I'm disappointed. A month ago, when I published my post on the first Borderlands, I immediately dove into the sequel. I was immediately impressed. It seemed as if my cares had been answered by a divine spirit!
I wanted to start out this post like this: "As a follow up to my previous post, we pick up with the sequel to Borderlands where I can thankfully say that the start of the game is not so disappointing as the entirety of Borderlands. Why? There's characters that interact with other characters - that aren't you! A boss fight within the first five minutes reminiscent of what took probably an hour to get to in the first game! Obvious setting up of Handsome Jack as a megalomaniacal sycophant bent on maintaining world domination! That last point is reminiscent of the first game since all he does is taunt you via commlink, but it gets a pass for now. There are more instances of running into and interacting with other characters that more than make up for the majority of people interacting with you from a distance.
"Another point to note is that the environments are no longer similar frames of dirt and rust. In Borderlands, as Gearbox sought to form Pandora as a desolate and uncaring place left behind by humanity, most of the playable areas with the exception of the three or four at the end and the DLC, were large dust bowls and shantytowns made of old, decrepit structures. No more. With the introduction of more explorable frozen biomes and other varied environments, Pandora is now a living place."
Needless to say, after about forty hours in, all of these promising features have disappeared like dust in the wind.
Now, this isn't to say that Borderlands 2 is a bad game. It just isn't a good game. Decent. Mediocre. Fuck my life.
Let's take a moment to talk about what I originally thought was great about the game, starting with the characters. It's true that the characters are more expressive and do interact with each other. One of the best examples is the conversation between Karima and Dave that ends, let's say, explosively. To their credit, Gearbox and Anthony Burch have made a lot of discussion on how they've successfully done their characters. Sure, fine. But as the game drags on, these interactions become more and more sproadic and filled with the same, distant discussions that you were used to. I've found myself slogging on from the quest givers to the objectives almost immediately after I talk to them just to get on with things at this point. Oh, and yes, Handsome Jack is an asshole that has a weakness which you exploit, making him a more dynamic character for all of the twenty bullet-filled minutes that you fight a major encounter, and then it's back to spite. Hooray.
Landscapes are what they are: dumping grounds for monsters before you run through a tight corridor-filled maze of more monsters and bullet sponges. Sure, there's more variety now, and the variety is amazing and attractive. However, this attractiveness feels empty and squandered with static characters, most of which don't even end up on the map until you pass within a certain distance of the doors/holes/caves/boxes they spawn from.
On to new criticism. The combat still feels spongy. I shoot things, they shoot me, we all walk away eating lead breakfasts unless they're dead, which they invariably are. What makes this worse is that it is painfully obvious that Gearbox's designers come from the "more is better" approach to challenge design. That means, as you get better as a player and your character grows more powerful through the combination of better guns and better skills, the most the designers saw fit (again, I might add) to throw at you that they didn't earlier is, you guessed it, more powerful sponges and more of them. It doesn't take a lot to turn enjoyment into tedium than repetition, and Borderlands 2's encounters get tedious quick simply because of the sheer number and lack of difference in the different enemies.
Most damning of all are the boss fights, which held so much promise. Sure, they are there and they are made more of a big deal. Worse, though, is that most bosses are simply reskins of basic enemies with different equipment and maybe another ability. Seriously, look at the bosses and see which enemy they fight like. Chances are, they're an exact copy.
At least the guns have character. That's certainly been improved, and that makes it more exciting to find equipment and test it out, but it certainly doesn't make me want to actually use it.
I would, at this point, talk about the plot, which there is more of, but it's hampered down by the same issues that plague any conversation in the game and is told in the sole context of quests. Oh, and it's relatively generic with added character flavor for a bit of a spicy stew of fun doled out at infrequent intervals. But that takes more effort and would be retreading on prior points, so it's not worth delving into. Besides, as per the topic of these posts, most of you already know it anyways.
So there's that. Borderlands 2 is still trying to be an MMO with guns, but ends up as a mediocre shared world experience, for use of that new buzz word. It's really disappointing because I wanted so much for this game to be better. Here's hoping Gearbox can't find a way to fuck up Homeworld, but I've likely already jinxed that to oblivion.
Oh, there's a contest on that's half over. That's kept me slogging through the game for the last two weeks. You're welcome.
Today I'm starting what I hope will be the start of a regular column, titled "Late to the Party." Basically the way it works is this: I, like probably a majority of gamers who are also students, can't necessarily afford all the newest games all the time. So I buy the majority of my games through Steam sales. Who wouldn't? The sales provide a great method of acquiring good games that you may have missed the first time around for much less than they would be otherwise, primarily because they're several years old. Sometimes I'll get a newer game because it's good, and I'll discuss them too, but for now, we start with an older one, because it's the one I'm finishing first.
Borderlands is Gearbox's seminal shooter, originally released in 2009. The game was lauded at its release simply for the sheer amount of content that was put into the game; Gearbox made big notes specifically on the large amount of weapons present to players through its generation system, claiming "gazillions of guns" were available. This is pretty much true: most everything you kill will drop some kind of loot, usually a weapon or ammo or cash, and there's a large number of ammo crates, trash dumpsters, weapons chests and lockers, among other containers available that contain lots of miscellaneous gear. It's pretty much an MMO player's wet dream in terms of sheer drops.
One of the real stand out portions of Borderlands is the setting. The world of Pandora is a place where you get the real feeling that something went plain wrong in its history. A desert world with more than one sun abandoned by industries seeking fortune leaving you and your friends, all fortune hunters, to seek a legendary fortune that may or may not exist... you get the idea. Since it's been several years, SPOILERS: the fortune exists, but you don't get any of it. However, the planet itself is what's really interesting. There's a lot going on in Pandora's history, from long seasons alternating between dry and wet evidenced by boats scattered around the landscape, to a history of humanity landing and then leaving several times before you even entered the picture. There's no trade coming into Pandora, so all the equipment is hand-me-down, including the vehicles that Scooter lovingly restores every time yours gets shot to pieces and the towns themselves. No one trusts anyone, let alone you, and this may or may not have anything to do with the fact that most of the locals are tenement laborers and freed prisoners left to their own psychotic devices. The world has a life of its own just waiting beneath the surface of the game.
Unfortunately, that's basically where it stays. Everything about the world itself is displayed either through static conversations, the written pieces proceeding and following every quest, or through what you can see and guess about your surroundings. Pandora, aside from the multitudes of meat puppets waiting to try and kill you by attracting the most lead and a few static set pieces that are supposed to be quest givers, is lifeless. It's almost an oxymoron to say that given the fact that there is so much possibility written out in the landscape. But that's basically it. Characters have motivations and personality, but all of that is either thrown at you with a fetch quest or passed out with a few witty one liners. I suppose it should be telling about how much character development or even interaction exists when for the first section of the game, and indeed the good majority of the quests, you're either interacting with a bounty board that has job listings or getting told by disembodied figures through your communicator where to go and who to kill next.
The lifelessness of the planet says nothing about the gameplay. I know this game is intended to be played with friends, and maybe that would help it, but I can't help but think that locale after locale of meat puppets strung together by what otherwise could be linear pathways with a bare modicum of motivation would get boring and uninspired even if I had three buddies sitting with me exploring the world. Sure, the weapons can be ridiculous at the best of times but most of them are instantaneously pawned away for a few more useless dollars that you horde while waiting for the shops to randomly fill with a new selection of also useless items. These are the same weapons that were the selling point for the entire game, all relegated to limited inventory space or sold for more useless points. "Uninspired" seems a shame to say anymore, but that's what this is. The few highlights were the pitifully few boss fights which gave you not only more character development than literally any other individual in the game with the exception of Tannis, but after the second "find all five of Tannis' lost journals" quest you know enough about her to be disappointed by the fact that all she does is send you to the next location. It's sad because these were some of the more interesting characters, even if they were trying to eviscerate you. "Eviscerate" is also a stretch given just how painless death and defeat is, when immediately after you fall to gunfire you're given the chance to respawn a few seconds of mildly inconvenient walking back from where you were only to adjust your strategy and press on.
"Mildly inconvenient" seems to wrap up Borderlands pretty well. Between bland quests, an abundance of useless equipment, uninspiring characters, and a world that is literally bursting with possibility, it's disappointing to say that one of the biggest anticipation's of its release year is such a drag now when stacked up next to experiences like Bioshock Infinite and Bastion. Even Brink was more interesting, and I must be one of the three people who actually liked Brink.
If you haven't played Borderlands yet, you're better off finding a Youtube video summing up the highlights. This isn't to say that there isn't interesting bits, but they're hours apart, and those are hours your better served playing something else. Here's hoping the sequel makes up for all of the lost potential.
Seriously. Time to start a blog on a video game site. What shall we talk about? OBVIOUSLY NOT VIDEO GAMES, NERDS.
Just kidding, we'll talk about video games. I'm going to try and post weekly on a game I've been playing, writing up the experience and how to get into the game if possible. There might be a post every now and then with things going on and ideas to consider as we go along and we both play games. Maybe I'll figure out this youtube thing and record video (which, if anyone knows how to reliably do this, I'd appreciate some help!)