Developer: 2K China / Publisher: 2K Games / Played on: iPad & iPhone / Price: $6.99 (iPad), $4.99 (iPhone) / ESRB: Not Yet Rated
Just a month after revisiting Pandora in the critically acclaimed Borderlands 2, 2K Games is giving us a reason to jump back in the shoes of the series’ original heroes, but in a completely different play style. Borderlands Legends continues the adventures of Brick, Roland, Lilith, and Mordecai on the portable stage in a touch-intensive single player strategy game. While it is a significant change from the multiplayer first person shooting design of the console versions, Legends takes mere seconds to convince you that this is a Borderlands game, albeit a mobile ‘lite’ version.
If you come to the Borderlands series for its twisted brand of humor and storytelling, you won’t find it in Legends. Although it is set between Borderlands & Borderlands 2, it isn’t a narrative-driven experience nor does it bridge any narrative gaps. What the game does have are objective-based missions that fall in line with the kind of assignments you are familiar with from the other games. That includes taking on bosses, like Devastators as well as rescuing damsels, like Claptrap.
Borderlands Legends’ isometric view is an obvious change over the two other games, but developer 2K China has managed to pack in a lot of familiar Borderlands gameplay fundamentals. You’re still travelling through Pandora and killing enemies, and you’re using the vault hunters’ skills and talents to do so, which also includes surviving through ‘second wind’ revivals. You’re managing all four heroes by yourself, which is where the fast paced strategy comes into play.
You have to navigate all four characters to best position themselves as enemies come in from all sides. You do this by tapping or dragging characters and whether you want to move them or make use of their utilities. You can assign all utilities to greatly power up one character or share these enhancements with the whole team. Brick increases shield points, Roland boosts health, Mordecai enhances weapon damage and Lilith offers movement speed. Using one character to temporarily improve another is part of the micromanagement charm of Borderlands Legends, where you can touch drag Lilith’s speed utility to Brick without her needing to be right next to him.
Layered on top of these utilities are the action skills that are loosely based on the first game. As the game’s tank, Brick has his Berzerk and Ironfist for increased melee damage. Roland has his turrets and first aid stations, Mordecai has Bloodwing, and Lilith has her speed boosting Phasewalk.
To see and work these characters in a strategy setting puts them in a different, but still engaging perspective. It’s a blast experimenting with the action skills, which are activated by touching their respective icons. You might get a solid upper hand in a battle by spamming all the action skills as soon as half a dozen enemies have entered the fight; you’ll just need to be inventive when all those skills are cooling down. It’s intriguing figuring out strategies when taking on a boss, like choosing to focus all your energies on a Crimson Lance Devastator while ignoring the spiderants and snipers surrounding the area. I did just that very thing in one mission, only to forget that this assignment had multiple objectives, including keeping a kidnapped Claptrap alive, which I failed to do.
On top of the strategizing based on the vault hunters’ action skills and utilities, you of course have to consider each level’s environment and how to best take advantage of it. This also includes figuring out where to place each character. My default set up involved putting Brick up front to attract the hostiles, Mordecai in the back for uninterrupted sniping and the other two in the middle. A given area can also have useful cover points, which increase your shield stats.
Borderlands Legends does have specific end goals for the missions but getting there will be an unusually random experience for fans of the series. The path to each goal comprises of three to five screen-sized areas that are randomly generated. Aside from facing waves of enemies, some levels will feature additional goals like having to shoot the brakes of an elevator. This randomness is reminiscent of classic dungeon crawlers and if you’re into that sub-genre, there’s a lot of replayability to be found in Borderlands Legends. It should also be noted that you can max out everyone’s skill trees by the time you reach Level 35, although you can keep playing well beyond that, especially when enemies scale to your current level.
The battles are busy enough, so it’s great that you don’t need to walk up to the cash to pick them up; you simply tap on them with the touch screen. But it’s a minor disappointment that this game’s weapon loot system is non-existent. Instead, you use the money from battle to purchase randomly generated weapons from Marcus’ shop. You normally access these in between missions, although his vending machine can randomly appear in the middle of a session. Weapons are once again classified in rarity by color, and less useful weapons can be sold to recoup some cash.
The game is further streamlined by limiting weapon classifications specific to each character’s specialty. Brick gets shotguns, assault rifles are for Roland, Lilith handles submachine guns, and Mordecai is the sniper. This kind of limitation isn’t a problem in the context of Borderlands Legends; being able to control all four characters provides a sense of weapon diversity.
VISUALS & SOUND
Borderlands Legends retains the same cartoon art style and backgrounds from the console games and lends well to these iOS versions, especially for the iPad. It’s great to have that visual connection of unaltered character designs of the four vault hunters as well as the many hostiles. Just as important are the familiar user interface, where recognizable buttons and fonts help make this game feel like an official extension of the series (which it is).
The same goes for the audio work, particularly with the sound effects and vocals. The steady stream of enemies brings out a ton of gunfire from both sides and helps make the combat sound fittingly chaotic, sometimes even more so than the console versions. The lack of a story means that you shouldn’t expect a lot of vocal work, but the familiar voices of the vault hunters do show up in battle. There’s a decent variety of grunts from the male characters when they’re not yelling “Medic!” and Lilith exudes her usual confidence, yelling “Keep ‘em coming!” on a regular basis. And Claptrap is his usual endearing self, with vocal mannerisms like “derpy-derpy-derpy-der” and his over enthusiastic “Haha!”
Borderlands Legends is a standalone game that is neither a gimmicky socially connected tie-in with Borderlands 2, nor is it an ambitious attempt at a port of the console games. It does hit all the Borderlands notes from the art style to the weapon variety to the abilities, just with a stripped down design. The relatively brief battles are a distinct contrast to the drawn out gunfights of the home versions, but it fits Legends portable design and many mobile users’ cravings for quick sessions.
+ Familiar Borderlands visual style
+ Engaging real time strategy gameplay
- No weapon loot
8 / 10