Even if Borderlands Legends didn’t have Gearbox Software’s popular franchise name plastered across its title screen, it would still be a disappointing proposition for iOS buyers looking to the $6.99 price for a lengthy but digestible experience. Borderlands Legends contains none of the gameplay appeal ingrained in its console cousins. From terrible AI to the sharp difficulty curves to the letdown of a loot system, this top-down strategy game slanders a series known for its deceptively bloody art style, oft-quoted humor, and randomized weapon generator.
In Borderlands Legends, the laughs end once the buyer’s remorse kicks in. The developers make no attempts to familiarize players with the characters or the settings, so allow me to elaborate. After destroying the gaping tentacle monster found in the first Borderlands' Vault, Roland, Brick, Lilith, and Mordecai continued to seek employment throughout Pandora's wastelands. Legends abstains from a first-person perspective (the smartest decision the developers make), as you control all four unlikely friends simultaneously. Legends also removes the exploration and Easter eggs of Borderlands prior. Instead, players progress automatically from arena to arena, beating back a limited number of enemy waves until they achieve mission success.
Claptrap will be your narrator before each quest, or he would be if the studio opted for any voice work beyond the grunts and screams of dying Vault Hunters. Claptrap seems to have forgotten their faces, however, despite you repairing more than a dozen of his metal kind for backpack upgrades in the first Borderlands. Do not consider this game canon, either. You’ll slay plenty of tentacle boss and General Knoxx clones in the same drab settings during nearly identical missions. How can developers call the objectives randomized when they never evolve beyond gathering money or protecting a civilian?
Anyone else seeing the fisheye lens effect?
Like the rest of Legends’ settings, none of the other characters have a personality. So much of Borderlands’ humor relies on the dry, demented performances of Pandora’s inhabitants, but the writing cannot evoke the same toothy grin when you read through text boxes – Legends’ sole delivery method. The script just does not entertain in ways that previous Borderlands did. After reading through ten mission summaries, I started skipping every briefing. Half of the problem stems from the sophomoric wisecracks. Borderlands 2 contains jokes both simple and sophisticated, yet the worst Borderlands 2 performances clearly eclipse the best comedy that Borderlands Legends offers.
The other half has everything to do with how the missions are structured. Based on what contract you accept, you’ll be transported to one of five or six locations, each populated by four waves of Skags, Bandits, Spider Ants, or Crimson Raiders. So ends the variety, as none of Borderlands 2’s newer antagonists make an entrance. Using your team of Vault Hunters, you must maneuver them around the battlefield, attacking enemies within your weapon's range, except the navigation itself introduces complaints. The characters do not acknowledge a majority of the touch inputs, whether you’re simply trying to select an active skill or move a wounded teammate behind cover. While some of the environment’s natural debris reduces damage dealt by opposing rifles, the heroes had untold amounts of trouble making their way behind aforementioned cover. The characters cannot pass through each other, so they habitually ignore movement commands when they get stuck on a teammate. They only run in straight lines too, refusing to sidestep boulders in their way in favor of gluing their polygonal bodies against its surface.
The problems continue to mount once combat ensues. Each Vault Hunter may use one class of weapons. Brick’s affinity for shotguns leaves him with a miniscule attack radius, Mordecai can scope out the entire arena with his sniper rifle, and Lilith’s SMGs and Roland’s assault rifles fill that middle ground. But those preferences never change. The so-called heroes will not return fire outside their attack radius, even when hostile soldiers continue to pepper their shields with lead. Likewise, the Vault Hunters will not advance to meet their aggressors or find shelter when bullets start flying downrange. They simply stand in place!
If only the game could look this good all the time (in other words, not in motion and clearly touched up).
The AI frustration never alleviate due to imbalances in the difficulty. If your whole team wipes on a wave, you restart from wave one. By the end of each mission, I just kept the whole squad bunched in a circle ready to automatically revive each other when someone would undoubtedly get downed. This negates any sort of tactical sensation Borderlands Legends means to provide. Once you start upgrading each of the characters’ three action skills, the difficulty loosens its soul-crushing grip. Yes, instead of one action skill, you can call upon three equally dull powers to fool yourself into having fun. Lilith and Brick’s skills in particular are the most ineffective yet. Brick can still go berserk as Lilith enters Phasewalk, but how well the AI uses these activated abilities falls to chance. Although Roland’s turret and Modercai’s Bloodwing actually wound enemies around them, two exceptional powers out of twelve is a failing grade where I come from. The remaining talent tree branches are passive in nature, yet there’s no reason to charge through the insipid missions after you reach level 35. Level 35 may not be the max (the developers raved about the absence of a level cap), but you’ll have fully upgraded every skill and lost whatever feeling of progression that initially drove you.
Maybe if the loot contained some of the Borderlands charm, I would say otherwise. Again, Gearbox fails in this regard. Most of Borderlands’ appeal derives from finding a legendary firearm and pulling the trigger for the first time. With Borderlands 2’s bevy of rotating weapon barrels, targeting sights, ammo magazines, paint schemes, and manufacturer differences in how their armaments reload, Gearbox upped the possible combinations of firearm components into the millions. In Borderlands Legends, every SMG, sniper rifle, and shotgun looks fundamentally identical. There’s no outside factors to consider when buying new toys from vending machine beyond damage, because reload times, firing rates, magazine size, and sight magnification have been cut away.
The most enjoyable moments of Borderlands Legends were the times when I turned off the iPad. For $6.99, players expect more than a flashy title card on iOS platforms, but Borderlands Legends will sell because of the name alone, and I pity those players that start up the game looking for some Gearbox-brand humor on the go. The high-definition iPad version by no means rights the wrongs here. Rather, I have a better definition for Borderlands Legends: a terrible homage to one of gaming’s most well-regarded IPs.