On The Borderlands Where Shooter Meets RPG

Borderlands is a shooter, but it isn't really like other shooters. Borderlands is also a role-playing game, but it's not quite like other RPGs either. Let me explain.

Or rather, let's get Gearbox Software president Randy Pitchford to explain.

"Whenever I'm asked what is the game I've spent more time playing than any other, the answer is Nethack. And whenever I'm asked what is my favourite game, it's Doom II.

And Borderlands is really just Doom II plus Nethack. Or you can say it's Halo plus Diablo... but Halo's just an iteration of Doom II and Diablo is a graphical interface for Nethack."

The critical and commercial succes of Brothers In Arms allowed Randy and his team at Gearbox to take a risk with their next project. Like any hardcore gamer thinking of their dream game, Randy had wanted to make this Nethack/Doom mash-up for years. Now he had the opportunity to make that dream a reality.

I asked Randy how his team designed Borderlands to cater for the shooter guy who doesn't understand RPGs and for the RPG guy who doesn't understand shooters.

Pitchford told me he's thought about this "a hell of a lot:"

"We've done a lot of testing, recruiting people from local game stores and colleges and put them together into what we call the Truth Team.

From that we know here's a guy whose gaming experience is Call of Duty and that we can give him the controller and, without a single sentence of instruction, he can start having fun. I can put this controller in your hand and I don't have to say a damn thing to you and you'll know how to move and how to shoot and the controls will feel really good.

Meanwhile, you can take a role-playing guy who goes "Hey, that loot's purple, I bet that's an epic." He knows what that means because he's familiar with the language of a role-playing game. We needed that, because we're inventing so much in this game, we needed the fundamentals to be something you're comfortable with."

Borderlands plays like a shooter in that you're moving around a fast-paced environment and viewing it from a first-person perspective; you need to aim well to hit your targets, you need to dodge their fire and you need to seek out and take cover.

Quests, loot and experience form the basis of the RPG tropes you'll encounter. NPCs act as mission kiosks, tasking you to go there, do that, and then report back to claim your reward. Safes, trashcans, toolboxes, corpses and even toilets can all be searched for extra ammo, health pickups, guns and plain hard cash. Finally, every enemy you kill and quest you complete brings experience, ultimately levelling you up and unlocking new branches of your character's skill tree.

Pitchford maintains that if you're familiar with either genre, Borderlands will feel natural and make sense. "The fundamentals are bulletproof, they're solid," he says, "and we needed that because so much of the rest of it is just crazy."

At times, Borderlands feels like an action-heavy MMO instance while at other times it feels like an open world shooter with skill and weapon stats influencing - if not determining - your success. Ensuring they strike the right balance between the two genres is a factor that has weighed heavily on the design.

From my experience, having spent around 5-6 hours with the preview code, what's remarkable is how well Borderlands caters to your choices. Whether it's those moment-to-moment choices to, for example, strafe left instead of right or toss a grenade now at that guy or whether it's those meta-game choices of which weapons you buy and equip or which skills you upgrade, Borderlands convinces you that those choices matter.

Why choose between Nethack and Doom II, RPG and shooter, when you can have them both?


    Didn't Fallout 3 more or less provide this same sort of experience? Not that I'm accusing Borderlands of anything (apart from looking like a lot of fun, with co-op to boot), but how the system used is described makes it sound more or less identical to F3..

      There are certainly similarities between Fallout 3 and Borderlands. The post-apocalyptic setting, the skewed sense of humour, the action-RPG hybrid gameplay. But Fallout 3 is more RPG than shooter, whereas Borderlands - with no dialogue trees, less story, and superior shooter mechanics - is closer to being a shooter but still in the middle somewhere.

        Thanks for clarifying that David. I've just finished off Fallout 3's main story (for the first time might I add - Damn WoW getting in the road before this), so hearing that it's more of the same but less 'wall of text' is good news!

        Now just to decide if I go PC or 360.....

      I used VATS for practically every single kill in my playthroughs of Fallout 3 (even the cockroaches!), basically turning it into a pure RPG, so Borderlands is already going to play very differently from Fallout 3 for me (it appears to be much less reliant on stats, and more on skill for weapon accuracy than FA3 was too).

        You must have used a lot of Jet... or spent a lot of time running away...

        nah, I'd normally just max out a weapon type skill, and sneak, then just pick my target carefully so as not to be spotted by other creatures. Almost everything that wasn't robotic fell in a burst of fire or two.
        It was pretty tedious occasionally though, but I really disliked the gun play in it as a shooter.
        (plus VATS felt right when compared to the action points of the older Fallouts).

        Whys that mambodog?
        I'm pretty much the same. choose the right weapon and the right skills and your vats come close to insta-killing everything...and then instantly refresh to allow you to do it again to the next batch.

        Once you pick up Grim Reaper's Spirit, you can just about be in perma-VATs mode. Imagine it gets better once you hit lvl30 as well..

    cant wait. wanted a game like this for years


      I DID until I saw the horrible new art direction..

    really really excited for this game, haven't been this worked up for something since Deadspace and Fallout came out.

    I'm curious to know if it's another Hellgate:London...?

      Hopefully not.

      I guess Hellgate is very similar in idea to Borderland. The main difference is that Hellgate is a financial nightmare--Flagship had a lot of game designers, but no business manager. They didn't fail at making the game, but rather at making it profitable. And it was a real shame, because the game had so much growth potential.

      Borderland seems good to me, just because the sheer amount of customizable weapons that you can have. Anyone know if there will be more melee attacks other than punching?
      Also, will each type of gun require its own ammunition, or are they all shared or what?
      At any rate, I'm hyped about this game. I'll definitely be trying it out over the end of the year (summer break here in Aus)

        Each char has it's own type of melee attack, guns can be randomly generated with various pointy instruments on the end of them. If this does more damage than your regular melee, you'll hit em with said pointy intrument.

        Ammo pools for guns across classes (Pistols is separated into revolvers and repeaters). There's 1 SMG ammo, 1 sniper ammo, 1 AR ammo etc. The guns themselves modify this ammo into incendiary/shock or whatever shots.

    I love nethack.. glad I preordered Borderlands!

    But... IS IT CENSORED? There are three versions of Borderlands on Steam. Borderlands, Borderlands Australia, Borderlands Germany. The German one is apparently censored, so what about ours?

      Apparently not, a quick googling shows up this on the Steam forums:

      1. Australia will not recieve an edited/censored version of Borderlands, we will get the same full version as NA players.
      2. The steam store was recently having some issuees with displaying games.
      3. The Borderlands Australia item on the steam store was a result of Borderlands not being shown correctly to Australian IP's due to said errors.
      4. The problem has been resolved, Australians may now properly pre purchase Borderlands and still recieve the 10% discount.

        The only thing is that none of those points have been made by Valve or any of it's employees (or even forum mods that I could find). They are purely posts by Joe Bloggs who is only guessing yet posting his/her guesses as fact.

        I'm actually aware of a forum mod who was asking the question himself as he couldn't get a straight answer from steam support himself.

        While I'm ordering regardless, I'm skeptical of it not being censored and for sure don't believe a hell of a lot of the posts random people make on the steam forums purporting to be fact.

    I'm still trying to find more information on how frequently you end up having to drive, because no matter how great the on foot stuff is looking to me, every clip I've seen of the driving combat looks really unappealing (but I've never been any good at the whole steer vehicle with keys, aim gun with mouse controls, I think the fact vehicles can't strafe really throws me for some reason).

    All the info I've found mentions vehicles, but any proper discussion of combat relates to being on foot...

    I love driving/racing games, hell I even enjoyed Auto Assault, but I am planning on staying well away from vehicles in this based on what I've seen so far. Although it surely couldn't be any worse than having to use the Mako in Mass Effect!

    I don't see how a gamer who plays RPGs wouldn't understand a shooter and vice versa.

    Just stupid really..

      Not really, I leant my copy of fallout3 to my friend who is a halo3 nut. all he wanted to do was run around and kill everything. ahh i screamed "what are you doing!!, there is a story and a whole world to explore." But no he just wanted to kill kill kill. so i'm hoping borderlands will work better. lol

      Well I love rpgs, but usually the combat is no fun, conversely shooters usually have little in the way of good story, sandbox worlds or character development (both physically and mentally) so take an RPG and give it fun combat and you really have a winner.

    Fallout 3 had terrible combat. If the combat feels more like Stalker, I will buy 4 copies of this and give it as gifts.

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