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'Borderlands Legends' Not So Legendary

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Borderlands Legends, available October 31, 2012, is the new iOS game from 2K Games -- the Novato-based company specializing in games that are equal parts enthralling world and addictive mechanics (also responsible for the well-loved BioShock and Civilization series. With the recent success of both Borderlands and Borderlands 2, Legends released to high expectations).

The first two Borderlands games are set on the alien world of Pandora. Players take on the role of one of four 'Vault Hunters', mercenaries drawn to Pandora in search of the ultimate prize. They fight through assigned missions and bounty board pickups to get closer to their goal of finally seeing inside the fabled vault. The toon-shaded, comic book style art is well-matched by self referential game design and a near infinite quantity of unique loot.

Unlike its part-role-playing, part-first-person-shooter precursors, Legends is an arena/turret defense mashup. Players are still on Pandora but now control all four heroes from the first Borderlands, fighting against wave after wave of enemies. Each character acts as a specialized turret. Each is one of the traditional four part recipe: one tank, one healer, and two high-damage gun nuts.

The strategy comes in combining all their individual skills. Each character has a specific weapon, and, as a result, a range. Mordecai can shoot the farthest with his sniper rifle, while Brick's shotgun and fists need to be positioned at short range. All four have a buff (a skill applied to another character) and a special ability. Roland can increase health regeneration, for example. Their special abilities include taunting enemies, team heals, and bonus damage from Mordecai's hawk-like pet, Bloodwing.

In terms of design, the inventory management and menu system are both seamless. The maps are beautiful, if slightly repetitive. The vending machine system, where players upgrade their gear, is similar to the original . It's smooth and simple, working well most of the time. But frankly, smooth and simple isn't always better. Legends lacks the grit and awkward charm of its predecessors in the Borderlands pantheon: it takes itself too seriously.

The fun of console games is in the silly weirdness of a world combined with challenging gameplay. The fun is in a shotgun named the 'Jolly Roger' that shoots a skull-and-crossbones pattern of bullets. It's in the caustic teapot pistol you get from a murderously insane yet equally adorable little girl after avenging her family's deaths. It's in the exploding robots so cleverly named 'Exp Loaders'. In Legends all you get is the team, the map, and the enemies. All the character is gone.

Beyond not meeting the high bar set for it, the real problem with the gameplay is that the characters refuse to follow simple commands. Path finding and hit detection bugs leave characters stuck or walking into each other mid-battle. Corners are baffling and other characters impossible to go around. Fortunately, the game does improve with leveling. Once you forget all the things the game "should" be and just play, its potential peeks through. When it works it can be fun and heart-pounding. The game requires players to rescue dying teammates at the last second, reposition themselves mid-battle, and face new enemies pouring in from unanticipated angles. With a better pathing system and a bit of the whimsy of the console titles, Legends might have turned a few more heads.

Lack of character is not a new problem for mobile gaming. Many port-to-mobile games, and Borderlands Legends is an example of this, have become just the boiled-down versions of their console counterparts. That reduced complexity is admittedly necessary for an iOS release, but all the uniqueness gets boiled away too. The mechanics of "shoot the guy, get the loot, sell the loot, buy a better gun, shoot a harder guy" is not what makes Borderlands 1 and 2 an infinite pleasure to play; it's the idiosyncratic characters, the quirky voice acting, and the inventive enemies. It's the personality of those games that keeps players coming back hour after hour. Legends has none of that; no funny mobs, no trickster loot, no fame, no glory.

For more information visit 2kgames.com.

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