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Being that this is the age of the smart phone, it’s not uncommon to see major titles branch out and get their own versions of iOS games in order to cash in on a separate audience and spread awareness about their franchise. It’s largely a hit-or-miss phenomenon, with some apps faring well and others falling well below the bar set by their console counterparts.
Because of this, it’s not surprising that the lootfest RPG Borderlands made the move to iOS with Borderlands Legends, an isometric squad shooter based loosely on the console game. With its skill trees, characters, and guns, the game tries to capture the essence of Borderlands on mobile. But does it succeed?
Borderlands Legends features a number of conventions familiar to the franchise, including skill trees, character building, and guns. Featuring the four main characters from the original Borderlands, you’ll be tasked with controlling all four simultaneously and moving them around the battlefield as they combat incoming waves of enemies.
That’s where the similarities end, however. From the start, it’s clear that Legends is a lackluster version of the franchise on mobile devices. The same iconic humor and quirkiness inherent in the original Borderlands is completely absent in Legends, save for a few half-hearted attempts in the intro and tutorial, and it doesn’t have the same aesthetic due to the less detailed envrionments that don’t do the game’s iconic cel-shaded graphics justice.
While randomized missions is meant to be a key feature of Legends, it’s really to its detriment. Missions are varied in description only, with each mission looking and feeling exactly the same as the last, essentially consisting of holding off waves of enemies through a handful of stages. And even then, mission descriptions themselves tend to recycle, along with environments and enemies.
Skill trees make a return to the game as well, featuring he same action skills familiar to the original characters. Lilith still uses Phasewalk, Brick returns with his Beserk melee attacks, Mordecai’s vicious hawk friend Bloodwing comes along, and Roland’s turret serves useful in tough spots. While they’re fairly varied, the skill trees are pretty shallow, mostly consisting of one main ability and two smaller enhancements.
The game implements touch controls specifically designed for mobile, using taps to direct movement and targeting. It’s mostly seamless, but is not without its own issues and frustrations. Characters get stuck behind cover, some move where you don’t want them to, and many times, they simply won’t respond at all, leaving you furiously tapping on them to no avail.
Probably one of the biggest disappointments, however, is the game’s complete ignorance of the one thing that makes Borderlands so beloved: loot. Aside from the random money drop, there’s no loot in the game whatsoever, leaving you to purchase new guns and shields in the store rather than collect them in combat. This felt especially like an oversight, since it wouldn’t be difficult to add in a more complex loot system than the disappointing one the game already has in place. Even something like collecting weapons as spoils at the end of the mission would have been a welcome change.
Truly, where Legends fails is its poor attempt at recapturing the essence of Borderlands. With unlimited ammo, awkward controls, and poor enemy variety, there’s virtually no strategy involved in the gameplay other than leveling up your character and upgrading their weapons. Even without the Borderlands name, it’s essentially a directionless and poor adaptation of the genre that would have done well to take some ideas from squad-based combat and tower defense games. It looks generic, feels half-hearted, and comes across overall as a disappointment and a severely missed opportunity in what could have otherwise been a fantastic mobile version of the game.
(Note: This game was reviewed on an iPod Touch and is also available on other iOS devices)