Having spend a
reasonable ludicrous amount of time playing Borderlands 2, I thought I’d share some of my insights on the game so far. Being a huge fan of the first title, it was inevitable that I would end up drawing some comparisons between the two. On its own, Borderlands 2 is lots of fun with lots of places to see, things to do and people/creatures to see. Compared to its predecessor, it’s got both improvements and some shortcomings.
Borderlands 2 offers four character classes, exactly like the previous game, with each of them suited to a different style of play. Although at first glance the new classes seem very similar to the old ones, only the Commando has retained the same action skill (an automatic turret similar to the one used by the Soldier in the first game). The Siren has now been turned into a controller/supporter with her new ability to freeze enemies and heal teammates, substantially different from her previous incarnation that could turn invisible. It is the new "Hunter" that can now become sort of invisible for a short period of time, producing an illusion (similar to the ones used by Lori in Thor and Avengers Assemble) to set up a surprise attack or escape from a tight spot. The Gunzerker may resemble Brick in that he favours a "rush’em" approach, but he mostly relies on powerful close quarters guns rather than melee attacks (and in the process becomes much more useful than Brick, arguably the most underpowered character in the first Borderlands). Add to these an all-new character, the Mechromancer, that was released shortly after via DLC and you’re bound to get widely different game experiences until you find and settle on your favourite character.
The familiar 3 skill trees per character skill structure has been retained, but the number of skills has been greatly increased. The new skills work well together and can be used to customise your character’s main action skill to a greater degree than the previous game allowed. Some, like the Mechromancer’s Anarchy skill, can change the entire way you play the game. It is fun to experiment with combining skills to play on your strength and weaknesses and thankfully respecs (resetting and reassigning your skill points) remain cheap and easily accessible.
Borderlands 1 had a more or less bland story of hunting for alien artifacts that merely served as background to the game’s hi-octane action sequences. Borderlands 2 sees a greater effort to produce a deeper, more involved background story. Although you will still be looking for an alien vault in the new game as well, the main story focuses on themes of liberty, camaraderie and revenge. While it is not world-class storytelling by any stretch, the campaign offers a largely coherent story, with some surprise twists along the way and a few dark moments to balance the wackiness Pandora is known for. The game’s main villain (Handsome Jack) is introduced at the very beginning of the game, giving the writers enough time to develop him as a character and set up some epic confrontations involving him. In short, Handsome Jack gets all the opportunities that Commadant Steele from the previous game missed. Many of the characters we grew to love from the previous game also make appearances, making the game world look familiar. There’s a lot more voice-acting for all the major supporting characters this time, which is a good thing (especially for Marcus, I just love that character).
Borderlands 2 retains the wacky humour of its predecessor, but… While it is based on the same fuck-the-system, anti-corporate mentality as the original game, it doesn’t feel fresh this time round. I got the feeling that the writers tried to push the game’s humour to the next level, but in many cases it felt like they were trying too hard (anyone who listened to Handsome Jack’s "butt stallion" joke near the beginning of the game will know what I mean). It’s not bad by any means and there’s still a lot of things to laught at (like more midgets, yay!), but for me it lacks the punch packed by the first game.
We get to explore more of Pandora in Borderlands 2. Almost all of the locations visited in the second game are new, with the exception of the Badlands from the beginning of the first game which we get to visit again near the end of Borderlands 2. While the first game had the same dusty wastelands for pretty much all of its major areas, Borderlands 2 introduces arctic tundras, frozen subterranean caverns, even grassy highlands. I liked the various terrains on offer, but the barren desert areas of the first game emphasised that Pandora is a ravaged planet and you only get a couple of desert areas in Borderlands 2. I would have liked more.
Maybe it’s just me, but I got the impression that Pandora shrank in its latest incarnation. The main campaign doesn’t offer as many areas as Borderlands 1 did. I did not find many open areas as rich as let’s say the original game’s Badlands or Rust Commons. Sure, some of them feel bigger, but they are also much emptier – wastes to be quickly traversed in one’s car to get to the next mission.
Speaking of cars, the designers got stingy with the number of vehicle stations available on most maps. In the old game you were never too far away from one, should something happen to your vehicle. Now, if you find yourself without a car you may have to walk a considerable distance before getting a new one. Definitely inconvenient, sometimes a major pain.
Borderlands has become known for the incredible amount of randomly-generated guns and other goodies. It is the Diablo of first-person shooters if you like. Borderlands 2 has actually increased the variation of weapons and shields available. You can have rifles that fire grenades, shotguns that eject balls of elemental matter, shields that absorb enemy bullets and add them to your own ammo and lots of other interesting thingies. All good stuff, right?
However, the game seems unwilling to part with any of the really good stuff. First of all, the amount of loot chests has been seriously reduced compared to the first game, and many of the chests are in protected or isolated locations that force you to go seriousy out of your way searching for them or disabling their protections. Second, the enemies themselves, even the bosses, drop very dissappointing loot. In the first Borderlands, I had 4-5 orange-grade weapons by the time I finished both playthroughs of the main campaign. In Borderlands 2, I had a grand total of two, one being a rocket launcher I found in the first playthrough and thus completely outmatched by the enemies encountered in the second playthrough.
The enemies themselves scale up quite abruptly and I found myself on several occassions outmatched due to lack of decent weapons. Even after finishing the main game and beginning to do farming raids on the big bosses, the loot continues to dissapoint. I must have killed the final boss of the campaign 30 to 40 times, with no orange equipment dropped. I’ve heard about people who grinded for hours to get the Bee shield, while I got it on my first attempt (imagine that). Luck and the whims of the Borderlands Gods play a big role, but the lack of any serious reward can become disheartening.
Even if you do find something worthwhile (and the game does offer a lot of nice unique items as quest rewards), you will soon struggle withe the general lack of sufficient storage space. Even with full upgrades (which take quite a while to unlock) you end up having about one-third of the storage space you had in the first game (combining both backpack + bank slots). Who thought this was a good idea?
Gearbox needs to have a serious look at the loot tables of the game’s enemies and introduce some more carrots to go with the big sticks they wield. And more space to stash your stuff wouldn’t harm either.
So far two DLC campaigns have been released for Borderlands 2: Captain Scarlett and Her Pirate’s Booty, and Mr Torgue’s Campaign of Carnage. Compared to the first two DLCs released for Borderlands 1 (Zombie Island of Dr Ned, and The Underdome) they are more well-designed, with interesting characters and storyline. I would definitely recommend both, since they introduce new gear as well. Mr Torgue’s Campaign of Carnage actually made me chuckle quite a few times with its references to the world of competitive online FPS games.
But again: I kill not one but two bosses at the end of the Campaign of Carnage, I open a new vault and the game rewards me with a shower of white, green and blue gear?
WTF Gearbox? Better loot ASAP!