Have you heard? One of this year's most exciting releases — Borderlands 2 — is getting an iOS complement... sort of.
The mobile game — called Borderlands Legends — is part shooter, part RPG, part action and part strategy. Yes, all those things. And somehow, except for the occasional clutter, it works pretty well.
From an angled projection, top-down view, you'll control the original four vault hunters — Brick, Roland, Mordecai and Lilith — directing them to shoot bandits, skags and other enemies (including bosses!). You take missions from a board — both side missions and main quests — which take you through a set of several different maps. Within each new area, you're met with several waves of enemies. They grow in increasing difficulty and numbers. Some enemies are best suited to be tackled by Brick — who, with his taunt and berserk action skills, draws enemy attacks toward him. Others are perched on elevated platforms and can only be reached by Roland's turret or Mordecai's sniper.
Each character has three action skills — unlike the franchise's standard one per character — that can be used simultaneously. Like the franchise, each of those actions operate on a cooldown. Lilith can Phasewalk, deplete her shields for an EMP blast, and increase her running speed. Mordecai's abilities focus on increasing damage and his rate of fire. He also, of course, has Bloodwing (yay) who is just as powerful in this mobile version as in the first Borderlands title. Roland focuses on team health and his big bad turrets.
The four vault hunters also have something called a "utility." These are basically buffs that the characters can use on themselves or on their comrades. Lilith's is a speed boost, Roland's gives health, Brick's is a defence boost and Mordecai's increases damage. Pretty similar to their action skills. Both the characters' action skills and respective utilities are all upgradeable as you level up. Each character behaves pretty much in line with how their classes were based in the first Borderlands title where they were introduced.
The characters don't follow any storyline, per se. It's more like a set of missions with different directives. Protect this dude, kill these things, eliminate that other thing over there. I can't blame a micro-sized version of Borderlands to stand against the two massive console/PC titles and look as good, but I was certainly at least hoping for more depth. You can't even loot any guns! Only money. For new weapons, you can visit one of Marcus' gun vendors to purchase weapons that are specific to each character. At level 10+, you can get some elemental kinds, too.
When I learned that the game was actually developed by 2K China, with Gearbox having "worked closely" with the team, the direction made a bit more sense. The art and opening cinematic are remarkably familiar, but the lack of actual Borderlands substance — those shiny weapons, the loud-mouthed characters, quirky lore — are undoubtedly characteristics that are harder to entrust to a new developer. 2K China is by no means new to the development field — boasting titles like NBA 2K11 — but matching the personality of a game as specific as Borderlands' style of crazy is a whole other task.
Did I enjoy playing the game? It wasn't bad. Once I got the hang of swipe-moving (or tap-moving) characters to respond to threats or help each other out of fight-for-your-life, and got comfortable with micromanaging everyone's action skills, the rhythm of playing Borderlands Legends got me into the game. The look was a little too drab and plain, but that's more to do with the limitations of a distant view. Boss fights were far more entertaining. I liked having a central focus, and a bigger enemy that I could see more easily. All too often in most fights, my vault hunters would cluster together and it'd be difficult to move them around and give them direction. The HUD lets you access your players more easily, however, so it wasn't an aggravating issue.
I can't promise you that Borderlands Legends will live up to the reputation of the rest of the Borderlands franchise. I can't promise it won't. Since I only had about an hour with the game (on an iPad), I really can't promise you anything. But it does have that basic feel of a Borderlands game that you might expect downsized on a mobile device, just not the shine of its personality.
Borderlands Legends will be released on October 31 for the iPhone ($5) and iPad ($7).