Borderlands Legends has arrived on the iOS scene and offers players a pint-sized, Unreal engine-powered adventure on Pandora. The heroes of the first Borderlands game are back and ready to blow up Skags, bandits, and all sorts of foes. Will veteran fans of the console and PC versions feel at home with Legends? Or should this title be buried away in a Vault?
I personally never had the chance to play any of the console Borderlands games, but from what I've seen and from others' descriptions, the games were what would result if you crossed Diablo with an FPS. So when I heard the news of a Borderlands game coming to iOS, I got very excited. Here was my chance! I could do all of my looting and shooting on the go, without the risk of my social life crumbling and developing some flavor of agoraphobia. And then I learned it was going to be a top-down, third-person experience. I thought, "Cool! Maybe it'll play like a Diablo-styled dungeon crawler. This is going to be five kinds of amazing!" I was a bit mistaken.
Legends was not a dungeon crawler. Legends did not have enemies that dropped sweet loot. Legends was a tower defense-esque strategy RPG. Cue the tears.
It took a while, but I got over my massively geeky disappointment. A brief tutorial introduced me to Brick, Mordecai, Roland, and Lilith, the cel-shaded Vault Hunters from the original Borderlands. I was then sent off to face my first mission. And you know what? It wasn't as horrible as I expected.
The controls are smooth and intuitive, but not without their flaws. Selecting a character highlights them, allowing you to drag lines to where you want them to go or what enemy they should attack. Drawing lines to team members (or even back to themselves), activates character-specific utility abilities, which last until they are cancelled. The right combination of utilities can mean the difference between glorious victory and rage-inducing death. But even if a character goes down, they can gain a Second Wind if they have a team member nearby to revive them.
A problem with the controls is that characters don't always go where you want. There were plenty of times I ordered Brick to a spot behind cover, only to have him stay perfectly still. The trick is not to put the cursor near any objects, or else your hero will remain motionless while bullets perforate their torso. Selecting heroes can also get problematic when they are bunched up in a group. This can be remedied by tapping on their portraits to select the corresponding character, but it can still be very hard to have them target a specific enemy in a dog pile.
Perhaps the most crushing blow to my expectations was the absence of loot. Enemies don't drop "phat lootz" in Legends, but will leave coins behind every so often. These coins can be used at a Marcus Munitions vending machine to buy gear. With gameplay that's easy and somewhat repetitive, random loot would have done wonders for Legends' replayability and longevity.
Even with these issues, the game can be fun. But the missions are very easy. Your heroes automatically target enemies and attack if they're within shooting range, so it's your job to set them up on the field in order to maximize damage output and survivability. Should you send Lilith away from the group to cover the rear, knowing she can quickly Phase Walk back if she gets in trouble? Is it a good idea to keep Roland near Brick, just in case he needs healing after taking too much damage?
There are many strategies you can use, but most of the missions don't require any tactical forethought. I even played a few side missions completely AFK, to see if any of my guys would die. They didn't. Boss battles though, need a bit more thought and you'll need to use the powers available in the game's bare-bones skill trees. If you're familiar with MMORPG tactics, you can "tank and spank" by having Brick take most of the damage while Roland heals him and the other two are free to do damage.
Borderlands Legends can be a fun game if you don't mind repetitive missions, the absence of loot drops, and somewhat buggy controls. The price is also a little high for a game that basically plays itself, so there's another factor. The game is also available in gorgeous HD on the iPad, but I just wish it played as good as it looks.
I'll admit that I actually enjoy the almost monotonous action as I move my team around a level to kill hordes of mobs, but fans of the established games probably won't consider Legends a Vault-worthy treasure.