A scoped revolver that sets enemies on fire. An acid-spewing shotgun. A golden sniper rifle that shoots electric bullets. Throughout your time in Pandora, you'll experience many brief love affairs with the various (and ridiculously numerous) weapons you come across, only to discard them like yesterday's newspaper once you level up and find the next best thing. That amazing incendiary SMG that saved you from hordes of Mutant Midgets or Badass Psychos usually ends up being sold back for pennies, as there's always something better around the next corner in Borderlands. It's this intense focus on weaponry that keeps Gearbox's take on the apocalypse exciting long after you'd shelve most action games.
Like open-world epics Fallout 3 and Oblivion, it's possible to wander for hours, transforming your active missions log into an ever-increasing "to-do" list. Take on one mission that involves harvesting crystals in a cave, and you may get distracted on the way by a nearby town, a legless man in need of assistance, or any one of the entries on the absurdly long list of XP challenges. Borderlands would be a fantastic title to get lost in even if it was limited to single-player. Get two or three friends to join you, and it becomes one of the best cooperative experiences in recent memory.
Multiplayer co-op has been in the limelight in recent years thanks to popular titles such as Left 4 Dead and modes such as Call of Duty: World at War's Nazi Zombies, Halo ODST's Firefight, and Gears of War 2's Horde mode. While all of these experiences were great fun with friends, Borderlands takes every aspect of cooperative gameplay and makes it more convenient and enjoyable than ever before. If I see a lower-level friend of mine struggling while taking on Skagzilla, I can easily bring my character (complete with full stats and inventory) into his game to save the day. Let's say we take the massive beast down, causing him to drop a rare weapon that we're both pining for. A quick gentleman's agreement and a couple slaps to the face later and we have a duel for the item. After the battle and loot collecting, I can give the guns I don't use anymore to my friend in lieu of selling them for a quick buck. Every aspect of the cooperative experience is designed for maximum convenience and ease of use. Want to join the game of a friend who is significantly farther ahead in the story? No problem: You'll get a ton of XP for taking on the advanced enemies, and any missions you complete while in this alternate timeline will be reflected when you reach that point in your own game.
While Borderlands and Fallout 3 share a similar apocalyptic, Road Warrior-esque setting, the former does a much better job of making you feel like a wasteland scavenger. Very few story elements are present, so you don't have a constant "I better get back to the main quest" feeling hanging over your head. There's no disappearing family members or ominous government forces making you feel the need to progress through the story, only the desire to grow stronger and survive the myriad creatures populating Pandora. No matter which character you choose, you're not the offspring of a brilliant scientist or politician and you're not the only hope for humanity...you're just a journeyman with a gun (and ideally a few friends).
Borderlands attempts many things, which in this medium can often end with a laundry list of features but no fully-developed ones. This is one of the rare occasions where all of the new experiences a game brings to the table work out splendidly, especially when viewed as an entire package. Co-op is a blast, the variety of weaponry lends an addictive quality to the game that's rarely seen, and it maintains a distinct sense of humor and personality. It's a long-lasting experience that manages to stay fresh throughout, and the ability to easily jump into a friend's game at any time only lengthens the appeal of an already stellar title.