Borderlands is right near the top of my list for games of 2009. The cooperative loot hunt is addictive by design and it doesn’t hurt matters that the style is about as inviting and fun as they come. The first downloadable add-on, The Zombie Island of Dr. Ned, offered more of the same while delivering a tongue-in-cheek horror story. This second piece of downloadable content offers something different and, unfortunately, the changes made to the gameplay formula remove the very essence of what made Borderlands a hit in the first place.
Mad Moxxi’s Underdome Riot, if you couldn’t tell, is a bit of a spoof on the Mel Gibson flick Mad Max Beyond Thunderdome. Rather than offering a series of fetch or kill quests, as has been the standard fare for most of Borderlands, Mad Moxxi puts the player in a series of arena battles.
This is essentially Gearbox Software’s take on the popular Gears of War 2 Horde or Call of Duty: World at War’s Zombies modes. The first set of challenges offers five rounds of five waves each. As you progress, the enemies get tougher and eventually other game modifiers will begin to stack. The modifiers are randomized and some of them are quite fun. Some will challenge you to only use rockets or SMGs. Another changes the gravity to make players float through the air.
Though this is a bit of a “me too” add-on — it seems every shooter must have a co-op arena mode these days — the unique rules of Mad Moxxi are enough to set Borderlands apart from the pack and carve its own niche.
Borderlands could never stand alone as a pure shooter and the net code was never strong enough to make an idea like this a compelling one. That problem is compounded by the fact that enemies don’t drop loot and you don’t get experience points for killing them. Beat a set of five waves and you’ll get a small set of mediocre loot. Beat a quest and you’ll get some XP, but other than that you’re just killing enemies.
It feels like Mad Moxxi misses the point. This was always a game about level grinding and loot pickups. You get neither here.
You can still play Mad Moxxi with up to four players cooperatively. In fact, if you don’t have a group of friends willing to pony up the $10 asking price, you’d be better served skipping this add-on entirely. The arena battles do not scale to the number of players properly at all. Playing with one or two players makes this series of challenges nearly impossible. Even with three it is difficult.
The task gets easier with each player added thanks to another nifty addition to the formula called the penalty box. If you die and still have teammates alive, you go to the penalty box above the arena and can continue raining down bullets. If everyone enters the penalty box before a wave is complete, the challenge is failed and you’re either set back a few rounds or reset to the beginning. Alone, you get no penalty box. Die and it’s all over and without proper scaling, XP, or loot drops it just isn’t any fun at all.
Though nobody in the IGN office had fun with the Mad Moxxi download, we could all agree that the style and music offered here is as good as ever. At the end of each set of waves players are challenged to a boss fight and when that happens, a rockin’ techno beat kicks in. I’ve had it stuck in my head for days now.
Unless you have a core group of three other friends and all of you have maxed out level 50 characters, I wouldn’t recommend Borderlands: Mad Moxxi’s Underdome Riot to you. It isn’t balanced properly and, since there is no normal XP awards or loot drops, you won’t find your character improving as your struggle through the endless waves. It actually encourages you to leave the Underdome to go grind your character. All of the style and great music in the world can’t save this add-on from the fact that it had the soul of Borderlands ripped out.