Game: Borderlands 2
Recommended price: $20 + $10 season pass
Metacritic Score: 89
Completion Time: 30+ hours
Buy If You Like: Funny and nonsensical cel-shaded FPS games
Borderlands 2 is the cel-shaded, “why so serious?” smash-hit FPS pseudo-Diablo-clone follow-up to the original breakout Borderlands. Taking control of one of the four classes (or five with DLC), you set off on an adventure of mayhem and random looting across the now-much-more-varied landscape of Pandora, helping the heroes of the original game try and stop Handsome Jack from taking over the world.
To be honest, I am having a difficult time reviewing Borderlands 2 after having spent 130+ hours playing it. If you played the original, BL2 is better, longer, and more… Borderlandy than before. If you haven’t played Borderlands before, well, prepare to experience one of the frighteningly-few games out there with a distinct style. Said style might be nonsensical ultraviolence, but at least it is consistent and generally amusing.
The basic flow of the game will be familiar to anyone who has played a Diablo derivative: get quest, kill mobs, get random loot, repeat. There is a decent range and variance of mobs, but the AI controlling them is not especially robust; every encounter either involves mobs rushing to melee or shooting from range. In fact, since all the visible mobs aggro after the first shot and many mobs simply don’t exist until you get within range, an entire swath of the strategic playbook (Stealth, sniping) consists of blank pages. This is no different than what occurred in the original Borderlands, so if it was fine for you then, it will continue being fine now.
What saves BL2 can be summed up in three words: guns, guns, and guns. The trick that the Borderlands series pulls off is not merely emulating the loot-centric gameplay of Diablo, but how the loot itself can change how you approach the encounters. If a really kickass shotgun drops, for example, you might find yourself suddenly getting more up in psychos’ faces than you were just five minutes ago. While the character talent trees stamp down on this more freeform behavior by virtue of weapon-specific bonuses, respecing is only a trip to town away. And sometimes that minigun that shoots missiles is just too much fun to fire to care about trivialities like your +15% critical hits with sniper rifles.
Once you complete the game proper, you unlock “True Vault Hunter Mode” which allows you to redo the game from the beginning while keeping your level, cash, and gear. The enemies in this mode get new abilities, more health, and hit significantly harder as you plow your way to the level cap of 50. While this difficulty extends the life of the game quite a bit, it also leads into some counter-intuitive behavior. You see, sidequests typically reward you with unique items that are scaled to the level you were when you started them. Ergo, the “correct” way to play TVHM difficulty is to skip ALL of the sidequests until you reach level 50, and then go and complete them for the highest-level version of the unique items. Otherwise, the unique items may as well not exist, as they will inevitably be replaced by even the most generic level 50 drops.
As I mentioned before, I have clocked in over 130 hours into Borderlands 2, with around ~20 of those hours being from two of the DLCs. Although I chose to play solo the whole way through, I’m positive that the experience would have been even more entertaining with a group of friends. Hell, the DLCs even include the equivalent of 4-man raid bosses, if you are into that sort of thing. By the time you start to question why, exactly, you are chain-farming the last boss for legendary drops, Borderlands 2 will likely have generated twice as many hours of entertainment as your last non-Skyrim single-player games combined.
So get in there and start shooting some faces.
If you were not already aware, SoE is running a Triple Station Cash day this Friday, the 21st of December. The normal exchange rate is basically 500 SC = $5, so this is a pretty outstanding deal… provided you are into SoE games like, I dunno, PlanetSide 2. I already picked up two $15 prepaid cards at Walmart, which comes with a bonus 500 SC on top of the book value of 1500 SC. On Triple Station Cash days, each $15 card gives 6000 SC. With 23 hours already invested in the game, I figure $30 to unlock (nearly) ALL the things is fair play. If I hold out until another weapon promotion (e.g. they bundle 4-6 weapons together at a discount), those dollars stretch even farther.
In other news, if you have been playing Borderlands 2 lately (or stopped and plan on picking it back up), you should know that they dropped a Shift Code on their Twitter feed that awards 5 Golden Keys. Additionally, there is another Shift code as part of their Claptrap video promotion, bringing the total Golden Key haul to 6. If you have Borderlands 2 on PC, I’ll go ahead and save you some clicks:
- 5 Keys: WT5TB-XC5ZC-CX3T3-BBT3B-B35WB
- 1 Key: KJ5BT-FBKSK-KXJ3T-3BTJT-FJX5C
I haven’t played Borderlands 2 in a few weeks, but plan on booting it back up when the next DLC rolls around (I have the Season Pass); this amount of free uber-gear was enough to get me to log back in to at least redeem the codes. To be honest, I have been increasingly amazed that Gearbox hasn’t been selling Golden Keys for $1 apiece or whatever, as there was definitely a time period in which I would have bought some. On the other hand, I sort through their Twitter feed on a daily basis on the hunt for Shift Codes, so I guess that comes out as a bigger win for them.
It sometimes depresses me to think about how different a game experience can be depending on the singular decision you make at the character select screen.
As you might have seen down in the Now Playing sidebar, I have playing Borderlands 2 (BL2) for the past couple of weeks. While it might be easy to think that the character select problem would be worse in MMOs – by virtue of spending 100+ hours instead of 30-70 hours – I actually think it can be more important in shorter, single-player games given you are less likely to replay them.
Right now, I am level 40 in the New Game+ Mode as Zer0, the assassin character that can basically focus either on sniper rifles or melee attacks. While my power to go invisible while projecting a holographic decoy has been useful (I have literally one-shot a few boss fights with a melee attack), I am finding it significantly less useful when all the enemies seem to have 10x more health this time around. Also, the power is pretty useless against the larger bosses with their instant-kill melee attacks¹.
I could technically respec to a more sniper rifle-focused build to get around this problem, but it occurs to me that BL2 characters sans their special move are basically all the same. In other words, a sniper-built Zer0 that doesn’t use the Deception skill regularly is just a gimped version of a sniper-built Axton/etc. Plus, it really annoys me that Zer0 is the only character without a passive health regen talent, meaning one of my equipment slots is permanently taken up with a health regen relic.
In other words, I have a pretty big case of Other Class Envy at the moment.
Does it really matter all that much? No. But that is kinda the problem, too. I went ahead and created new characters for all the “classes” and leveled them up enough to unlock their special abilities. But the thought of plowing through the entire game on normal again, which I have already started via Zer0 with New Game+, was just too much to bear. The gameplay would be different with a different class, but not that different. Hence the unlikelihood of ever seeing how the other classes play out. The waveform has collapsed, and there is just the one timeline.
Which got me to thinking: does anyone else worry about picking the “wrong” class at the character select screen in a new game? And the followup question: how do you end up picking a character?
For me, I try to do a little research on how a class is supposed to function by the end of the game before I even start, including looking at every talent tree. Then, I usually get over my inevitable decision paralysis by just picking whatever sounds interesting to me at that moment. My first WoW character was a warlock because I heard they were rare but prized members, crushing their enemies under the weight of a thousand DoTs; I abandoned it somewhere in the Hinterlands, and rerolled my namesake paladin on the basis of always liking D&D paladins but chaffing at the Lawful Good requirement. With BL2, I chose Zer0 because Lilith’s special ability in the original Borderlands was handy in escaping otherwise certain death, and Zer0′s sounded the closest to that.
Around 70 hours into BL2, I kinda wish I would have just picked Maya. Or Axton. Or… yeah.
I would settle for being allowed to start new alts out at level 20ish. Gearbox, make it happen.
¹ I am aware that a level 50 Zer0 with a few specialized pieces of equipment can solo the 4-player raid bosses. Unfortunately, that does not particularly help my enthusiasm gap right now.
I have been playing Borderlands 2 quite a bit lately.
At one point, I had a mission to rescue a dude at the top of this dam. I fought my way through several rooms, saw some interesting stuff, solved some pseudo-puzzles, killed all the things. As I bust out of the final door onto the dam proper, everything goes to hell: the orbiting space station starts launching artillery shells, armed robots start landing, bullets start flying everywhere in this now-three-way battle royale. I take down a few more enemies with my corrosive sniper rifle, and then crouch behind some cover while I reload.
I emerge from cover while tossing a holographic decoy out, stealthing to the first robot and meleeing it in the goddamn face. As robotic limbs fly everywhere, I switch to a ridiculously large shotgun, aim, and fire at a second robot. The shotgun shoots 17 pellets that each individually explode on contact, and firing it sounds like God slamming a car door shut.
Whump. Chik-Chik. Whump. Chik-Chik.
As I stroll down the middle of the ramparts like I own the place (and I do), I am suffused with a feeling of Badass. This whole sequence is staged, minus the explosive shotgun; the designers specifically put this music, with these enemies, in this order. It is the definition of themepark content, as single-player games are wont to be. But that doesn’t matter. I had been having fun before, but this was on its own elevated level. And after the sequence is over and I move on to the next (decidedly less cool) quest it occurs to me to ask: when was the last time I felt this way while playing a game?
I had to go back, waaaay back to my guild’s first Mimiron kill¹ in WoW. Like I said, I have had fun in plenty of games in the past three years. I have done some crazy moves in Deus Ex, there are some epic moments in the Mass Effect trilogy, and double-dagger Elementalist in GW2 was great fun originally. But the specific feeling I had owning faces up on Bloodshot Ramparts? Very fleeting, very rare, but much appreciated.
If you guys have experienced something similar in a game lately, feel free to share below.
¹ Please excuse the editing and the decidedly non-epic music accompaniment. 2009 was a long time ago.
In non-game related news, I received a promotion and am thusly working different hours than I did previously. Which is good news, of course, aside from the fact that I went from 12-8pm to 8-5pm. Between “losing” an hour of my day to lunch at work and the additional time lost due to a heavier commute both ways, my gaming/blogging time is getting pretty constricted. Hopefully an upcoming move will alleviate some of this issue. Rest assured that I feel all of the pain in your heart when you open your browser and do not see my smiling prose greeting you.
In game-related news, I just started Borderland 2 and I think it is pretty keen.