player will unlock is one native to their class, with Mordecai, for instance, able to send out his pet avian to attack the enemy, necessitating a recharge time afterward.

There are several different weapon types, some characters having affinity for certain ones, such as Mordecai with pistols and sniper rifles, although any character can wield most any weapon as long as their level is high enough, and repeated use of specific types gradually levels the player’s proficiency with them, sort of like Secret of Mana with an emphasis on firearms. Characters can also execute a melee attack when enemies are close, though these tend not to be the difference between victory and defeat, with only a handful of skills on each character’s ability tree able to increase their effectiveness.

Odds are, however, that most players will stick with weapons, the player able to purchase new ones at vending machines along with shield, grenade, and class modifiers through money gained from killing foes, containers like safes, and by selling unwanted armaments. Killing enemies also grants experience for occasional level-ups, with proportional distribution dependent upon the player’s current level, foes too having levels whereas killing those with higher levels than the player give more experience than lower-level ones, and in the case of low-level adversaries, the player can mostly get away without having to fight them.

Unlike many JRPGs, moreover, Borderlands has a check against wasted playtime in the form of a near-death mode triggered whenever the chosen character loses all health, where the player has a timer during which they can kill an enemy to resurrect with some HP and continue their crusade. Should the timer expire, the game takes players to the last checkpoint, reviving at the cost of less than a tenth of whatever money is held at the time of death, definitely a step up from the harsher penalties of popular Japanese RPGs such as the Dragon Quest series.

Ultimately, the gameplay is definitely enjoyable, with some additional quirks such as the experience obtained through completing story and side missions, although there are a few instances where the player might find themselves dying without an enemy nearby to kill, but fortunately the death penalty is more than generous, and wasted playtime is minimal. Those not skilled with first-person shooters, moreover, might have a difficult time keeping steady trigger fingers, but the game is definitely more than playable, the mechanics a surefire boon to Borderlands, the skill customization augmenting the mechanical appeal.

The first game mostly has clear direction on how to advance the main storyline, given the in-game maps and associated waypoints towards mission objectives, although there are occasional side missions such as those scavenging parts for specific types of firearms that might lead players to look on the Internet. There are other issues such as the lack of an in-game clock, not to mention a limit on inventory space only increasable by helping robotic claptraps get back on their wheels, as well as occasional glitches such as getting caught by treasure chests some foes may drop. Regardless, things could have definitely been worse in terms of control.

Most Western RPGs tend to feature solid voicework, and Borderlands is no exception, with some humorous banter from enemies occasionally littered with profanity, and one Russian-accepted character having a memorable dialect, along with realistic sound effects. Some of the music such as the ending vocal theme is also good, although most, as with most titles originating in the West, is fairly unmemorable, with a greater emphasis on ambience, although the aurals help more than hurt.

The visuals too help Borderlands more than hurt it, with a nice cel-shaded style for the character models, the environments, and the enemies, although there is rare inconsistency in the framerate, and occasional blurry and pixilated texturing for the scenery.

Finally, the first game in the series is just right in terms of length, from one to two days’ total worth of playtime, with plentiful side content and things such as in-game achievements (which also net additional experience for the player when fulfilled) and the different protagonists enhancing lasting appeal.

Overall, the Switch port of the enhanced edition of the original Borderlands is a fun looter-shooter RPG, given its fun game mechanics, the endearing narrative, the superb voice acting, the pretty cel-shaded visuals, and the endless lasting appeal. Granted, it does have issues with regards to its control aspect not to mention some blemishes in terms of the mostly-unmemorable soundtrack and occasional graphical anomalies, although even these weaker areas have plenty of things going for them, and in the end, I definitely relished to chance to play the definitive version of the game on my Nintendo Switch, and would definitely recommend it to those in search of a solid Western RPG.

This review is based on a playthrough as Mordecai, with the game purchased by the reviewer.

The Good:
+Great RPG/shooter mechanics.
+Clear direction on how to advance game.
+Endearing narrative.
+Superb voicework.
+Pretty visuals.
+Plentiful lasting appeal.

The Bad:
-Some issues with control and glitches.
-Not enough memorable music.
-A few graphical impurities.

The Bottom Line:
A great looter-shooter.

Score Breakdown:
Platform: Nintendo Switch
Game Mechanics: 9.0/10
Controls: 6.5/10
Story: 9.5/10
Music/Sound: 8.0/10
Graphics: 8.0/10
Lasting Appeal: 10/10
Difficulty: Just Right
Playing Time: 1-2 Days

Overall: 8.5/10

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