Cakewalking the Badlands
Not that the game is ridiculously difficult and in fact a huge point of contention on the official Borderlands forums is whether the game is too easy or not.
And in case you're wondering, there are no difficulty settings in the game's options. Rather, when you complete the game for the first time, which is called Playthrough 1, you're granted the option to run through the game again using the same character build, i.e., with all the skills you acquired thus far plus all the gear and cash you collected. Playthrough 2 is the same game, same storyline, etc but with new tougher enemies.
A quick summary of my impression of the game's difficulty level would be Playthrough 1 was challenging enough until about 2/3 of the way through the game. At that point, my character level was higher by about 3 or 4 levels than the level of any mission the game could throw at me and hence all the missions were rated as Trivial (instead of Normal, Hard, Tough or Impossible). Also around this time, I found a couple or three key weapons, one in particular which slaughtered anything in my path —even bosses— without breaking a sweat and, in effect, allowed me to cakewalk to the end of the game. Quite frankly though, I thoroughly enjoyed getting some payback for some of the more taxing parts of the game earlier on.
Playthrough 2, on the other hand was downright hellacious and remained as such until about halfway through when I managed to level up my character enough and get a feel for what to expect and what combination of weapons and equipment to use to handle various situations. My first encounter with a Badmutha Corrosive Skag was a humbling experience as it veritably laughed at the weapons I thought were so kickass near the end of Playthrough 1.
So aside from the last portion of Playthrough 1, as a hardcore single player gamer, my humble opinion is that the difficulty level in Borderlands is just about right and contentions that the game is only fun in multiplayer mode are simply unfounded. For those who are familiar with the game, it should be noted that I did not do any New Haven farming. (I don't believe in farming in RPGs. I find it boring.)
Multiplayer Cooperative Mode
For those who need a game to really put the beat down on them before considering it worthy, Borderlands ramps up the difficulty when you play online in a multiplayer cooperative mode with up to 4 players working their way through the game as a team. Each additional player in this mode makes the enemies tougher to beat but then the game yields better loot once the bad guys are downed.
Now since I'm not a team player at all and never have been right from early childhood (that's why I'm self-employed), I don't enjoy multiplayer gaming of any kind so I can't comment on this mode too much. (Please leave a comment below on your impressions of Borderlands multiplayer mode.)
But from the extensive reading I've done on the Borderlands forums, it seems the multiplayer mode is now overrun with uberpowerful weapons which were created by hacking into the game's files. Here's a video showing someone dumping a whole slew of hacked weapons into someone else's game. Players who create or 'find' these weapons can use them to wipe out entire enemy camps with one or two shots. This has the effect of leaving little for anybody else in that particular hosted game to do. Hence, a quality multiplayer Borderlands experience can only be had by either hosting your own games and playing with friends you know well or by joining games where the host has the integrity to ban those using hacked weaponry.
Should You Buy Borderlands?
Definitely. Despite some minor gripes, Borderlands is my pick for the 2009 game of the year. This unique FPS/RPG hybrid is a total riot to play. Not only will the game's redneck NPCs keep you in stitches sputtering inanities about their "momma's girly parts" but the gameplay will feed you spectacular visuals while you eviscerate the bad guys using any of a gargantuan collection of insane weaponry.
Moreover, the game gives you lots of elbow room via its open world gamescape, the option to fast track getting about using vehicles or the Fast Travel system and it very simply offers you an immense amount of bang for your buck. Despite the aforementioned character outlevelling problem, I completed 118 out of a whopping 126 missions available in the game simply because I couldn't resist attempting to do them all. This yielded 38 hours of gaming time and quite frankly, I felt that I rushed my way through. I would have liked to taken even more time to fully drink in the game's back story which had me galavanting about the alien planet of Pandora searching for keys to open a mysteriously hidden vault which was reportedly full of vast wealth and power.
And mind you, that was just Playthrough 1. Playthrough 2 yielded another 40 hours of game time and I doubt I'll stop there. I think my only big complaint with this game is it has so much replay value that I fear I might not get to any of the other games I bought at the same time as Borderlands for months.
Or have a life for that matter.