Borderlands: Mad Moxxi's Underdome Riot
Reviewed by Brandy Shaul
Review Date Platform Genre Rating Production
2010-01-08 Xbox 360 FPS M (Mature) Gearbox Software / 2K

Mad Moxxi's Underdome Riot is a completely different animal from the game's previously released DLC The Zombie Island of Dr. Ned. Here, it's all about the combat, as you'll enter into Firefight-esque tournaments in three different arenas: Hell-burbia (reliance on buildings and staircases), Angelic Ruins (expansive and snow covered), and the Gully (a vertical map with three different tiers).

As you begin, you're put to the test through a series of three starter tournaments, one for each map. The tournaments last for five rounds, with each round being comprised of five waves (the fifth wave is a boss wave that places you against one of the main game's bosses and a few henchmen).

After completing them, you'll unlock access to the much longer, 20 round tournaments - that's 100 waves, for those afraid of math. At the end of waves, you're given health and ammo pickups, and at the end of the rounds, some new weapons, but the fantastic swag promised before the DLC's release is really anything but (so long as you've been keeping up with your equipment throughout the main storyline).

As you progress through the tournaments, Mad Moxxi, being the sadist that she is, will change each wave's stipulations to randomly include one or more of an assortment of enhancements or detriments to the players involved. There are some overall environmental changes, like lessened gravity or enhanced speed for all players and enemies, but most, on their own, affect only one side of the conflict, and include things like lowered weapon accuracy, bonus damage dealt with certain weapon types, stronger enemies, less damage from critical hits, the removal of shields, and so on.

While you may go into the Underdome thinking that your level 50 character is well prepared for anything you may face, you will quickly find yourself mistaken. Even on the starter tournament's opening waves, which include reductions in enemy shields and strength, myself and a buddy lasted only a few waves before being annihilated. Going in with a more strategic game plan didn't help matters, as we slowly slogged through a few more waves before again meeting our ends in an incredibly frustrating and curse-inducing fashion.

There are no checkpoints here, you either finish the tournament or you don't; when playing normally, it's likely the latter.

However, enemies spawn at or very near the host's level (give or take one or two levels), which gives you an out - find a friend who is willing to host the match as a very low level character, while you play at level 50 and bulldoze through everyone.

This may be considered cheating, but trust me, if you ever wish to have any sort of substantial success on the longer tournaments, you'll inevitably need to take advantage of the system. While this does make the tournaments infinitely easier to complete, the fact that you have to work the system in such a way in the first place is disappointing on so many levels, not the least of which is the fact that the host will need to play as the same lower level character at all times, or else forfeit any chance at one of the DLC's achievements (and once you realize just how difficult the tournaments are on their own, the achievements become all the more important, as you'll need some incentive to keep going). That is, you can't switch places from one tournament to the next - the same player will always be doing the majority of the work.

Furthermore, since the host is at or even below the enemies' levels, they'll find themselves with two options for gameplay: one being to simply jump to or otherwise find an area inaccessible to enemies in which to hide (boring for them, to be sure), or face the outcome that they will need to be healed and/or revived constantly, especially during the Horde Waves, when charging psychos can end them in one or two hits. It's never truly an issue, so long as one player is still alive, as the dead character will enter the penalty box for a time before rejoining the fight (and a level 50 character dying in such situations is an absurd prospect), but still, we shouldn't have to be thinking about it in the first place, as the game should be playable for everyone at any level, and it simply isn't.

Likewise, if you're planning on using the tournaments as a simple way to level up your characters, that too is impossible, as you don't earn experience points for each enemy killed as you would in the storyline proper, giving the low-level host even less to look forward to as they hide out in a corner through what is still a very time consuming endeavor overall.

The only truly redeeming qualities the DLC has then are the achievements themselves, and the soundtrack, which is undeniably catchy. However, music alone doesn't make a great game, and, in the end, leaves this DLC as only appropriate for achievement hunters and those who like their games to be insanely difficult. In terms of Borderlands DLC, if you have yet to pick up The Zombie Island of Dr. Ned, I highly suggest you buy it instead.

Special thanks to Jennie Sue and 2K for providing a code for this DLC.