With The Zombie Island of Dr. Ned, Gearbox showed that speedy downloadable content (DLC) doesn’t necessarily mean “bad,” as the relatively quick turnaround between the original retail release of Borderlands and its first round of DLC left players with some pretty solid content. The equally quick release of the second content pack hit, Mad Moxxi’s Underdome Riot, still leaves some questions, however, as the primarily multiplayer focus can leave solo fans wondering whether this new offering is really worth it for them. Still, however you slice it, Mad Moxxi is a straight shot at extending the multiplayer experience for those who are tired of running solo play via co-op, or even taking potshots at each other in the otherwise no-frills arena mode.
As with the previous DLC offering, leaping into the world of Mad Moxxi is as simple as hitting the appropriate point on the Fast Travel outpost. Soon, you find yourself whisked into the rickety, freewheeling carnival-themed environment that is Mad Moxxi's HQ, and a sort of hub world to the actual arena environments. Right off the hop, you can collect a mission to complete a full five rounds in each of three areas, each which their own distinct feel and layout. Jump into any one of them and you'll find yourself launched into the proceedings, where it's kill or be killed.
Each one features five rounds, with escalating degrees of difficulty, and where each round consists of five individual waves. These are laid out in themes such as the self-explanatory "horde wave," where you're mobbed by crazed melee mobs; the "badass wave," where bigger-name and tougher enemies await; and the obvious "boss wave," where you have to contend with any one of a broad number of bosses from the single-player experience, in tandem with a handful of protective baddies. As the rounds progress, you'll also have to contend with random modifiers, which cycle through at the outset of each wave slot machine-style. In turn, these will force you to adjust your own tactics and approach as they speed up your and/or your enemies, reduce the effectiveness of all but one type of weapon, or increase enemy shields or effectiveness, to name but a few. Later rounds will combine a couple of effects, often making tough fights even tougher, and helping to make sure that each plays slightly different.
It's an interesting approach, to be sure, though there are a number of flaws that ensure Moxxi isn't for everyone. The variety of environments, themes and effects keeps things from becoming too repetitive, though at the end of the day you're still just slaughtering, slaughtering, slaughtering. What's more, the rewards for surviving a round are meager, to say the least, with all but the final round or two providing scrap barely worth collecting for resale value. Also, the difficulty can be a real kick in the teeth for those who haven't maxed out their character; it's pretty damned easy to be gunned down if you're going in solo, meaning the experience is mainly targeted at groups of friends who want to continue the Borderlands experience without slogging through the campaign one more time.
The other catch -- the biggest, in my opinion -- is that there are no real checkpoints, so if you want to make it through five rounds, you're stuck running 25 waves straight, one right after the other. If you die, you're brought up to the top of an observation tower where you can continue to use weapons and powers, though you're saddled there until a friend wins the round...and if you're solo, well, you're out of luck. Once all players have been killed, they're kicked back a number of waves, by as much as two full rounds, forced to slog their way back. And if you're looking for a break from the proceedings, you're out of luck there too, as hopping out of the arena will reset your progress. Given the staggering number of waves required to hit the endpoint, this is arguably unacceptable from a "fun gameplay" perspective. It only serves to reinforce that yes, Moxxi is basically Ironman mode, yes, it's for hard-asses, and no, it's not screwing around. This gives it little to no fun value for solo players, though the ability to finally stash up to 12 items at a bot-run bank is a welcome relief for just about anyone.
As seems to be an emerging theme for Borderlands, Mad Moxxi offers the same outstanding visual and audio style as you've come to expect from the game. The highly stylized intro movie is soaked with the game's characteristic dark humor, as are Moxxi's mid-round quips and comments which boom through the PA system. The small, rickety faux-carnival hub area and its arenas are steeped in atmosphere, feeling every bit as though they were slapped together by crazy, bloodlusting, post-apocalyptic entrepreneurs. Even the hard-driving quasi-electronica tunes pounding through the actual arena segments is excellent, and is enough to make you wish it was somehow present in the campaign.
As great as it looks and sounds, Mad Moxxi's value will depend entirely on what type of player you are. If you're a solo gamer, you can forget it and you won't miss a thing. No, the target for this DLC is quite clear, and those groups of dedicated, maxed-out players seeking great varied, bloody co-op opportunities will eat this up. It's hard as hell, unforgiving, and provides barely any tangible rewards, which will alienate just about everyone else. However, if you're looking to extend the experience by looking for new and interesting places to blow people up, then this may just be your bag.
(This review is based on a retail copy provided by the publisher.)