Monday, February 8, 2010

Borderlands Impressions, pt.1

I have a close friend that I enjoy playing co-op games with. We've played Team Fortress 2, Left 4 Dead, Gears of War 2, and more recently, Resident Evil 5 together. But he left Utah to pursue opportunities in another state, and playing games is a nice way to keep in touch. Borderlands is our most recent venture, and rather than wait to review it, I thought it would be nice to share thoughts while I was playing, since I wish I had done the same with Demon's Souls).

Day One
"What You Can't Control" may be a more apt title because I was sick during my first evening playing and I'm unsure how much it flavored my rather negative experience. My head seemed in a fog, and there was too much to absorb in the game, so I disconnected really fast and just found myself chasing my buddy, doing a bad job killing things, and being indignantly confused. Not a good start.

Now that an impression has been made, who knows how it will influence future sessions? I honestly have no idea. I'm going to keep plugging away, though, hoping it improves. I know a lot of gamers enjoy the game, but I worry that, like Assassin's Creed 2, it boils down to nut-gathering more than great gameplay.

Below are some knee-jerk reactions to my first night of playing. Is this anything like your experience?
  • The controls feel bad. I'm playing on the 360. I remember Halo (original) being the first shooter I enjoyed on consoles because it seemed like they had worked a lot with reticle control or the way auto-aiming worked (I never dissected so I can't confirm) to make aiming feel smooth. But I picked a sniper, and for the love of god, I have the hardest time getting my reticle to land on a distant target, having to do the, "get the reticle Y position set, then move on the terrain and hope it plays nice to get the fine-tuning I need to pull off precision shots"-approach. It's just too hurky-jerky, like I'm stammering instead of aiming in this game. Yuck. I wish I was playing it on the PC.
  • And unfortunately, when I do fire, there's a complete disconnect with shooting and hitting. I thought this might have to do with lag, but I experienced it again playing offline the day after. I upgrade my "aim" to "+25% accuracy" on sniper rifles with 95%+ accuracy to begin with. I take forever stammering my aim around and moving to finally get the reticle exactly and only on the center of the head of my common human bandit opponent and fire. It either whiffs or I get no critical hit. Seriously? This reminds me of the original Mass Effect (sequel still unplayed), where they made me put points into "aim" to get rid of random misfires. No matter how much developers want to convince players their avatars have bad aim, they need to give players better information to prevent a total disconnect with what they are doing with the reticles you give them. The best way around this is to at least allow some "accurate over time" interface that slowly hones in and blatantly shows you your current margin for error. Maybe they do and I missed it.
  • Or maybe it's just lag. My pal is in Seattle, and assuming there is no dedicated server, and he was the host, I may just have a crap time being a sniper with that much lag. Bullet hits didn't look instantaneous, or helped in any way with prediction (e.g., as with Team Fortress 2), so I had to lead my opponents in weird ways. But honestly, playing it alone the next day, I truly felt the same problems.
  • Their interface for sorting loot will always be more complicated in a shooter, but there's a lot of little things about it that irked me throughout. The biggest of which is having "Hold X" equal both "absorb all nearby money and ammo" and "exchange holstered weapon with the one on the ground." I felt my buddy being impatient with me (he had already played through a chunk of the game) so I was pressured to move fast. I want ammo quick (when do I not want ammo and money?) so I get in the habit of holding X on things, only to replace my held weapon, and have to go into the inventory to sort it all out.
  • Also on loot sorting, I like being able to compare items, but hate that as best as I could tell, I couldn't re-select the shop-item I was comparing, or that I have to leave the shop interface to compare items in my own inventory. I don't know what quick fixes there are for the latter.
The net result was feeling disconnected from the experience. I eventually did a bunch of studying online, figured out how to best improve my effectiveness with my character and dug around to find how to re-sort spent points (that was kinda dumb-hard to find) and appreciated that I could. I played the game a bit on solo to see if lag was the problem (it was still jerky controls and required awkward leading to hit), but spending points "correctly" brought a calm and understanding that I hope guides my next evening of co-op play. So far, it seems bleh. The appeal is clear (nut gathering and customization) but I hate that the interface for my core gameplay feels so clunky.

And because it's so Diablo-meets-FPS (the music even sounds similar, and for some reason (unlike Torchlight) this grates on me, it makes me wonder why this has been so successful while Hellgate seemingly fell flat. I haven't played Hellgate (the reviews didn't seem positive, and it seemed like it was released among a lot of other things I wanted to play), but did the devs think it was a marketing thing, a release thing (no console release, seriously?), or something else that would make Borderlands succeed where Hellgate didn't?


  1. Wow this is different, the wrath of Tew!! Too bad I haven't played this game yet, great review though now I'm curious to give it a spin and see just why people were head over heels for it.

  2. Yeah, it was a little feisty. My impressions have improved playing it more, but addictive collection, questing, and stat-assigning only goes so far for me if the kinesthetics of core gameplay are just "okay," which is the still the case...