Friday, September 28, 2012

Borderlands 2 - First Impressions


Goodbye, cruel world!

It's finally arrived! The world of Pandora is back to sap every last bit of free time from your life. I finished Borderlands I with three of the four characters, all DLC included, so I know that of which I speak. Let me start this out with a couple of caveats. As the title indicates, this is a collection of first impressions. I have leveled my assassin to 20 and reached level 5 with the other three characters in order to sample their powers, but I am by no means finished with the game. Also, there will be several spoilers contained herein, so reader beware. 

Borderlands 2 is most definitely a sequel in the truest sense of the word. If you were expecting any monumental changes in the newest iteration of 2K's masterful mix of first-person shooter and RPG, then you will be sorely disappointed. It looks, plays, and even smells a little bit like Borderlands I. That said, the character classes are brand new and there are plenty of tweaks to make this a whole lot of fun for even those who played the last one until they were sick of it. Imagine that you got a new album and played it so much that you'd played it out in a after a couple of months. You loved it so much you ruined it. Well, guess what? It's two years later and the band is back with a new album that's even better than the first one. Get to rockin'!

Paraquat Punishment


Besides being the name of my favorite rocket launcher, Paraquat Punishment is also the heading I've chosen for the segment of the text where I talk about the stuff from the game I like. See the connection there? Stuff I like? Gun I like? See how it...ugh, nevermind. 

The primary thing that's great about Borderlands 2 is that they didn't screw it up. They stuck to the winning formula. Many familiar characters are back including Marcus, Crazy Earl, Dr. Zed, Moxxi, nutbag Dr. Tannis, and Scooter, who has developed a crush on his 400-pound sister in order to fill out the more Arkansian of his personality traits. We also see vault hunters from the last go around. Roland and Lilith play important roles in the main campaign. Mordecai sits drunk in a tower, but snipes some enemies from afar for your benefit. I haven't run into Brick yet, but I'm sure he'll make an appearance. 

It seems like the programmers took an If it ain't broke, don't fix it attitude toward Borderlands 2. There is still a premium on ammunition. You can't rely on a single gun type because, more often than not, you'll run out halfway through a mission. I even found myself running dry with two gun types. Just like the first one and in the tradition of history's best shooters, it has the ability to make you feel like some sort of post-apocalyptic super ninja when you get into the zone and critically headshot three enemies in a row. I literally caught myself saying, "Heh, heh," along with my Assassin after a particularly scrumptious string of headshots. I jinxed him. He owes me a Coke. 


Enough With the Old, What's New?!!


I've spent a lot of time talking about how great Borderlands 2 is because it's like Borderlands I, but it's not exactly the same game. First, and most obviously, the vault hunters have changed. Instead of Mordecai's Bloodwing, the Assassin class has a power that is somewhat similar to Lilith's Phase Shift. When activated, the Assassin sends out a holographic decoy and becomes invisible. He is then free to either run to safety or attack unaware enemies with a significant damage bonus. Once leveled up, the decoy will explode at the exact moment Zero (the Assassin) becomes visible again. This little trick comes in handy for the Kamikaze enemies, robot and human alike. It is also handy if you don't want to have to fight your way back through an entire area. You don't always make it, but it's worth a shot rather than spending another 15 minutes fighting your way back through a bunch of guys you just finished murdering.

There are also enough new characters to keep you wondering who is fighting on which side for a while. Ellie, Scooter's sister is a personal favorite. Handsome Jack is your new nemesis. He has a diamond-encrusted pony that he named Butt Stallion in your honor. Sir Hammerlock is a half-machine, half-Australian cyborg who really isn't all that funny, to be honest. Tiny Tina, on the other hand, is a 13-year-old psychopath to whom we are introduced as she explodes a tied-up baddie using a Looney Tunes-style ACME explosives detonator. 



I didn't get to spend as much time with the classes other than the Assassin, but I leveled enough to at least try all of their powers. Maya the Siren's power is called Phaselock and is quite similar to Singularity from Mass Effect 3. She temporarily traps enemies in midair, allowing for free shots on a damage-enhanced and defenseless psycho. Axton, the Commando, is the closest to the previous game's version. The only real difference I can tell at this point is the lack of a shield to hide behind. He deploys a turret again but this time it actually seems able to do some good. In the first one, I didn't really feel like the turret was pulling its weight until I'd leveled it enough to shoot missiles. In Borderlands 2, a single turret is capable of taking out multiple enemies, even at level 5. The Gunzerker, this iteration's version of Brick, is able to double-fist weapons while his power is active. It doesn't exactly explain how he manages to reload while holding and firing two assault rifles, but who cares?! We'll just have to suspend our disbelief for a minute and enjoy it. Aiming becomes a bit tricky, but that doesn't really matter when you're blazing away with two elemental death machines! Spray and pray is what I always say! 

Bonerfarts

As much as it pained me to do so, I was able to find some flaws in the game. None of these are enough to cause me to recommend against it, but they're worth mentioning as they can get annoying in those marathon 10-hour sessions. First and most definitely foremost is the fact that your character auto-equips weapons from the ground if X is held down. For the uninitiated, holding down X is a way to pick up multiple pieces of loot in Pandora at a single time. This avoids the need to pick up each individual piece of ammo from a rack. It also keeps you from wandering around a sandbox for minutes at a time picking up each item dropped by a felled boss. However, there's a down side. When your reticle is resting over a weapon on the ground, if you hold X too long, rather than just picking it up, the game will swap out that weapon for the one you're currently wielding, no matter how much more under-powered and potentially ineffective it may be at the time. I had to replay the entire Dam Fine Rescue mission (the longest one to date) because of this little gem. You see, when your inventory is full and you perform this action, it tosses your current weapon in the air and equips the one from the ground. My rare, powerful pistol went flying off a cliff, replaced mid-battle by a flaccid, impotent shotgun that could barely make a spitter skag flinch, much less the Hyperion Badass Battlebot that proceeded to quickly dispatch my emasculated Zero. This problem was constant in the first Borderlands and it looks like we're all going to have to suffer through it on this one, too. 

Also making a return appearance from the control scheme in the first game are the vehicles, or, more specifically, the way you enter and exit. If I'm playing by myself, what are the chances I'm going to want to hop into the gunner's seat and just sit there, not moving, in the middle of a firefight? Does the term "sitting duck" mean anything to you? Just put me in the driver's seat, Gearbox. If I'm playing co-op you can open up the gunner's seat. Other than that, leave that option off, wouldja? 

Other than some corny one-liners by the Assassin that remind me of the poorly-translated Japanese announcer from Soul Caliber ("For the weak that have died in vain, he unleashes his blade in the name of vengeance!"), that's all I can find to complain about. It's some pretty minor stuff, I know. The game is just that good. 

When it comes down to it, this game is nearly perfect. It's a nerd's dream. It has all the weapons, leveling, and violence of Modern Warfare along with all the looting, exploration, and endless missions of Skyrim. What sets Borderlands 2 apart is its sense of humor. The writers for this game are among the most clever in the business today. Claptraps are again a major source of the humor that makes Borderlands 2 so enjoyable, so I leave you with the Claptrap Dubstep track: 


The Math

Objective score: 9/10

Bonuses: +1 for the sense of humor. It's the humor that makes Borderlands more than just  a shooter, more than just an RPG.

Penalties: -1 for not getting rid of that annoying auto-equip feature!

Nerd coefficient: 9/10. "Very high quality/standout in its category."

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