Borderlands: As Fun And Trashy As A Junkyard

10 September 2011

Borderlands is a bit of an enigma.  I bought it on PC after a recommendation from friends without doing a lot of research beforehand.  I quickly found the game to be a fun and original take on the Diablo formula as an FPS with highly customizable weapons.  I also quickly found myself tripping over bugs and glaring issues, enough that it was hard not to fall flat on my face and ragequit the game for good.

What kept me going through the game enough to see the great underlying gameplay was to write down the many major glitches and failures I encountered.  Almost all of these are from the first weekend I spent with the game.  How could a game make it out the door and through four DLC content packs and still have this many obvious problems?

Since almost every level has the same junkyard theme, I thought that was appropriate – it’s fun to play in a junkyard, but expect to get dirty and possibly hurt.

Outright bugs:

  1. Inventory items spontaneously re-order while you’re selling them.  This makes it very easy to accidentally sell one of your favorite weapons.
  2. The video options menu is broken.  It only lets you scroll through (say) 8 of the 15 options.  Each time you try to scroll to the bottom of the first 8 options it jumps to the top and “unlocks” 1 more option.
  3. When you have a prompt pop-up and it says to press enter, you have to press enter twice before it registers.
  4. The game has a config file with a FOV variable, but instead of honoring the config file’s FOV, as soon as you sprint the game reverts to a (apparently) hard-coded FOV.
  5. When in a vehicle, the keys for talent and skill trees do not work, and instead bring up the map.  Like many of the interface quirks, it’s really really hard to tell if this was an inexplicable poor decision, or a defect they didn’t bother fixing.  This one is probably related to the game’s poor console-to-PC port either way.
  6. Many quests have incorrect tracking locations.  Judging from the number of google hits for those quest names, everyone but the QA department seems to have noticed these.
Terrible User Interface Decisions:
  1. I mentioned the config file’s FOV is buggy.  The reason this matters is because the FOV is way too small for widescreen PC monitors.  It feels constantly zoomed in, and only looks normal when the FOV expands during sprinting.
  2. The ‘use’ key also reloads, despite the game having a separate reload key.  If you try to pick up ammo or weapons while fighting, prepare to get stuck in a 5-second reload sequence while eating a clip of bullets.  Another poor call from porting to the PC.
  3. The interface uses a nonsensical mixture of scrolling methods.  In some menus the up and down keys work.  In others they don’t, but the page-up and page-down keys do.  In a rare few other screens, the mouse wheel actually works.  Not supporting the mouse wheel is bad enough, but having to hunt to figure out what does work on every screen is downright absurd.
  4. The vehicle menu has color swatches visible for picking your car color.  After clicking on these to no avail, I eventually realized you have to navigate to them with the keyboard to pick one.  It’s a PC, I’ve got a mouse — why can’t I use it?
Gameplay Issues:
  1. Elemental modifiers play a huge role in the game.  They are indicated by modifiers X1 through X4.  Rather than being a multiple of damage, these are multipliers for a hidden auto-replenishing pool of elemental energy.  ..Or something, that’s the best I could find on the internet.  How is a player supposed to compare weapons with obtuse stats like that?
  2. No mini-map showing quest objectives?  Really?
  3. Only one quest can be tracked at a time, yet they overlap all over the map?  Really?  Did this game start life as a 1-quest-at-a-time game and get hacked into an MMO-style multiple-quest game without sufficient design rework?
  4. The gun drops are very poorly balanced.  At level 14 I was still using a level 5 weapon that was the best sniper rifle I had found.  At level 35 I was still using a level 22 submachine gun.  This kind of game doesn’t work very well if you aren’t continually finding upgrades.
  5. There is no printout or replay when you die showing the cause of death.  I died many times with no enemy on screen.  Eventually I figured out some enemies pull the pin on a grenade that can explode several seconds after they die.
  6. The talent trees for all of the classes were pretty bad.  Each tree did manage to have a very unique feel to it, but each tree also had a lot of bad or severely underwhelming talents.
  7. Roland’s special ability hawk rarely worked, making a full third of his talents worthless.  I suspect it was very bad pathing AI at fault?  Regardless, it’s critical to change designs if the current one can’t be made to work correctly.
Those are some of the issues I fought with the most in Borderlands.  The gameplay concepts have great potential, but Borderlands 2 will need a lot more polish and direction to be an all-around good game.