Nearly everyone who plays giant blockbuster games on the console and PC would like to have similar experiences on their phones. All that fun, depth, graphical fidelity, and tightness of control in your pocket, able to be played anywhere? It’d be heaven. Borderlands Legends doesn’t go as far as Dead Space or even Mass Effect Infiltrator to replicate the original game, and instead opts to translate the Borderlands experience into something more like a real-time strategy game.
From the moment you boot up the game, it’s clear you’re in the Borderlands world. All the visuals and sound effects seem pulled straight from Pandora, the planet of endless danger and limitless loot. Instead of choosing a single hero to control, you’re in charge of directing the whole party of characters from the first Borderlands game as they go up against waves of enemies.
From an overhead view, you use taps and swipes to control Lilith, Roland, Brick, and Mordecai all at once. Red warning signs flash on the edges of the screen to indicate where your next threat will come from. Then enemies like skags and bandits come marching in and start attacking your team. You tell each member of your team where to stand and which enemies to attack, and watch as the violence goes down. It’s a real-time strategy game through and through, so although you don’t have direct control over your team, you’re in charge of their actions on the battlefield.
Each member of your team has a unique special ability. Mordecai can call his bird Bloodwing to attack, Lilith can phasewalk, Rolland can plant a turret on the ground, and Brick can do a berserk melee attack. Each character also has a fairly simple skill tree that you can pour points into as they level up, increasing their ability to inflict damage or bolster their shield and health bars.
In a puzzling choice by the developers, downed enemies drop cash, but not gear. Gear can be purchased, sold, and equipped between rounds, but don’t expect to pick up sweet guns and shields as you fight, like you can in the original series. On the plus side, the game offers a more reasonable amount of gear than the stuffed-to-the-brim original series. They’ve also simplified the gear’s specs, so weapons only have damage and accuracy ratings, rather than the flurry of numbers the console version throws at you.
So that’s all well and good, but the game is far from perfect. The graphics get the job done, but they’re on the muddy side, especially on Retina screens. The controls are workable, but imprecise. We’d often select the wrong character, or struggle to get the selected character to go where we wanted them. There’s virtually no pathfinding, and your characters often will walk right past enemies instead of attacking them. It’s also odd that there’s no multiplayer mode, because the console versions are such a blast to play with friends.
The strategy aspect of the game is pretty broken, too. Normally in a game like this it matters where you put your characters in the environment. But here, whenever a character runs out of health, they’re automatically revived if another character is nearby. So what we learned to do early on is to keep all of our characters huddled together so everyone is automatically brought back to life as soon as they lose their health.
As strategy games go, Borderlands Legends hovers just below average. If you’re starved for a taste of Pandora on the go, it gets the job done, but it doesn’t add any of the flash and dazzle you’d expect from such the series. If you’ve never played a Borderlands game before, you’ll want to experience it on your console or PC first.