I spent Saturday night in Mad Moxxi's Underdome Riot, the most recent pack of DLC for Borderlands. I think after playing through about 55 rounds of punishment I can agree with a lot of the reviews circulating out there.
For those of you who don't know, Madd Moxxi's Underdome Riot is Borderland's attempt at a "horde mode" or "firefight" mode. However, they take out any XP progression (though you can still complete the in game challenges which give you XP) and greatly reduce the loot drops. You do earn 2 skill points. There are 3 maps. First you are tasked with tearing through 5 rounds consisting of 5 waves on each map. Once you've completed that, you are given access to the "Larger Challenges"... this ups the investment (and it is that, believe me) to TWENTY ROUNDS. Once you've played through the 5 round sessions, you'll begin to understand how truly ridiculous that is.
Essentially what they've done is create an experience that focuses on just the shooting in the game. I probably enjoy the shooting in Borderlands more than most, but even with that it doesn't quite hold up on it's own. I found as I played through Mad Moxxi that apparently a large part of my love for the shooting was based on the fact that it lead to loot and XP. It was almost Pavlovian. The larger challenges really start to highlight how much you miss the progression. It's a lot of work for a small reward... even for an achievement hunter like me. Even the loot drops you DO get at the end of every round are typically useless if you've played through the game and found some good mainstay weapons.
To make matters worse, if you fail a round you are sent back to the beginning of the previous round. So, even if you're on Round 6 Wave 5 when your party wipes, you will now have to go back to Round 5 Wave 1. This can become incredibly disheartening when you've likely already invested a lot of time by the first party wipe. It's even more punishing in the late rounds of the greater challenges. If players start going down, and you have to drop back a round, the urge to quit is tough to fight off.
Now to give you an idea of the amount of time needed to finish the larger challenges I'll give you a recap of my experience. We first tried it with four level 50 characters. This proved to be idiotic because it made all the enemies level 50 as well. We wiped in the 7th round, dropped back to 6, wiped, then quit (this probably took a little over an hour). About a week later we revisited the larger challenges, only this time the host player used a level 37 character. This made all the enemies level 36 or 37. Our party consisted of a Level 37 Siren, a Level 47 Soldier, a Level 50 Soldier, and a Level 50 Berserker. We managed to make it through all of the larger challenges without wiping... however, it took a total of NINE HOURS. Each one took about 3 hours. We finally shut things down around 4 AM just sick of it... I don't even know why the fuck we did it. I think at some point it was just a mixture of masochism and spite. Or maybe nobody wanted to be the guy to say "hey, this is fucking stupid..." Either way, we did it, and I can't say I'm all that happy about it. I should reiterate here that I LOVE Borderlands.
So, what could have been done differently? I think adding another 5, Mad Moxxi-specific, levels would have helped soften the blow. You don't want this DLC to become a grind farm for players, so you only allow them to gain these five levels within the DLC. You could even make it so that these levels could ONLY be gained in the Underdome. This would make it so that it wasn't a "true" level cap increase (and even if you called it a true increase, would that be so horrible?)... but it would certainly be a great reward for those who powered through all 60 rounds of the larger challenges. They could have also allowed loot drops from enemies... even if they wanted to allow it at a lower frequency it would have helped my motivation a little. Last... why 20 rounds? It just seems like overkill and it stops being fun well before you finish. If they wanted to make it 20 rounds, they could have at least included the option to save after a round so that you could revisit it later (yeah, in case I didn't mention it earlier, there's no way to save your progress mid-challenge)... once you start you're in for the long haul).
So... there you have it. Once again, Borderlands is a game I really enjoy. Mad Moxxi's Underdome riot just didn't do it justice. I'll be keeping an eye out for the next DLC pack... and I hope they wise up and give us what we want: more levels, more skill points, better guns. I'd also like to see the bank from Mad Moxxi patched into the major cities so that you can access your stored items from there as well.