Borderlands 2 is probably in my top 3 most played games. I beat it once with each character on release, then played all the characters again with my brother, then I picked it up on PC later and beat it two more times, came back to it years later to try and get to OP10 (the highest level) before Borderlands 3 came out, and then they released a new DLC while I was playing it. I know I spent over 300 hours on the 360, and Steam says 170 hours on PC, and now I have almost 35 more hours on VR. Its safe to say that I really, really enjoy the game’s feedback loop. But I wanted to talk about it in the context of VR, because I find that kind of interesting.
First off, if VR was treated like its own console, that would make me incredibly happy. While I do enjoy the games like Budget Cuts and Arizona Sunshine, the majority of hours I put into VR have been Skryim, Fallout, Serious Sam 3, and now Borderlands 2 (with an enormous, but not lengthy shoutout to Hellblade). Most games designed for the platform don’t have the scope or the budget to put out what larger studios can do, so it leads to a shorter, shallower experience that what you get by porting. In addition, all of the games listed above can be played in roomscale, or just by sitting on your butt, which I do. I will be honest and say that I am out of shape (fancy way of saying fat) and standing and moving around the room is fun in short bursts, but for a gaming session, I need a couch. This makes it important to say that all the games above have full locomotion options available, which I enabled - that is to say, no teleportation, no on rails movement, just straight up walking. On my old computer, I did occasionally get some weird nausea symptoms from it, including cold sweats, but on the new computer it took me no time at all to get my sea legs. I really think graphical fidelity eliminates that part of it, because it used to be a bigger deal and I am driving the car at full blast, running and jumping, and falling long distances with no issues this time around, but your mileage may vary on that. As a side note on Senua, third person platforming works very well in VR, and so many times she popped out as a super real person unlike traditional gaming. It also has a tilt shift mode that makes her an adorable little Senua doll, and oh my god I just want to hug her.
So what makes the VR port fun? With all of the games, the combat is so much better, and it usually takes a little bit to ‘click’ before you realize how much better it is. In Serious Sam you have two guns that you can aim in an independent direction of where the other is shooting, be moving in a third direction, and looking in a fourth. In Skyrim you have the 1:1 motion tracking that Skyward Sword wanted (but you can still waggle to win, as haptic feedback just isn’t there). In Borderlands, there isn’t a lot that is too special - you can pretend to ADS, but really you are better off using the reticle and having the controller at your hip, but I feel like the aiming is slightly better than a mouse as far as how quickly you can find your target. What’s really fun is that the grenades are thrown to where you are aiming, so you can toss grenades completely behind you - very effective when you have AOE grenades, a chokepoint, and a group of enemies running after you.
Naturally, my favorite character is Zero, because I like sniping...the numbers get to insane values quickly, its methodical, and its damn ammo efficient. My expectations were not quite met for Borderlands with sniping in VR, and I have to talk about another game in VR called “The Nest”. The game has, unfortunately, changed from its original idea, but the original game was a pretty brilliant sniping experience. You had a sniper nest with a two foot high tall wall at the bottom and side walls. It tasked you to take out something like 20 targets with your sniper rifle, with incremental zoom settings. What was neat was I was setting up chairs to act as the virtual wall in the game, and using them to steady my aim. With one eye closed, I would pull the trigger to just before the point that it would fire as I lined up the shot on their head. Slowly exhaling, I would give it the last bit of force to let the bullet rip out, and unscope to view the robot’s head pop off and explode. It was a little bit like owning a Silent Scope arcade game, but slightly neater. So much of the gunplay in VR reminds me of the harsh reality that I would suck so hard if given an actual weapon. Iron sights are difficult to align against moving targets, the amount that you twist a gun when pulling the trigger, and how unsteady your hand is without bracing or supporting it on something else all add up making it very difficult to pick off targets with the cold efficiency of keyboard and mouse. This is also not helped by a horrible resolution on the headset, meaning that enemies heads at about 100 yards are an amorphous blob of pixels. Borderlands attempts to solve for sniping in a way that I haven’t seen yet, but almost makes sense canonically - you get a small screen on top of your gun that pops up when you hold down aim, showing you a picture in picture of where you are aiming. I wish it was more of a Silent Scope situation, but this approach does let you pop off pretty effectively.
VR makes you feel like this, kinda
However, there is another feature that makes sniping overpowered (as well as every other class, I’m sure): slow motion. Because the VR version is single player only, to aid you in being a badass, you get a rechargeable ability to slow down time. I’m not sure how it works, but I would say every 15 seconds you get a 5 second time slow window, and it seems like headshots/criticals shorten the cooldown and extend the window. At first I was trying to use this to slowly align my shots in the scoped view, bracing the controller against my knee, but I quickly adapted to the elusive CQC sniper. Each encounter involved popping slow mo, then jamming my gun in their gullet and firing away. This gives a very ‘Superhot’ feeling to the gameplay where you can imagine your vault hunter just destroying a battlefield with their superior reflexes. You can also do it with flair because of the 1:1 motion tracking, lining the gun to the side of their head or under their chin, or turning the whole dang sniper rifle sideways like a gangsta before assassinating the midget across the way. Your personal style adds a little bit of that flair, very much in a ‘if you are bored, you're boring’ kind of way. Eventually, I was finding guns and skills that rewarded this playstyle, most notably the elephant gun which deals insane damage but doesn’t come with a scope. Win/win, baby!
Now the game is very good - Had this game been released on its own as a VR exclusive game, I wouldn’t shut up about it - but I also would have so, so many complaints about it. Driving in VR is super annoying as the slightest bump throws your car in a circle and because driving is now first person, it is very disorientating. The HUD is just plain wrong for VR. I’m not sure if this is a ‘just me’ problem, but I can either see the top of the screen (the map / objectives) or the bottom of the screen (health/shield/ammo/experience) at one time. Fortunately, I know the game like the back of my hand at this point, so I have a pretty good feel for where I am going, otherwise it would be pretty unplayable like that. I have yet to figure out how to use the weapon wheel, which is bizarre - it shouldn’t be that complicated, but instead I’m just cycling through all 4 slots until I find the one I need. Not backbreaking, but could be better. You pick things up by aiming at them with your off hand and grabbing with that, so I often find myself shooting at items that I want out of some kind of perverse ritual. The biggest issue, though, is menuing. You thought it was bad normally! The game teaches you that trigger is OK and side button is Back. When you go to change your guns, and you select it, I don't know what happens, but it freaks out. In that menu, you have to use virtual dpad left to select the gun to replace, and about half the time it actually picks the gun that I want to replace instead of the gun I love and never want to leave. In stores, to see the expanded inventory you have to go to the bottom and hope an arrow appears that you have to click once for each item slot. Worse, its the same for finding quests, so if you don’t know exactly where to go for each of your quests (god help you if you take two or three), you have to scroll past every undiscovered quest in every location, one at a time, until you reach where you are currently to switch. If you do quests one at a time, it isn’t bad because it doesn’t come up, but that isn’t a good look for a looter shooter.
The final thing I want to bring up is just the attention to detail. Not what the game presents, but whether it’s Skyrim, Fallout, or Borderlands, you the player are forced into paying so much more attention in VR. You can’t glimpse at your pets or look at your phone while you traverse through levels and shoot baddies, so you start to notice things. I have been finding so many hidden chests throughout the game that I never noticed before. I am reading little posters left around. Looking at all the doodads with the guns (much more noticeable in Fallout4), seeing how they reload, and admiring the paint job is a fun little distraction as you move from point A to point B - I got a rare drop gun with a chrome skin, and I was constantly admiring just how shiny it was as I walked. When I first walked up to Lilith, I noticed just how short she was. Similarly, Brick is a giant. I am sure when I get to the last boss, the scale is going to be one of the more memorable things about the experience.