Throughout Borderland’s somewhat confused development - which saw it completely change aesthetic style at a late stage - there’s been two main claims that have pushed the game into the minds of fans.
It’s a co-op centric game. It has “87 bazillion guns”. Despite the comparisons to a Halo and Diablo, it's these statements which have really bought Borderlands oodles of anticipation.
Unfortunately though, it seems as if these claims are actually little more than camouflage, as the game isn’t really as co-op centric as it is open to the idea of co-op and the 87 bazillion guns aren’t all that inventive.
There’s a core campaign which is playable in singleplayer and in co-op. It's fully open to exploration and bespeaks a design that fluctuates between preferring the singleplayer and multiplayer approach. Huge portions of the game are as straight and narrow as a state border, allowing very little variation in a co-op approach, while some battles are difficult enough to almost require a second, third or fourth player.
The claims about the massive arsenal are built on the clever assumption that Borderlands is a shooter (which it is) and not an RPG (which it also is). Claiming to have a billion weapons in an FPS like Doom is impressive, as you imagine them all to be different. The same claim made of an RPG like Baldur’s Gate isn’t nearly as impressive, because you know most of those weapons differ solely in terms of statistics. That’s the case here, where the bajillion-million-zillion gun claim is technically correct - but the difference between two weapons usually amounts to little more than +1 Fire Rate or -10 Percent Recoil.
These aren’t bad things and Borderlands isn’t a bad game. In fact, we actually rather like it and have been playing it almost obsessively thanks to the fusion of gory violence and Diablo-style loot drops. It’s important to start judging Borderlands from a fair and informed standpoint though, so before venturing further these misconceptions that have been built up around the game should be dispelled.
It's what you do with it that counts
There are plenty of elements to like about the game - first and foremost, there's the tongue-in-cheek sense of wit which is infused throughout the entire experience. As the 87 bazillion gun claim does accurately imply, Borderlands is a game that’s all about excess and while plenty of the game is crass to the point of eye-rolling, it’s hard not to smile the first time you’re attacked by a ‘Lv. 16. Burning Psycho Midget Bandit’.
Likewise, while most of the game is a canvas of fetch quests stretched over a paper-thin frame of the usual alien-planet-space-cowboy variety, it’s wonderfully invigorated by the selection of characters, who are under-developed but in an engagingly mean and moody way. Everybody you meet is full of swears and one-liners, from the blind farmer outside Fyrestone to the callous scientist who sends you off to collect scattered audio reports.
This approach to creating a world is obviously nicely complemented by the presentation of the world itself and Borderland’s high-quality cel-shaded visuals go a long way to lending the arid wastelands of Pandora a sense of character. If the cartoon visuals were stripped away then it’s likely Borderlands would be just another gritty, brown FPS with too much gore and not enough innovation, but much like a Quentin Tarantino movie, style goes a long way to casting the thin substance and setting in a different light.