This is the latest game I finished. I even got through all the DLCs since they came with the game of the year edition. Borderlands is a long shooter and something has clearly been done very right to keep players interested. Although one of the key selling points is co-op play, I actually enjoyed the entire game just fine in single player mode.
1. Power-tripping to the max
I guess there's no denying it. Finding randomized loot is disturbingly addictive. Think back to Diablo. How repetitive the mechanics in that game are? Really, really repetitive. However, the hook of character development in games like Diablo, including Borderlands, is constant empowerment. Every chest is a chance to obtain a better weapon, and every kill is a step closer to the next level. Role-playing games are built on this stuff. It works. Finding that exceptionally good weapon is followed by a gratifying power trip and for a while enemies are dropping like flies. At some point they catch up again making the game more challenging, but eventually you'll get another power trip. And so it goes...
2. Keeping the game going
Borderlands is by no means a challenging game. Especially if played after Dark Souls. However, they do the lack of challenge right. Besides, it's a power-tripping game. One particular trick I liked about the game was Second Wind. It allows fallen players to make a comeback by killing one enemy before bleeding to death. The player gets back up with a portion of their health and fully loaded shields, putting them back into the fight. This keeps the game going most of the time, but there is still enough risk in dying that it is usually to be avoided. It's also possible to (ab)use Second Wind as a tactic (e.g. leave one severely wounded enemy alive, then kill them quickly if you go down). This did feel a little stupid in some boss battles, while in some others it was fairly useless. Overall though, I think this mechanic is cool for a game like Borderlands.
3. Enemy design again
Most of the time the enemy design in Borderlands is sound. Especially critical hits put enemies down very quickly, and their weapons are often really powerful. Occasionally though there were enemies that simply took way too many bullets to put down. I emptied several guns against the final boss for example, and in one optional boss in the earlier half of the game I almost ran out of all ammunition. Partly this was due to the level scaling of damage which I found a bit weird. This meaning that the level difference between the shooter and their target was a factor in the damage formula. Against a higher level enemy even really powerful guns were not doing much. Most of the time the game is paced well enough so that player level is in the same ballpark with enemies. Except...
4. DLC difficulty balancing
One thing I found very weird was the intended level range for the DLC expansions. Three of the four expansions were designed exactly for the same level range. This is weird because the player is likely to gain at least three or four levels during each expansion, which means they will be overleveled at the start of the next expansion. Although one expansion was really nasty for its level range, this still feels like a really weird decision. Sure, there's no guarantee that players will be getting all the expansions. However, that's the way expansions have been made pre-DLC era: the next one will always be more difficult than the last.
5. Random tidbits
Another curious thing about the DLCs was that they were much better written than the core game. Funnier humor, tighter plots and even wackier characters. It felt like the development team hadn't let their writers loose enough when making the main game. Should they follow along the DLC guidelines in Borderlands 2, this bodes well.
Another random thing I just briefly wanted to talk about is the use of cell shading graphics. It makes the game look really characteristic and most certainly stands against the test of time much better than realistic graphics. Like sprite graphics, cell shading just might be a sound artistic decision for games that don't necessarily aim for a wow-effect but rather like to look unique.
I think Borderlands is deserving of all the praise. I went in expecting little since I'm not a big fan of shooters - especially not long ones - but came out highly enjoyed. There's still the biggest challenge undefeated but I'm gonna look for a co-op partner to level up enough and take that bastard down.