Now that I have all of the feature-spewing out of the way, allow me to ruminate on the true purpose of this article: balance.
Balance is the holy grail of game developers. The trend started right about the time professional and wannabe professional gamers started squawking on message boards about moving grenades three more inches away from the opposing team's spawn. Balance is the beginning and the end; if the game's not balanced, it's not marketable. If each weapon isn't tuned by a team of 20, then Flying Spaghetti Monster curse its incredibly useless hide!
My complaint here is that this act of balancing tends to suck a whole lot of fun out of games. Games aren't allowed to be games anymore. We've created machines instead of creative mechanics. There's this taboo of letting your game be over-the-top and perhaps (gasp!) a bit silly.
"But Aaron!" you wail right on cue. "’Borderlands’ isn't a competitive multiplayer game, it's a co-op experience, and thus, doesn't require the overt balance you're complaining about!" Yes, yes, dear reader, I do know this, from the bottom of my tiny brain and huge ego, I'm fully aware of how this sounds. What I'm trying to get across is that this balance-is-king mentality came from that hyper-competitive shooter market. It's seeped into our single-player games, trying to assure the player that the pacing is perfect and no difficulty spikes or overpowered weapons will reach our hands before the appointed time.
This is what I love about “Borderlands”: this game doesn't give a crap about balance. Not in the slightest. You will find guns at level 15 that you'll carry with you until level 45, such as the shotguns that do indeed fire off rockets. Your talents give you incredible superpowers (my favorite is the massive turret that pukes out ammo and medical supplies). You'll run into stuff you can't kill in an area you thought to be safe, many times in a pretty unfair way. But the best thing about this is that the lack of balance in and of itself balances the game. You will still feel like the biggest badarse to ever walk the dusty surface of Pandora while you're getting your aforementioned arse kicked by some elite boss.
This game feels like a game. I know, I know, I've harped on this many a time before, but I don't like my games to be terribly realistic. I want to fire off rocket propelled shotgun pellets at a robot powered by the mechanically resurrected corpse of a character you were sure you’d killed off. I want to feel like I'm doing something that isn't even close to possible in the real world.
“Borderlands” will raise you up to the heights of being overpowered while still giving you the challenge you desire. When Gearbox made this game, they discovered the holy grail of developing a game: The challenge should come directly from the difficulty of the game itself rather than from punishing the player by detracting from their potential abilities for the sake of balance.
Look, “Borderlands 2” will be coming out this September. If you're gonna hop on the “Borderlands” wagon (and I highly recommend that you do), there's never been a better time than the present. Let it remind you why you play video games. Break free of the shackles of balance and really allow yourself to experience gaming for what it is: a silly, awesome pastime.