More like Boredomlands Legends, right? Right? Anyone?
I never played the original Borderlands, and I’m not sure why. Whatever the reason was, I jumped on the Borderlands 2 bandwagon when I received a free copy with my Nvidia video card, and I’m glad I did. I’ve heard that Borderlands 2 is a vast improvement over the original, but I can’t really speak to that. All I know is that I’m having an absolute blast shooting and slagging my way through the beautiful cel-shaded world that is Pandora. Hilarious characters, beautiful scenery, awesome enemies, and extremely satisfying weapon design (not to mention the insane variety) are just a few of the high points of the latest game from Gearbox Studios. Borderlands Legends doesn’t have any of these high points.
Legends has essentially done to the Borderlands franchise what Mechwarrior: Tactical Command did to the Mechwarrior franchise. Tac Command took all the fun out of mech piloting with unresponsive controls, inconsistent AI, and a laundry list of other issues. In the same way, Borderlands Legends provides a top-down, RTS-styled experience that strips away pretty much all the elements that makes the original series so fun. You know, little things like awesome loot drops, great writing, satisfying gunplay, entertaining story line, etc. In the same way that American-based Mechwarrior IP was shipped overseas for it’s abysmal iOS game to be developed, Borderlands Legends was created by 2K’s China studio instead of Gearbox. I’m not saying that China can’t produce good games, but there was an obvious disconnect about what has made the Borderlands series such a hit in the US, UK, and other parts of the world. One other interesting note: I follow both Gearbox and Randy Pitchford (Gearbox CEO) on twitter, and I have yet to hear them mention anything about the new iOS game yet. I even went back through the last few days to see if the game was mentioned at any point when I could have missed it. Nope. This leads me to believe that Legends was a spin-off pitched by 2K Games, who publishes for Gearbox, to milk the franchise and make a few extra bucks on the iTunes App Store. I have a strong feeling that if Gearbox was behind this game, it would be quite different, and quite a bit more enjoyable.
As I mentioned, Borderlands Legends is a top-down, squad-based real-time strategy game. You control the four main characters from the first game: Lilith, Mordecai, Roland, and the aptly named Brick, as you trudge through various environments through hordes of familiar enemies. You start in an area, kill all the enemies that come at you, then are transported to the next area to lather, rinse, and repeat. You would think that controlling only four units at a time would be easy, but the often-unresponsive controls and complete lack of zooming in/out functionality make micro- managing an extremely difficult task. On top of that, pathing for movement is eratic, and often units will get stuck behind each other or obstacles. Generally speaking, the vault hunters are supposed to automatically shoot at the first enemy that cross into their range circle, but that doesn’t always happen either. You have to tap your hunter and drag a line to enemies you want to attack, but you have to perform the exact same motion to move, or use abilities that boost other members of your party. The problem is, tapping and dragging on characters often doesn’t work until you perform the action three or more times. Combat thus becomes a frantic mess of trying to get your hunters to actually do what you want them to. On top of all this, the co-op abilities, such as Roland’s healing power, are extremely weak, making them almost useless when you come up against a large number of enemies. I should also mention that there is no way to manually enter cover in this game. So while your enemies are all taking cover, you’re left in the open, hoping that perhaps standing behind something will protect you. Generally, it does not, meaning your AI opponents have a distinct advantage over your poor vault hunters.
The controls may be unreliable, and the AI lacking, but ultimately Borderlands Legends just isn’t a very fun game at it’s core. There is absolutely no storyline or plot, and no reason to care about the various randomized missions you are presented with. You get money from some kills and completing missions, which you can use to purchased generic upgrades to weapons, shields, and abilities, but this simply isn’t enough. Borderlands has always been about shooting things and looting things with friends at your side. I understand that creating a full FPS version of Borderlands with co-op play may be out of the picture (for now), but taking the current top-down mechanic and turning it into an arcade shooter with online co-op capabilities could have brought this game a lot closer to it’s parent titles, and ultimately would have been a lot more fun. Throw in loot drops with interesting weapons that do more than up their damage output, and you could have had a genuine mobile Borderlands experience. Instead, you get a game that feels far disconnected from the world Randy Pitchford and friends have lovingly crafted for fans of guns, and loot, and irreverent humor all over the world.
I think the one redeeming quality of Borderlands Legends is the iPad version, which at least makes the game more playable by giving you greater control of the characters by way of a larger screen. That said, this game isn’t even universal, which means you have to pay for two different versions of the game if you want to play it on both iPad and iPhone. This is almost unheard of for major game releases. On top of that, the game doesn’t support the larger screen of the iPhone 5, and honestly doesn’t look all that great on the iPhone compared to iPad. Of course, it could be the fact that everything is so damn small with no way to zoom in and enjoy the artwork, but maybe that’s just me.
Borderlands Legends is a prime example of the dangers of taking a popular game series and handing it to developers who are unfamiliar with where the original game comes from, where it’s going, and what has made the it successful. I’ve read several of the reviews for Halo 4 that were released today, and I see a shining example of this process done well; a beloved game franchise that’s handed over to people who love and respect it, and in turn create a product that the original developers can be proud of. This doesn’t seem to be the case with Borderlands Legends, and I hope that if we see another mobile Borderlands game it comes from Pitchford and friends. Maybe then it will actually feel like Borderlands. This game is, at best, a passable reference to the Borderlands franchise that will soon be forgotten as fans go back to their second and third playthroughs of the fantastic Borderlands 2.