Mad Moxxi’s Underdome Riot Hands-on Preview

by Jeff Marchiafava on Dec 18, 2009 at 05:02 AM

Even before Gearbox started pumping out DLC, Borderlands was a massive game, complete with tons of ground to cover, bosses to slay, and loot to claim. The Zombie Island of Dr. Ned added to the wondrous grind, sending players on an epic quest to acquire 250 zombie brains, among other things. But while Borderlands offers plenty of areas to explore and side missions to perform, one thing that’s missing for many high level players is a challenge. That will change with Mad Moxxi’s Underdome Riot.

There’s never been any question that Borderlands has been inspired by Mad Max. From the deranged bandits that wander the barren landscape to your run-in with Mad Mel, the game’s tributes to the classic movie franchise aren’t exactly subtle. Mad Moxxi beats the homage over the head with a shovel – but instead of being a simple spoof, this DLC pack fleshes out the idea of a Thunderdome (or in this case, Underdome) with an intricate rule system that makes it unlike anything Borderlands has offered yet.

But before we go any further, let’s talk about what Mad Moxxi isn’t. Unlike Zombie Island, Mad Moxxi doesn’t add a lot of real estate: In the preview build we played, there were only three arenas (albeit each is much larger than the main game’s arenas), linked together by a central, uninhabited hub. There aren’t a ton of missions to complete, or loot to grab – aside from the two new mechanics listed below, all Mad Moxxi offers is the new arena-style gameplay.

The Story:
Like the rest of Borderlands, Mad Moxxi is short on story. All you’re told is that the absurdly busty Mad Moxxi has a habit of killing off her previous husbands.  Now that she’s currently single and has no man to abuse, she instead takes pleasure in torturing contestants of her Running Man-esque arena tournaments, while waiting for the next man worthy of her attention. Is it you? We didn’t get to see how the story plays out, so we can’t say for sure – but like the rest of Borderlands the intro is humorous, and the environments are packed with style. From the mustachioed Clap Trap at the bank to the gaudy stages that boss enemies appear from in each of the arenas, this DLC is another awesome addition to Borderlands’ domain.

Pictures of Marcus' ancestors adorn the walls of the bank. Why? Who the heck knows

Added Extras:
The bank allows you to store additional items so that you don’t have to carry everything around in your backpack – perfect for those guns that you don’t actually use, but are keeping for sentimental reasons. You can also buy extra upgrade slots for the bank, allowing you to stash even more items. We’re not sure how many total slots you can unlock, but it’s at least twenty, and highly appreciated.

This classy Clap Trap is ready to store your wares. Or, as the game refers to it, "Crap"

Beyond that everything takes place in the arenas. During my few hours of gameplay I only received one mission, entitled "Prove Yourself." The objective? Survive five rounds in each of the coliseums. It’s a massive undertaking in its own right – but first let’s talk about the rules.

Mad Moxxi’s arena challenges are essentially Borderlands’ version of Horde mode, which seems to be a requirement for all shooters nowadays. ODST took the formula to a whole new level with its Firefight mode, which split the action up into a series of waves and rounds, with additional modifiers randomly thrown into the mix.

Borderlands builds on the rule set even more. Each round is comprised of five waves. Starting with the second round, a modifier is enacted at the beginning of every wave (more on these later). Additionally, the enemies become more difficult in each round, with basic stats like health, shields, and damage increasing, as well as new enemy types appearing (i.e. Crimson Lance soldiers replacing bandits).

Each round features progressively increasing enemy attributes

What makes Moxxi even more unique is that each wave also has a specific style, which requires a different approach. Here are the different waves:

First Wave:
This one is simply called the “Starter Wave.” It gives you a variety of enemies, including bandits, psychos, and skaggs, none of which put up much of a challenge. Since there’s only a brief pause between rounds however, no one will be complaining that the first wave isn’t tough enough.

Second Wave:
The second wave is the “Gun Wave.” All your enemies are armed, which means you don’t have to worry about getting bum rushed. In addition to the regular bandits, there are always a couple of bruisers thrown into the mix – this is when things start to get a little tougher.

Third Wave:
Gearbox doesn’t pull any punches in letting players know what inspired its tournaments: The third wave is the “Horde Wave.” All of the enemies are psychos (including the flaming and midget varieties), and all of them make a mad dash for you as soon as the wave begins. You’d think this would make it easy, but depending on the arena, these nutjobs do a good job of flanking and attacking from behind. Watch out for the kamikaze psychos whose only goal is to blow up the both of you.

Fourth Wave:
If you manage to survive the horde, the fourth wave doesn’t get any easier – it’s time for the “Badass Wave.” As the name implies, this wave contains some seriously overpowered enemies. The enemies are mixed, usually two groups out of the Crimson Lance, skaags, and guardians (i.e. aliens). The only good part of this wave is that the different groups will fight each other, meaning you can hang back and let the ranks thin themselves out before taking on the survivors.

Fifth Wave:
The final wave of every round is the “Boss Wave.” Each arena has a stage marked by a pirate skull on the map, from which one of the main game’s bosses (or multiple bosses, as an early screenshot suggests) will appear. Their appearance is complemented by a crowd-riling introduction from Moxxi, as well as some onstage fireworks. The boss is accompanied by a few lesser enemies – you’ll want to keep them alive as long as possible to instigate a second wind if you get downed by the boss. Survive the fifth wave, and you’re ready to start the process all over again, with even more difficult enemies.

Bosses enter the arena from the main stage, with customized intros from Moxxi

Unlike the main game, none of the enemies you kill drop weapons, health, or even ammo (not that you’d have time to compare gun stats anyway). Instead supply drops are issued after each wave. They rain down huge ammo crates (which give you back a modest amount of ammo for each weapon type) as well as giant health vials. Where these land is random, and you only have a few seconds to pick them up before they disappear. If you’re quick (and lucky), you’ll still probably only be able to grab two or three crates before they’re all gone and the next wave starts.

Finish a round and a few guns will spawn underneath the tower that’s located in the center of all three arenas. In the early rounds I played, I didn’t get any majorly awesome weapons – though later rounds and more teammates will undoubtedly result in better loot. Still, if I have one complaint about Mad Moxxi so far, it’s that the loot at the end of the rounds doesn’t feel nearly rewarding enough for what you just went through to get it. However, this balance may get tweaked in the final retail code.

You’ll also only have a few seconds to grab these guns before a results screen for the round appears ranking players by number of kills. Then the next round begins without delay, making the tournaments a hectic, and oftentimes grueling experience.

The ranking lets you know who to blame for your demise. In this case, it was me

Penalty Box:
The tower has a second function besides doling out guns – the top of it serves as the penalty box. If a player dies and fails to be revived by a teammate or catch a second wind, they respawn in the penalty box. The penalty box allows you to still shoot at the enemies below you (keep a sniper rifle handy!), but you can’t leave until your teammates finish the wave. If they do, all players in the penalty box respawn below. If they're as bad as you are, it’s game over.

Unlike most Horde-style modes, fallen teammates can still help out their friends

After the first round, all subsequent rounds boost the enemy difficulty and add a modifier via the  “Ring O’ Death.” Like the skulls from ODST’s Firefight mode, these extra modifiers change a core aspect of the gameplay. Here are some of the ones we saw:

Beef Cake: Enemies take less damage.
Ironhide: Enemy shields are stronger.
Overclocked: Enemy shields regenerate faster.
Close Combat: Your accuracy decreases, but damage increases. Time to grab your shotgun!
Dodgeball: Enemies are more likely to dodge.
Naked: Players lose their shields, but slowly regain health.
Spastic: Enemies move and reload faster (this one was a pain).
Weapon Masters: Enemies spawn with higher quality weapons.
Head Shot: Critical hits deal bonus damage, regular hits deal less damage.
Elemental Challenge: Elemental damage (i.e. fire, acid, etc.) increases, basic damage decreases.
[Gun Class] Challenge: The specified weapon type (i.e. SMG, Rocket Launcher, etc.) does extra damage, while others do less damage.

According to the DLC’s designer, Jon Hemingway, there are even more modifiers, including a Vampire rule that slowly depletes the player’s health, replenishing it only when they get a kill. Besides changing up the gameplay, these modifiers also require you to be proficient in all weapons – I experienced a particularly brutal wave while playing because I didn’t have a rocket launcher in my arsenal when it came up as the modifier. That, plus the uncertainty of whether or not you’ll be able to find and grab ammo in-between rounds encourages a healthy amount of switching out weapon types as you play.

Additionally, each of the three arenas has enough difference to change up your playing style as well. Let's take a look at them...

The Arenas:

This is the first arena you’ll fight in, and the most symmetrical. There are four distinct areas that border the penalty box in the middle. Hell-Burbia contains a smattering of ramps and buildings, allowing you to get off of the ground and away from sprinting psychos. It also takes place at nighttime however, making it harder to see clearly.

The Angelic Ruins:
The second arena is based off of the mysterious alien ruins from the main game. It’s also less symmetrical than Hell-Burbia, and has more open space. That means you’ll have plenty options for escaping your enemies, but there’s not a lot of high ground for sniping. It’s probably the easiest arena of the three.

The Gully:
The Gully is the most distinct arena; everything slopes down towards the stage at the bottom, and the various cliffs create invaluable chokepoints. It also features a teleporter that can instantly take you from the bottom to the top. Enemies can use it too though, so if your team is bunkering down at the top of the cliffs, make sure to watch your backs.

Final Thoughts:
Some players might be disappointed that there are only three arenas, but each one offers enough visual and gameplay variety to make them feel unique – switching between the three kept them from feeling repetitive. Survive five rounds in each arena and even longer tournaments open up, which is hard to believe, since they’ve already thrown pretty much the entire population of Pandora at you.

Could these extra doors someday lead to more arenas? Probably not...

The atmosphere helps sell the spectacle; an unseen crowd cheers you on and makes you feel like you’re on a deranged game show, and when you’re the last player alive (i.e. not in the penalty box), the crowd begins to chant your name. The gritty electronica that plays in the background is the first memorable music the game has offered, and fits the frenetic pace. Finally, in a game full of insane characters, Moxxi is perhaps the looniest of them all, constantly cheering for/belittling your efforts, stoking the crowd, and laughing in a manner that can only be described as erotic. In other words, it’s just another day in the Borderlands...

Whether or not Mad Moxxi offers 10 dollars worth of entertainment is up to you, and will depend on how much you like co-op, as well as how much of a challenge you’re looking for. After a few hours in the arenas however, I personally can’t wait to sink my teeth into this one, with my own character, weapons, and friends. More than anything that Borderlands has offered yet, Mad Moxxi is built around teamwork, and should be a blast with three other teammates. We’ll bring you more on this unique DLC pack when we get our hands on some retail code. Until then, get your arsenal ready, start thinking about how you want to respec your character (which is pretty much a necessity), and let us know what you think in the comments section below!