Why I Think Borderlands 2 Sucks (But I Like It Anyway!)

 

Borderlands 2 is a terrible game design. It’s boring, tedious, repetitive, and it never actually rewards the player. It’s obviously a successful design because people continue to play and enjoy it. But can you really, honestly say that it’s a great video game?

Hold on angry internet mob, put the pitchforks and torches down and lemme finish. I like both Borderlands 2 and its predecessor quite a lot and I think Gearbox’s latest is an across-the-board improvement. They’re fun, casual games that don’t really require much focused commitment or involvement other than spending a lot of time futzing around with character builds and all those oodles of weapons. Playing with friends is neat because you can shoot the shit while you shoot the bad guys. I’m glad that improvements were made like dropping those restrictive weapon specializations and adding the Badass goals and bonuses, which hugely increases the gameplay- and challenge.  But both Borderlands are absolutely terrible designs along a couple of different parameters.

The obvious ones are laid bare just by playing the game for an hour. The story is barely more interesting than the first one and the game world remains oddly barren, lifeless and remote, despite decent character writing that too often mistakes “attempts to generate memes” for “good”.  Personally, I’m pretty tired of characters being little more than quest dispensers in any game. That’s an aspect of MMORPGs that has consistently chased me away.

Quests are somewhat improved, a couple of them are a little more thoughtful and I like that some have optional goals. But by and large, it’s the same post-MMORPG find-and-fetch or kill X number of Y kind of affair. It’s still boring as hell to drive way the hell out to a waypoint and trundle around looking for an item you’re supposed to retrieve while shooting a bunch of bad guys that pretty much just run at you.

The gunplay is rudimentary at best outside of picking which shooting implement to use at a given time. Playing a Gunzerker makes the game feel almost like a Serious Sam title. Despite class abilities, extended elemental effects, and more enemy variety than the first game it’s still pretty basic, undynamic shooting action that really isn’t all that much fundamentally different from Doom.  Or Castle Wolfenstein 3D.

Further, there are no RPG elements in the game despite claims otherwise. Fiddlefarting over whether to sell Gun A that does X damage and has Y% of this effect or Gun B which does  X+1 damage but doesn’t have that effect but another is not role-playing. Nor is shopping for new class abilities with your new XP-purchased skill point. Those things are micromanagement, not role-playing.

More discreetly, Borderlands 2 sucks for the same reasons that the first one did. It’s the same silly, ultimately pointess loot grab where 99 percent of the loot you find is either not as good as what you already have, it’s something to give away to another player, or it’s more or less worthless.  Shops are stocked with the same kind of junk with the occasional daily deal there to tempt to you sell off your entire backpack. And don’t get me started on clicking on Pandora’s countless lockers and storage boxes. I don’t consider wandering around and picking up $2 and a pack of sniper rifle bullets over and over again to be gameplay and it’s definitely not great gameplay. I almost grimace when I see a bunch of green lights from a distance. I know I’ll go over there, collect my two dollars and sniper rifle bullets, and move on. Like a Pavlovian dog.

But it’s the leveling and character development that keeps you playing, right? That’s great, but the development curve and sense of progression in the game remains completely screwed up- it’s too long, drawn out, and rewards perseverance and grinding rather than good play and player skill-building. It takes like 10 levels to even unlock your character’s core class ability. Levels are few and far between, it seems, and it feels like you are constantly chasing a game-changing function that never materializes.

In fact, that kind of summarizes a lot of my complaints with how Borderlands 2 is designed. It’s a hamster wheel game. You’re constantly trying to advance or find a great new gun, but when you do either it’s rarely more than a minor, incremental change. I can’t believe they haven’t figured out a way to monetize this endless chase for something slightly better. Maybe Borderlands 3 will have you buy BorderBucks with your credit card to increase the odds of finding a purple weapon.  But for now you can pay the entry fee and just keep running and opening boxes between bouts of shooting, blissfully ignoring how empty the game actually is.

Of course, with co-op partners, it doesn’t feel quite so much like that and bear in mind that most of my time with the new game has been solo, although I played through every piece of the first game with a steady group. We didn’t bitch too much about the design.  We talked about movies, family, politics, whatever instead. The game was nearly secondary. Focusing on the game as a single-player design reveals things that are still present in co-op- you just don’t pay as much attention to them. You also tend to blissfully ignore how tedious, repetitive, and workmanlike so much of the design is.

Of course, the great art direction and visual panache, coupled with some funny jokes helps to glosses over all of that ugliness and eventually the game bests you. It is addictive. You fall into a kind of a dull-eyed stupor and just enjoy it for what it is- a dumb shooter with a lot of guns, quests, and four very divergent character options. There’s nothing wrong with that for so long as you’re having a good time. The good news is that Borderlands 2 is more fun to play than its predecessor. There’s plenty of activities to do with it and many hours of them at that. But I’m not under the illusion that it is in any way a great or progressive video game design.

85 Responses to “Why I Think Borderlands 2 Sucks (But I Like It Anyway!)”

  1. rhamorim September 26, 2012 at 7:20 pm #

    Barnes, don’t ever change. ;)

    By the way, have you played Guild Wars 2 yet? I’d love to see what you think of it.

    • Michael Barnes September 27, 2012 at 12:20 pm #

      I don’t have a PC that can play games. Plus, there’s that MMORPG allergy. I’ve read the posts here at over at QT3 about it, it sounds pretty decent.

      • agw September 27, 2012 at 7:59 pm #

        Given what you said about the quests, I’d say to stay away from GW2 even if you had the PC to handle it. The Secret World on the other hand… I’ve been amazed at the quality of the quests in that game, they constantly keep me intrigued and entertained. It has plenty of minor flaws, but in terms of quests it blows all other MMOs out of the water, including The Old Republic, which still had too many uninteresting filler side quests.

        • MartinBlank September 28, 2012 at 11:07 am #

          I agree with AGW.

          Sure, in Guild Wars 2 you don’t have to actually talk to an NPC to get the quest…. they just dynamically appear… but its still Kill X items, or interact with objects in the environment X amount of times etc until you are finished and get your XP and cash reward.

          The combat is certainly a bit more dynamic… not sure its enough to carry me through the hours it would take to get to max level….

  2. Beaushek September 26, 2012 at 8:09 pm #

    I don’t disagree with any of your points, except for the story complaints (but I’ll get to that), but I think that this is a problem with the genre as a whole. I see the same problems in every Baldur’s Gate, Diablo, Torchlight, and every MMO. Loot is rarely good, quests are rarely rewarding, and characters are rarely real. Not only a problem with this specific game. Definitely a problem with the genre as a whole.

    Without a doubt though, I disagree about your story complaints. I thought that a number of the revelations and plot twists were actually well done and the villain was one that I truly hated (after about half-way through the game). Is it a great plot line compared to other games? No, it’s alright. But I think you’re forgetting how truly terrible the plot was to the original Borderlands. Most people who beat Borderlands 1 couldn’t tell you what happened for most of the game. I don’t think that’ll be the case for this one.

    All in all though, great article. The design flaws of the game and genre are well shown.

    • Michael Barnes September 27, 2012 at 12:23 pm #

      Oh, I remember the story in the first Borderlands. There’s these guys on a bus and they meet a futuristic version of Spongebop Squarepants. Then they get in a dune buggy and ride around for 40 hours occasionally shooting midgets and monster dogs until they fight an octopus.

      Sounds like you’re definitely further on than me in terms of the story. But I’m still just not feeling it so far. That said, the question emerges if the game really even needs a story other than “shoot man, get gun”.

      • Beaushek September 27, 2012 at 6:35 pm #

        Ya, the story starts to pick up after level 24-ish. However, at that point I felt that the quality of the side missions died, so it’s a bit of a tit-for-tat. I can absolutely say 1 playthrough in that Handsome Jack is one of the best villains that I’ve experienced this generation of games. I truly hate that man.

        • Michael Barnes September 27, 2012 at 6:41 pm #

          His writing is really good. It’s actually funny, and they really sell the rich bastard angle.

          But damn son, 24 levels for it to get good? And people complained about FF13 taking ten hours to get rolling…

          • McKay September 28, 2012 at 10:43 am #

            Correction: People complained about FF13 taking 30hrs to get rolling. :)

      • Nick September 28, 2012 at 10:51 am #

        I think the story for Borderlands 2 is fascinating, but for one reason only: It seems to recognize that the story in Borderlands 1 didn’t make any freaking sense and spends a great deal of time trying to explain why the heroes fought an octopus in the first game.

        The “plot twist” in Borderlands 2, though, is incredibly groan-worthy. You’re going to see it coming from a mile away and watch, hand-firmly-placed-on-forehead, as the brainless NPCs walk right into an “Oh No, He Dinnit!”

        • Beaushek September 28, 2012 at 11:30 am #

          Borderlands 2 also shoves the story in the player’s face a lot more in this game. There was a story in B1, but it was hidden in quest dialog that noone took time to analyze. In B2, the creators understood that you may just have to line the action with large chunks of voiceover in order to get players to understand a character’s specific motives. Oh ya, and another big difference. Characters have motives. More motives than “vault, vault, vault” from the first game.

          I’m not sure which plot twist you’re talking about, but during the plot twists (which I’m defining as learning something about the world that was misconstrued and then revealed to the player), I thought the reveals were very well done and most not obvious at all.

  3. Yorioto September 27, 2012 at 3:07 am #

    Definitely stick with Gun A. Gun B is not as good as you think.

  4. kofhwang September 27, 2012 at 6:22 am #

    thanks for writing this. you voiced the complaints i always had with BL1 that i couldn’t ever figure out a way to express.

    it feels like these days people just want games to give them a list of things to do without really expecting improvement. even if the gamer sucks, they have things like “paid items” or easier modes/better items to ease out the way.

    i wish more time was spent really paying attention to creating a game that requires skill to improve and progress, like the old school games or dark souls/demons souls. rather than games these days which only seem to consist mainly of “attack”

    • Michael Barnes September 27, 2012 at 12:30 pm #

      Wow, you hit on something there.

      This concept of LISTING things for people to do in a game…yep, I think that pretty much blows. I hit around that idea as one of the reasons why I thought Skyrim (and all of Bethesda’s RPGs for that matter) fall flat. At the end of the day, they’re grocery lists for the OCD set that confuses busywork activities for gameplay or storyline.

      One thing that this listing thing shuts down is a sense of discovery…you can look at anything from Symphony of Night to Dark Souls and see how much richer and compelling games are where you have to use skill and knowledge to complete goals rather than simply visiting waypoints or ticking off tasks from a list.

      It’s one of the reasons, implicitly, why I think Borderlands is a casual game…the real, meaty gamer concepts like you’d find in a Witcher 2 or Souls game just aren’t there. Instead, you get a honey-do list.

  5. Ajax19 September 27, 2012 at 10:01 am #

    Great stuff, Barnes.

    I can’t disagree with any of this. I felt the exact same way about the first Borderlands, yet I still went out and bought “Borderlands 2″ on the first day without any real expectations that it would be all that better or different. It’s really not. There are some tweaks here and there and some amusing bits of dialogue, but that’s about it. Still, I am perfectly happy with the game. I wasn’t expecting anything else.

    I think it’s all a matter of expectations. There are some games that I buy simply for the joy of playing them with friends while drinking a large amount of beer. That’s exactly what happened on Saturday. My buddy came over, we cracked open “Borderlands 2″, played it for about 8-9 hours (until 5:30 am) while downing a case of beer. It was glorious fun.

    The are many games like this. They include any “Call of Duty” game, all three “Gears of War” games, the “Ghost Recon” games, “Borderlans” among some others. All I really want out of them is mainy some fun co-op action (I love co-op and am just not that competitive) and maybe some fun multiplayer-versus action. (I never play on-line versus. I am not particularly skilled at these games and really don’t like playing with strangers.) It’s all about having fun with friends, preferably side-by-side. I rarely have any idea what exactly I am doing in any of the “Borderlands” quests. I just follow the spot on the map and do what I’m told. I played through all of the “Gears of War 2″ and still don’t have the slightest clue what it was about or what we were doing, but had a blast.

    These are all games that I would (and have) never played on my own, but given the amount of fun I’ve had with them with friends, they are well worth the investment.

    • Michael Barnes September 27, 2012 at 12:35 pm #

      Yes, I think my expectations were definitely realistic as well and as such I’m enjoying the game for what it is. But you know, it’s funny you mention your beer blast…it starts to get into that question about board games were we’re asking if it’s the game on the table that’s fun to play or if it’s the social experience that counts. Is this social experience- not so much the design or the product itself- what gives Borderlands 2 a 90 score on Metacritic? If we take the beer blast out of the equation, is what’s left a game worth playing?

      I almost feel like the single player game is wilfully diminished and even discouraged BECAUSE it would force attention to the parts of game that pretty much suck.

      • coyote_blue September 27, 2012 at 8:56 pm #

        Audience expectations seem to color a Metascore more than we want to believe. Torchlight 2 got a billion Metascore, too. It is a solid Diablo clone, but the world was not shaken by anything in it, for me.

        But to a man, each review was “ZOMG SO MUCH F-ING BETTER THAN DIABLO 3 AND CHEAPER!” Metascore, meet roof.

        Is it our tone that determines these things? If we get exactly what we expected, and say so, is that the key to good Metascore? And is that a really good thing for the future?

  6. Jeff September 27, 2012 at 10:06 am #

    All valid points and well expressed, though I would have to point out quite simply that personally, I like running on this hamster wheel :)

    I think that is one complaint that has never truly dug roots with me when it comes to a great game – “it’s repetitive” – I think most games are pretty repetitive and the better measure of a game’s quality is not whether or not it’s repetitive, but how much you enjoy doing the same thing over and over again.

    And of course, as always, this is my opinion and everyone is entitled to theirs (I realize this is the internet and it doesn’t work that way for some reason but I am not going to get “butthurt” like others when people disagree).

    • Michael Barnes September 27, 2012 at 2:13 pm #

      And it’s a good hamster wheel, at least. A lot of folks like the hamster wheel, it’s a key foundation of a lot of very recent design.

      But let’s talk repetition. You are right on the money that many games rely on and require repetition. Dark Souls, bullet hell shooters, fighting games…a lot of skill-based games are founded on an almost “practice” like concept and that can be great. And really, rare is the game that is so dynamic where the core gameplay changes. An FPS tends to stay an FPS, and there is a natural sense of recurrence and repetitive action.

      The problem is when the repetition is rooted in the short-term goals (i.e. “quests”) and the narrative context. And also in game activities like those pointless loot boxes that literally serve zero purpose whatsoever other than to lure the player into performing a routine action in lieu of actual gameplay.

      So I do agree that repetition is actually important in some ways, but it needs to be the right kind that leads to skill-building and deeper gameplay…not just to pad out 40 hours of grinding and feeble story progression.

  7. SwiftAusterity September 27, 2012 at 10:32 am #

    The problem is that we’re percieving this as a problem.

    Why did playing a game because you enjoy the gameplay go out of style? Do you expect Pacman to have a skills tree system when you go to the arcade (or load it on your phone) to play it?

    Why can’t we make games for gameplay. The incrimental rewards system is irrelevant in pretty much every game you play it in after you stop playing. What does it matter that somewhere a database holds some rows that declare you as having found the greatest gear ever if you never log in anymore. No game is meant to be played forever on the merits of its rewards system.

    Sometimes gameplay can be enough. We need to stop buying into the marketing department’s bs hype that playing their game is going to be some transcendental experience and either play a game because it’s an enjoyable distraction or not play a game because the actual gameplay mechanics are boring.

    It’s not evolution for every game genre to have to include skill trees and rpg style advancement. It’s just a different type of game.

    • Michael Barnes September 27, 2012 at 2:20 pm #

      You’re misreading me. I totally agree with and support the statement that gameplay can- and really should- be enough. Super Hexagon on IOS is a great game, and all that is is a little triangle dodging walls. No skill trees, no development mechanics…just a simple avoidance game with the only rewards being player skill development and satisfaction. You play it for no other reason than it’s fun.

      Where Borderlands 2 runs afoul of this stripped-down “gameplay first” notion is by layering on illusionary depth. It fools you into thinking that the gameplay has something to do with looting and developing a character when it’s really pretty much an old fashioned Apogee-style shooter. The gameplay is a rudimentary shooter. Not in all of the guns or loot boxes in all of Pandora.

      But you know, rudimentary shooters can be pretty fun. They can have good gameplay.

      I’m not under the impression that Borderlands 2 is supposed to be a transcendant, artful experience. But do I expect it to be a good video game. Mostly, it is. Sometimes it is in spite of its poor design.

  8. tetracycloide September 27, 2012 at 10:39 am #

    I think you raised some perfectly valid points but you did one thing that gets done entirely too often that really bugs me: You claimed the phrase ‘RPG Elements’ means role-playing and only role-playing as if there’s only 2 words there when there are actually four. RPG stands for ‘Role Playing Game’ not just role-playing so ‘RPG Elements’ means what it literally says: the elements found in role-playing games e.g. the character building systems where you earn XP for some activities and unlock abilities with said XP. RPG Elements are absolutely in this game even if there’s no actual role-playing.

    • Ajax19 September 27, 2012 at 10:59 am #

      I think this is an interesting discussion. What is a “Role-playing” computer game? While certain games are classified as RPGs, I think it has a different meaning for different people.

      I don’t consider either “Borderlands” to a be a RPG. For me, a game is a RPG when I feel like I am embodying a character. When before I take an action or respond to something I pause and think “Ok, what would my character do in this situation?” In a RPG, I try to create a personality for my character and stick with it, making decisions based on his/her beliefs, background, etc. as opposed to my own. That’s what I consider a RPG. Never once did I think, “What would Gunzerker do here? What skills would my Gunzerker want? What fits his character?”

      Simply having “RPG elements”, like level progression, skill trees or skill points to spend, better gear, etc, really just doesn’t, to me, a RPG make it.

      So, to me, there are many games out there that people consider RPG’s that I really don’t. All the “Diablos”, for example, I don’t think of as RPGs. I don’t consider either “Dark Souls” or “Demon Souls” to be RPGs either. On the flipside, I do consider “Crusader Kings 2″ to be a RPG on some level.

      • Michael Barnes September 27, 2012 at 2:27 pm #

        It is an interesting discussion and it’s one that I think deserves a full article and discussion. That I have been meaning to write for like a year now. :-)

        Somewhere along the way, the idea of “role-playing” in a video or computer game context got really, really screwed up. What most people think of as “role-playing elements” have almost nothing to do with playing a role, unless the role in question is that of an accountant or middle manager. JRPGs have almost zero roleplaying. They’re really turn-based strategy games with extended story sequences between the tactical segments.

        Witcher 2 is a roleplaying game. You play the role of Geralt. You do things that Geralt would do, like preparing to fight the Kayran by gathering knowledge and equipment. You make decisions that Geralt would have to in the narrative and there is clearly a sense of branching possibilities and influence over outcomes. BioWare’s games hide their rails pretty well, but things like the snap-judgement renegade/paragon decisions are roleplaying. But fussing over a sword or a sword +1 that lowers your agility by 1 is not in any way playing a role. Other than that of a number-cruncher.

        Applying this to Borderlands 2 (and Diablo III for that matter), you’re just not doing any roleplaying regardless of the nomenclature of XPs, levels, and skills. You’re being given micro-rewards for playing that lead to decision points that affect abilities and functions…but you’re not playing a role. The closest the game gets to that is in multiplayer where you have specialized characters performing tasks. But even then, it’s not really roleplaying as classically defined.

        Hold these thoughts.

        • coyote_blue September 27, 2012 at 9:05 pm #

          This is what happens when people stop playing D&D at the table. You don’t spit out your beer laughing when your buddy casts Magic Missile at the kobolds – which is all a computer can really do, when it comes down to it.

          You spit out your beer when your buddy listens to the DM describing the Mayor of Poncingville, tells this imaginary person a joke in character, and everyone at the table laughs, and the DM gives your buddy an experience bonus for making everyone at the table pee a little.

          ME1: FemShep is leaving a space-dungeon and gets jumped by Krogan mercenaries. When you choose “I don’t have time for this. Somebody shoot this guy in the face,” the boss laughs, all other dialogue is skipped, and the fight starts immediately. THAT’S role playing…not the man-shooting part.

  9. KakitaMike September 27, 2012 at 10:59 am #

    I agree with a lot of what’s said here, and I still have fun playing the game. They do a good job of not making things feel too tedious, as a lot of the same mechanics feel in D3 or WoW.

    I felt the monetization comment was a cheap blow. Maybe the company isn’t concerned with squeezing every last nickel and dime from their fans.

    My biggest complaint with the game is their adherence to free for all looting, whereas most games that support public matchmaking have adapted to the ties and offer instanced loot.

    • Michael Barnes September 27, 2012 at 2:32 pm #

      Don’t think for one minute that Gearbox is on your side as a customer. They are a for-profit business first and foremost. They do a better job than some of the other companies at balancing fan favor with taking your money. The most widely beloved companies- Blizzard and Valve also come to mind- are the masters at this. But if the R&D department says “hey, we can pull $5 million from Borderlands 3 players by offering XP accelerating pills that last for an hour at $3 a pop” then you can bet it’ll happen. So I don’t think it’s a low blow at all, it’s just realistic. And over the next couple of years, I think we’ll see that it’s unfortunately prescient.

      I’m not sure that Gearbox and its developers are who are doing the job of making the game feel not too tedious. I actually think that’s happening with the players playing it co-op. The design itself has built-in tedium and routine.

      But yeah, the free for all looting…it gets kind of old, doesn’t it?

  10. Slothboy September 27, 2012 at 12:35 pm #

    I didn’t care for Borderlands. I am a completionist by nature so I will often grind away at games even when I don’t love them all that much, but Borderlands completely lost me after a while. The whole game is “Push button, receive pellet” and it isn’t even a different button. Lots of times you go back to the same place and press the same button for basically the same pellet. Yawnsauce. I shelved it about halfway through and that doesn’t happen often with me.

    So it doesn’t surprise me to hear that type of criticism of B2. I’m glad I kept away from it.

    • Michael Barnes September 27, 2012 at 2:34 pm #

      Exactly…last night I was playing and I saw two barrels that I’ve opened like ten times now. I finally just said “I’m not going back over there for a couple of dollars and some bullets I can’t take anyway because I’m full up”. Keep your pellets!

  11. Byron September 27, 2012 at 1:17 pm #

    “Fiddlefarting over whether to sell Gun A that does X damage and has Y% of this effect or Gun B which does X+1 damage but doesn’t have that effect but another is not role-playing. Nor is shopping for new class abilities with your new XP-purchased skill point. Those things are micromanagement, not role-playing.”

    Wouldn’t that mean that only games with conversation options count as RPGs?

    • Michael Barnes September 27, 2012 at 2:40 pm #

      Let’s talk more in depth about this sometime soon when I write a full article about this subject…but for now, I think that may actually be the case. Roleplaying as a game concept was originally rooted in miniatures wargaming and early Dungeons and Dragons editions were really geared more in that direction. However, that evolved rather rapidly toward a more narrative, communicative, and verbal concept.

      Roleplaying as we know and as it has been since D&D hit its stride and found traction is founded on _conversation_. It’s a gameplay model that requires _talking_. You can’t go to a game group to play an RPG session without discussion, dialogue, and verbal communication of setting, situation, and circumstance.

      So yes, I think it may be that video games require conversation options to generate any kind of actual role-playing experience.

      But then there’s an interesting meta-question that arises when we’re looking at strategy and FPS games…or games like FIFA Team Manager. Or Civilization. Are you effectively playing a role in any of those games?

      Interesting stuff, let’s chat about it more later.

      • Slothboy September 27, 2012 at 5:13 pm #

        I know you said “later” but…

        I’m not sure conversation is the answer either. I think of Dark Souls as an RPG but there are no conversation options other than the occasional “yes” or “no”. Perhaps what defines it is the level of customization of your character’s abilities. For example, upgrading base stats to boost other characteristics instead of just choosing a new “power” via an ability tree.

        Maybe the more options you have, the closer it is to an RPG. Not to harp on it, but in Dark Souls you can take any base character and customize it specifically to how you want to play. My dude ended up being a dex based rangery sort of guy. Medium armor, fast movement, bow, and sword. But I also dabbled in faith-based buffs. If two different people sat down with the same game and same starting point and ended up with vastly different characters, then that is a pure RPG in my opinion.

        I don’t think you get that in Borderlands. Each character (in the first one anyway) was pretty much designed to be a specific role. The only differences were which color gun you liked and which power you dumped more points into… but at high enough levels you end up just maxing as much as you can so there is ultimately no real “choice” in the long term with regards to how your character plays.

        Mass Effect was better because you could, for the most part, customize your character to match your playstyle. There were obviously conversation options but I don’t think that is as much a defining characteristic of the genre.

        TL;DR: Just leveling up powers or abilities doesn’t make an RPG. Neither does dialogue trees. A true RPG is a game that lets you start from a blank slate and make your character be whatever you want it to be.

        • coyote_blue September 27, 2012 at 9:17 pm #

          I’d say that’s a KIND of roleplaying: Emergent gaming, or tell-your-own-story roleplaying. I hear what you’re saying, but a person could choose to play exactly as you describe, but not have a story in his head at all. He could be rolling a specific character just for the stats (which occupies a LOT of brain energy on the Souls forums).

          The story in your head is the key. I’m going to have a story in my head when I play XCOM in two weeks, but I don’t think XCOM deserves the RPG label, because the design does not *require* me to do that as part of the fun.

          In Souls, the enemies will attack you the same way, all the time, regardless of who you think you are. I don’t think you’re playing an RPG until your decisions cause a noticeable change in NPC behavior. By those lights, hmm…Infamous is an RPG. If you choose to be evil, it locks out good story quests. That’s a weak RPG, but it’s an RPG. You decide who you are, the world reacts.

          • slothboy September 27, 2012 at 10:08 pm #

            If a person chooses to ignore the story, there is nothing you can do about it. Dark Souls has a story and in fact you have to uncover it through your interactions with characters and the environment. There are no expositional cutscenes except for the first and the last. You can’t discount something as an RPG because people choose to ignore the details. If that is the case then Dungeons and Dragons isn’t an RPG. There are players at my table that only care about the numbers and the die rolls.

            I absolutely have a story in my head with my Dark Souls character. That’s why he isn’t just wearing Havel’s Armor and wielding a greatsword. I built him for the background I envision for him. I wear my armor because it suits me, not because it is the ‘best’.

            In Dark Souls you absolutely can change the way the NPC’s behave towards you. There are boss fights that won’t take place at all unless you provoke them. Also, depending on your actions, there is an area where the NPC’s will treat you as an ally or an enemy.

            I think the game is more open than many because there is rarely a “press B to do the good thing” choice. Almost all the NPCs will drop loot if you kill them, but if you don’t kill them you may get other advantages. The game doesn’t generally force the choice on you with a big flashing banner, it leaves it up to the player to decide, based on their vision of their character, how they will behave towards the NPCs in the game. That’s roleplaying.

          • coyote_blue September 29, 2012 at 3:05 pm #

            Good point on the kill/don’t kill/join choices in the Souls games. Especially in Dark Souls, where you have to search really hard to find the faction options. Now that you make me think of that, I’m willing to reverse my original statement: the Souls games are RPGs.

            I just hesitate to make a player’s *choice* to roleplay as the sole way to define a game as an RPG. To me, the game has to reward different behavior differently. I understand that sets the bar really high, and leads to a controversial conclusion: No Final Fantasy game ever made would be an RPG by those lights. Even suggesting that would have scandalized me at an earlier age, but not now.

        • MartinBlank September 28, 2012 at 11:34 am #

          Just because a game has custom classes doesn’t make it an RPG either. By that logic wouldn’t Call of Duty be a form of RPG as well? I mean, you can build your kits out so you can play the game the way you want to… but its a shooter… not an RPG…

  12. Ken Wesley (@Darkarm66) September 27, 2012 at 3:20 pm #

    I’m glad you brought up the quest structure, because that kind activation drives me batty in many open world games. Just getting to a specific place just to activate something specific in a different place without alleviate the chore of travel is just bad design.

    I hate to bring up a different game but Xenoblade Chronicles lacking this annoyance mad it so great to play. You go to any town and get quests, but the beauty is when you’re just flailing around in different areas and collect different loots, it already goes to a quest tracker (even multiple quests), meaning you don’t have to go through this whole ordeal of ‘travel, find, receive quest, start, finish’. It actually encourages exploration and experimentation, as opposed to a rigid, invisible arrow.

    Also, Fast Travel: this should be a requirement by any publisher who releases a game with huge worlds.

    • Michael Barnes September 28, 2012 at 2:20 pm #

      I know this guy that REFUSES to use fast travel in any game. He will literally WALK all the way across a map. More power to him.

      Thanks for bringing up Xenoblade Chronicles, I’m SUPER excited to check that out…when I get a Wii U.

      The whole chore list model of quest structuring has GOT to go. There is one REALLY funny bit in BL2 where they make fun of it…Claptrap gives you a list of things to do to open this stupid stash and they appear on your screen as he says them…and they’re LUDICROUS things, like kill 15,000 of something.

  13. Rob September 27, 2012 at 5:05 pm #

    This game is a strange animal. I’m pretty much burnt out on FPS games. I haven’t played COD in probably 2 or 3 years and I no longer even own an FPS other than this one. For some reason I enjoy this game. Maybe it’s because some of the other FPS titles take themselves so damn seriously. This game is just a wild romp that you can play mindlessly in short bursts. After a day of work this game is a good way to unwind and just blast away at stuff. Not really sure why this game grabs me, but I definitely enjoy it.

  14. Owlregard September 27, 2012 at 6:59 pm #

    You’ve just explained why I’ve never been able to get into Diablo et al.

  15. sol September 28, 2012 at 9:52 am #

    So let me just start out by saying that this was an extremely well written article and I greatly enjoyed a lot of the points being made. I agree that a large chunk of the game is “Grind.” Monotonous point “A” to point “B” travel followed by kill “X.” This is occasionally broken up with a few interesting characters (Tiny Tina, McShooty, Sarcastic Slab…) but for the vast majority of the game.. you grind.

    That being said, the game for me (Post grind) is brilliant. And let me tell you why.

    The secrets.

    When’s the last time in this time of full clearing games in less than 24 hours, that you heard of new things still being discovered a week after release? Or that there is still stuff to be found a week after release.

    Gearbox has said there are three end game legendary bosses. We have only found 2, and the second one was a complete accident from what I have read.

    The LoTR hidden quest was just completed a few days ago.

    People are still finding new goofy hidden things in this game daily. Not to mention the DLCs when they come out. This game is not going to be short on content for a while.

    Just to reiterate, the game feels and plays like a shoot-em-up. IMO the difficulty of playthrough 2.5 (Until you get certain broken items that I won’t mention for the sake of spoilers) should have been an option in the first playthrough. A large portion of the time I felt like I was just running from point “A” to “B” with very little challenge in the actual combat. In 2.5 I find myself having to change up my gear or guns depending on the enemies I face as well as noticing that besides the obvious increase in damage and health of enemies, they seem to be smarter about how, when, and where they choose to fight you. This may be 100% in my own mind, but it -feels- like a much more rewarding game in 2.5.

    Again, this is just my two cents and I really appreciate your viewpoint.

    • sol September 28, 2012 at 10:05 am #

      Before someone else makes this point: This is why I loved Fez, Castlevania, et cetera. The 210% completion so to speak. All of the tiny little things either during the game or post game to do and find and discover.

      It’s also the reason I think that everyone you talk to that played WoW back in the day has a gamer hard-on for vanilla. Sure it was tedious to get to 50. And a lot of it was travel way to the other side of the map, then run in a circle of the zone doing quests. But I mean c’mon, getting Quel’Serrar, Thunderfury, or opening AQ. It was nothing but amazing. The glorious 5 FPS before you crash the server as everyone floods into Silithus to see you try to open AQ, the grinding of mobs in Dire Maul to get that stupid book for Quel… It was amazingly fun.

      • McKay September 28, 2012 at 10:52 am #

        Getting Rhok’delar was best achievements I had in WoW. That and killing LK at 5% buff.

      • sol September 28, 2012 at 11:22 am #

        60*… Why is there no edit feature…

    • Michael Barnes September 28, 2012 at 2:17 pm #

      Ah, this is a great observation, thanks for posting it. This is a very good argument for what the game offers, and it does contraindicate some of what I stated about how “list”-based objectives foreclose on exploration and discovery. I _do_ feel like there are things to be uncovered, and it’s good to know from your anecdotal experience that there is. It sounds like heading into that second playthrough opens up some interesting things.

      Gun choice does seem to be more significant than before…I did really like the quest sequence where you had to kill the assassins and you got bonuses for using specific kinds of guns. This added a couple of fun layers, including trying to get those kinds of guns together to collect the extra XP. The extended elemental effects are also compelling, that gives you more to think about in terms of loadout.

  16. Randy September 28, 2012 at 12:59 pm #

    I’m really glad PAR linked to you. You ask good questions and you have very rational thought processes. This is what journalism is about. You’re not here to do PR, although i feel like the “but i like it anyway!” part may be designed to settle down the pitchforks. People forget that we it’s the job of a journalist to ask tough questions and if you’re not doing that, you’re not engaging in what what is expected from a journalist.

    I will definitely be figuring out how to bookmark your articles and coming back to read them. Your very rational comments indicating your understand of the origin/roots of gaming and gaming concepts really solidified my respect for your ideas and i know that any future articles from you will leave me as more knowledgeable.

    • Michael Barnes September 28, 2012 at 2:07 pm #

      I’m glad you stopped by Randy, we’re always glad to get new folks on board.

      Yes, the “I like it anyway” part was to keep the mob at bay. Last year, when I posted a negative review of Portal 2, there were black helicopters flying around my house and I was refused service at local restaraunts. Apparently, it’s “trolling” to not like a popular game. I think I speak for the rest of the NHS staffers that it’s been really surprising that none of the usual hoodlums have shown up to suggest that I go back to playing Call of Duty.

      But I think you’ll find that we try to get folks talking and engaging with each other over even the most controversial gaming topics (ha, that’s kind of funny in itself)…we still believe in games journalism. Mostly.

  17. Jeb September 28, 2012 at 7:34 pm #

    Loving it so far, and loving the discussion here even more. I don’t like shooters, and I can’t roleplay for shit, so I really have no business liking BORDERLANDS 1 or 2 as much as I do. For me, what it has is /style/. The cel shading look is awesome. The crazy guns and goofy Road Warrior vs. Medicine Cabinet look is great. And the loot, my god, the loot. That’s probably it more than anything.

    I get that some people don’t like loot anymore, but it’s what’s making me play. I never got into WoW, and couldn’t get TORCHLIGHT to run on my PoS Mac, so maybe I am not as burnt out. But I OCD the fuck out of those mailboxes in BORDERLANDS. I like comparing Cracked Woodstock Shotgun and Flawed Plastic Blaster. (PRO-TIP: Barring elemental effects, just look at how much the gun costs for quick comparison.)

    Good lord, please don’t convince game companies that conversation trees are the one true role-playing. The best RPG experiences for me have all been non-speaking: DARK SOULS and SHADOW OF THE COLOSSUS. Making me say things, even if from a list is obnoxious.

    • coyote_blue September 29, 2012 at 3:10 pm #

      I’ve also wondered why some people need to see the EXACT WORDS the character will say. I actually liked when BioWare simplified their choices in dialog to “Talk Like a Hero,” “Snark”, and “Vicious Language”. Does anyone pick their next spoken words from a list in their heads in real life?

  18. Scott Wright September 29, 2012 at 3:34 pm #

    Michael, today you’ve gained a loyal follower! This article explained exactly what I was feeling with respect to Borderlands 2. I’ve played each of the characters and I end up getting bored waiting on that next level or for a better gun to drop. Sure, there are a ‘bazillion’ guns, but the vast majority of them are absolute trash.

    Thanks!

    • Michael Barnes October 1, 2012 at 12:16 pm #

      That’s one of the problems- quantity over quality. There’s a lot to be said for a design like Halo, where every gun has a very specific function and a very specifically designed utility with very different applications. This leads to unique playstyles between each weapon, and that generates some potential depth.

      Contrast to Call of Duty. There’s TONS of guns and slight variances between them in terms of ROF, accuracy, magazine size, etc. Much of that, ultimately, is meaningless and serves only to provide a semblance of depth or choice.

      But then you’ve got Borderlands, where the differences are split along even MORE vectors and you’ve got elemental effects, guns that throw like grenads, different kinds of scopes, variations expressed in decimal points…the end result of all that is a face-value assumption of a “gazillion” guns but the truth of it is that during a given playthrough you might use primarily what, five or six? The rest are filler, and this junk is expressed as a _feature_ in the game.

      Yet you play anyway, and you think every time you see a new gun that it’s going to be something cool, new, and that radically changes the way you play your character. It almost _never_ is. Keep chasing that bunny.

      • Collin October 3, 2012 at 4:51 pm #

        To quote a great South Park episode (Season 12 episode 3):

        ‘You never really get a good look at her naked boobs anyway.’

        This game is like cheese-ing.

        Keep chasing the great rack that never reveals itself…

  19. doug steelbreaker September 30, 2012 at 6:09 pm #

    here is why i think borderlands 2 is a bad game:

    - enemies are over powered
    - enemies never run out of ammo
    - player amo too limited (not only the ammo supply, but the number of rounds in the clip when compared to how rarely enemies have to reload)
    - fight for your life can’t use weapon zoom
    - fight for your life can’t use grenades unless unlocked after leveling up late into the game
    - fight for your life makes it realy hard to aim
    - fight for your life causes enemies to run away or be hidden by environment
    - reload speed too slow
    - weapon accuracy is not what it is listed in weapon stats
    - enemies weapon accuracy is always 100 %
    - psycho’s can throw those stupid sticks farther than player can throw a grenade
    - enemies can throw grenades farther than player can
    - player health too low
    - shields take too long to recharge
    - shields not strong enough
    - enemies look too much like the background. even when you are directly in front of them it is still impossible to see them clearly
    - lootables that produce ammo never produce the kind of ammo needed
    - mini map and big map are both next to useless
    - radar range is too limited
    - none of the characters is suitable for solo play (though the commando does come close)
    - the hud is poorly designed; why not have the health bar be a part of the crosshairs? in a firefight, it’s usually the cross hairs that we all focus on.
    - there is no way to change the difficulty setting. being able to vary the difficulty would make the game accesible to casual gaming and hardcore marathon sessions both. instead we are forced to play marathon style or not at all.
    - most of the skins are lame. if you are going to give me the ability to change my outfit, let me pick the colours myself instead of forcing me to choose from a bunch of off the rack junk.
    - why do i have to reach level 5 before i start getting skil points?
    - why do i have to use my first skill point to unlock my action skill? shouldn’t the action skilll be available from the very beginning of the game?
    - why can’t i re-distribute my skill points at will? it is a waste of my time to be forced to treck through the world looking for a machine just to try a different skill set for my character.
    - why must i pay to re-distribute my skill points? didn’t i already earn them? aren’t they mine to do with what i will?

    in spite of this grocery list of complaints, borderlands 2 plays rather well in co-op. it does try to pick up where borderlands 1 left off. it marginally succeeds; sort of. the biggest roblem i have with the game is that it still is only playable as the soldier/commando. the other characters are useable only as support for him. for me, this game misses the mark. let’s hope borderlands 3 is better.

    • Michael Barnes October 1, 2012 at 12:19 pm #

      The ammo issue is interesting. There is TONS AND TONS AND TONS of free ammo everywhere in the game. Yet you can still buy it if you’re lazy.

      But what this game does is to make ammo _while in combat_ suddenly short. This forces you to have to shift between weapons, which in turn validates the design- which is partially based on randomly generated junk weapons. It also creates the illusion of depth and choice. I find it just irritating, after a while.

      It boggles the mind why your character’s skill isn’t available in the FIRST MINUTE of play. It’s an example of how this game’s paced is so fucked up. It’s designed to make you WAIT.

      • Beaushek October 2, 2012 at 1:52 am #

        Ya, I’m sure that my sister (who’d never played an FPS before) was very upset that they limited the options available to the players and slowly unlocked them more and more. I tell ya, it’s a just a newbie design. For example, Dark Souls (a game that every pretentious gamer swears by) gives you every ability, item, and weapon for you to use at the start, right? No, it doesn’t. Slowly unlocking more of the game for the player isn’t attempting to make you wait. It’s attempting to make you learn.

    • Beaushek October 2, 2012 at 2:00 am #

      Ammo is in the game to give you a reason to loot.

      Fight for life is in the game as a last resort. You’re dying, and you’re whining that you aren’t as strong as you normally are? Of course.

      Reload speed is slow on slow reloading speed weapons.

      Enemies weapon accuracy isn’t 100%. I’m not getting hit 100% of the time. That’s just a lie.

      Enemies being the same color as the background means that you’ve faced off against marauders and nothing else. Play a little further. The enemies designs and colors start varying immensely.

      I have no clue how the minimap is useless.

      Honestly, the rest of this is just whining. A lot of whining about how you die sometimes or the game doesn’t give you instant access to everything. There’s no god-mode unlocked in most games. Borderlands is no exception.

      Since I’ve already hit 50 on my siren, solo, I’m gonna say immediately that the Commando isn’t the only good character. I personally am thinking that you’re just playing the other classes as you would the commando. That doesn’t work.

      • Collin October 3, 2012 at 4:42 pm #

        I totally agree. This game isn’t perfect. But being God-Mode would make it 100% lame. My guess is that guy is a crappy player in general.

        1.Minimap is anything but useless (though terrain ‘height’ can be hard to distinguish when driving 100mph in the vehicles).

        2. Enemies should be dead before their ammo supply is ever in question.

        3.Fight-for-your life is a once-in-a-while thing. If you find yourself living in it. Go somewhere else and level-up, then come back.

        Also – you must suck. Any loser bitching about how he can’t kill, isn’t doing it right.

  20. David September 30, 2012 at 10:02 pm #

    Wow… Its funny all these games are mentioned. I’ve got Skyrim, Diablo 3, Guild Wars 2 and Borderlands and I have been trying to find a game to devote my long term free time into and NONE of these games do it. Its the same crap over and over and nothing can completely pull me in anymore.. i think i’m cursed with video games these days.

    All of them are so damn exciting when I first buy them and then you just get to that point where everything becomes repetitive and boring as hell! The story lines can never pull you in all the way, they copy and paste enemy’s with different colors and guns and put a new name stamp over their heads…

    SKYRIM- got to lvl 34. could kill anything i encountered and seen just about everything i cared to see and also the respawn rates where retarded. boring as hell with no real feeling of accomplishment or reason to max your guy out, and no turning the difficulty up would of made it more boring.

    DIABLO 3- OMG this game……… i had this damn game pre-ordered for like half a year and it finally comes out. i play it for a month strait with 3 level 60′s and i tell you know, I WILL NEVER PLAY THAT REPETITIVE ASS CAMPAIGN AGAIN!!! the graphics are awesome and the game play is good for a while but the game is too short and its the same thing OVER and OVER and OVER. What a waste of time, should of just bought it beat it once and quit.. Could care less about the PvP now.

    GW2- Its ok because its f2P after you buy it but you can tell why. i really have no desire to play a lot, just here and there when i have nothing else to do. It will stay around but if it was a pay monthly mmorpg then it would probably be like any other one that has came out since WoW. Great graphics and semi fun combat system though.

    BORDERLANDS 2- i never played the first one but from all the hype i had to buy it so i did. The game has the same style controls as COD so that makes it easy and familiar with was good but the feel to the controles didn’t feel as good. The cartoony animation looks is really a new neat touch to me and i do like that a lot about the game. But the game really is just how this guy says it is, EMPTY and BARRON.. Iv’e spent 6 hours almost on one character and i feel like I’ve accomplished diddly squat. Everything is so far apart and a lot of unnecessary obstacle courses in the way the landscape was laid out. I have a level 11 and a level 8 and i already find myself logging off after 45 minutes to an hour of game play. i wish i was more attracted to the game i really do but I’m not.

    All in all i think it comes down to being spoiled by dynamic games that came out ahead of their time. First was Ultima Online(which is my favorite MMO ever). Ultima was truly a powerful, extremely exciting game with unmatched innovation still to this day in my opinion.

    Then WoW came, and WOW the game took away 4 years of my life LOL. I dont think i have to explain why WoW ruled the World since it came out, its still the best MMORPG for modern day but it just wore itself out and people are ready to move on to something THE SAME but different if you know what i mean mmorpger’s.

    Now my favorite mainly solo campaign game has got to be the Fable games. I love the story the side quest and npc’s in the game and just everything about it. I’m not much for games that have an ending but i always found myself playing it even after i pretty much got everything there was to find. The game just set a good joyful mood as i played and the story and questing was awesome in all of them. I cant wait for fable 4!

    With all that being said.. I am friggin bored at the moment and 99% of the games these days just don’t cut it for me. The MMO genre needs a major rework or it will slowly fade over the next 10 years and first person shooters are great but i don’t know how many years i can do the rinse and repeat thing as in i don’t think i can see my self playing COD: Modern Warfare 15 or Halo 9 lol.. but they are keeping me going sorta for now.

    Sorry for going on but i just had to get it off my chest.

    • Michael Barnes October 1, 2012 at 12:22 pm #

      Also see my article from last year- “Skyrim’s Diminishing Returns”. All of these kinds of games- which are largely keyed to this “grocery list” quest mechanic- are like what you describe. There’s like a 10-15 hour honeymoon period before you hit the real grind, the really repetitive and empty part of the design. Once you’ve discovered all these games _really_ have to offer, that’s when the boredom seeps in and you start to wonder why you’re wasting your time.

  21. Chiggins October 1, 2012 at 12:45 am #

    Sigh…

    I used to think nohighscores was a good place for informed opinions. Apparently this is where the disaffected come to make their snap judgements based on limited information. Did anyone here even make it to level 20? Did you see even a tiny slice of the game? I don’t think Barnes did, though he had the good sense to try and hide his lack of effort and experience with the game at the time he wrote the article.

    The bottom line: the game is dense, filled with both gameplay and treasures to uncover. The story is interesting and the writting is clever. There are maybe a hundred neat little game mechanics i have never seen in any shooter – ways in which weapons, gernades, abilities and equipment can create a dizzying amount of combat choices. Maybe this sort of thing isnt your cup of tea – and thats fine. But dont stomp out of the Louvre complaining that it’s just a bunch of rooms with old junk inside. The game is a very well-made one, and anyone who believes otherwise is simply incorrect.

    • LoomistheCard October 1, 2012 at 7:38 am #

      Level 20? Hey I LOVE Borderlands 2 but the idea that you have to get to lvl 20 (which constitutes a LOT of game hours) before it gets good is ridiculous. If that’s your measuring stick then you’re a dope with an ax to grind.

      And anyone who disagrees is simply incorrect.

      • Chiggins October 1, 2012 at 11:51 am #

        I didn’t say you had to wait until lvl 20 for it to “get good.” What I said was that you hadn’t seen very much of the game until you got at least to 20.

        Shouldn’t we be judging the work as a whole? Or if not that – then at least on a significant portion of what is presented? You can finish the story around lvl 30 if you do some of the side quests, so lvl 20 isn’t some outrageous goal to set.

        The fact is, the game sets a measured pace. You can’t even find sniper rifles or smgs until after you kill Flynt – which is many hours into the game. Whole equipment mechanics and gameplay options are still being unlocked well into the game proper. While most of us here are probably game-savvy enough to handle having the entire enchilada shoved into our face in one bite, let’s not fault them for being deliberate about pulling back the curtain.

        The original article complained loudly about how little there was to discover, and how limited the gameplay was. This just happens to be a time where making that complaint shows a lack of effort uncovering what the game will offer.

        But they obviously put a ton of work into the game. It’s a good game, that rewards the player copiously. Maybe you don’t have the time to eat a meal as large as Borderlands 2, and that’s okay too. Bejeweled is this way —> http://www.popcap.com/games/bejeweled2/online

        • Michael Barnes October 1, 2012 at 11:58 am #

          Don’t kid yourself into thinking that the loot chase in B2 is any more “hardcore” than Bejeweled. It’s just a different hamster wheel with a couple more levers to pull and an M rating.

          I don’t know what’s more childish and uninformed, the “why don’t you go play Call of Duty” attack or the “why don’t you go play ” one.

    • Michael Barnes October 1, 2012 at 12:08 pm #

      Friend, yours is the uninformed, inexperienced opinion.

      First off, you make the amateur mistake of attacking the critic rather than mounting a meaningful defense of the game beyond “it’s good, I like it”. It’s a common internet goof and one that manages to lower the level of any conversation about games.

      Second, when you subtextually claim that a seasoned games writer and player can’t possibly form design-level criticisms about a game without hitting the 20-hour mark, it demonstrates that you might not spend much as much time critically assessing and analyzing games as folks like me do. I’ve played at this point for about 15 hours, and other than story beats, specific boss or character instances that occur later in the game, and high level character development I’ve seen everything the game has to offer- and it’s really a whole lot of nothing on balance.

      I can assure you that nothing happens leading up to or after hour 20 that will change my opinion of the game in terms of its poor design, illusionary depth, and repetitiveness.

      It is absolutely a well-made and well-presented game. I like playing it. It’s just not a particularly well-designed one, at least in terms of providing players with a dynamic, compelling experience or gameplay that does anything other than touch the lowest common denominator buttons of “guns’, “more powerful guns”, and “tee hee, cartoons”. Don’t pretend it’s anything other than that, regardless of how many memes and easter eggs it throws at you.

      • Chiggins October 1, 2012 at 12:56 pm #

        So, you’re saying that you played it for 15 hours and that’s enough time to form an opinion on the whole. But that’s not necessarily the case – and being a professional critic of games doesn’t inoculate you from making poor assessments. If anything, your over-exposure is probably as much of a hindrance to a clear judgement- too many preconceived notions and stereotypes.

        Since you demand specifics, I will provide a few.

        You claim that the gameplay is a lowest-common-denominator, simplistic shooter with guns that upgrade to more powerful guns. Here’s why you’re wrong:

        The guns are divided into 8 manufacturer “types” that all have significant gameplay changes. Within those 8 types, there are the common weapon models (sniper/assault/smg/pistol/shotgun/rocket launcher) that vary with respect to damage vs fire rate vs accuracy vs projectile speeds. The game also includes shield mechanics – which have various defensive trade-offs and have either close-range attacks, retributional attacks, or even gun buffs. The four elemental damage types have strengths and weaknesses versus various targets, which doesn’t include the “slag” type – which is one of the debuff/teamwork options. Class mods and alien artifact give significant specialization choices. As do the actual talent trees that create wildly different play styles, special abilities and attack choices. All of this is then used on a crazy array of aliens, robots and psychopaths that bring their own weaknesses and attack patterns to the fight. In fact the guns are SO wildly varied and creative that inevitably you will find weapons that – despite not being your preferred play-style – will change the whole game up. It can coax you out of your comfort zone and really make you feel like a badass for a while.

        Now, you can brush all that off and say “eh, its a run-of-the-mill FPS,” but that’s just not so. But it can seem that way, early in the game when the fights are easy and the choices are limited.

        It’s also worth pointing out that saying someone made a mistake is not at attack. Everyone makes mistakes – they’re how we learn anything.

        • Michael Barnes October 1, 2012 at 1:26 pm #

          Yes, 15 hours is absolutely 100% enough time with the game to form an opinion on its design, pacing, mechanics, structure, production values,writing,and general sensibilities. It is _not_ enough time to critique the endgame, assess how the last act of the narrative either does/does not provide a conclusion, the value of any post-playthrough content, or to comment on how good/bad the last boss fight is.

          There isn’t anything in fundamental gameplay terms that changes from hour five to hour 25. If there’s a plot twist or whatever, that’s a different case. But I’m not going after plot twists.

          I appreciate your defense of the “gazillion guns”, but it just doesn’t hold up. Selecting a shock weapon when you’re up against guys with shields isn’t depth. RPGs have made this mistake for decades now with elemental weaknesses/immunities. Trade-offs in terms of +/- buffs also do not necessarily provide depth, because the result is almost always a zero sum gain or loss, or it’s very incremental.

          I do agree that the classes, artifacts, mods, and specialization adds some _choice_ to the game (still not sure that’s “depth”) and in co-op the variances are fun to explore and coordinate. That’s one of the better parts of the design. But the question still remains if the grind, the tedium, the repetition, and the lack of dynamism in terms of gameplay are worth it.

          Much better post this time. Except for the “don’t trust the critics” rhetoric and the assumption that I think my own writing is Holy Writ.

          • Chiggins October 1, 2012 at 3:40 pm #

            I am not making the broad generalizations you are implying that I am. I don’t have any beef with game critics, and I am discussing nothing beyond the original article you wrote.

            So let’s clear something up first: meaningful player choice *is* gameplay “depth.” Now those choices may arise from a variety of factors – and in the case of Borderlands they come from the equipment, the enemies, the environment and the character classes.

            Here are the following fundamental gameplay choices that you will never see as a player having only put five hours into the game:
            -Rocket launchers
            -Slag weapons
            -Relic mods (offensive or defensive)
            -E-tech weapons (delayed-blast spikes, lasers, blasters, etc)
            -Advanced shield effects (booster, adaptive, amplify, roid)
            -Advanced grenade effects (vortex, longbow, homing, sticky, rain)
            -Any character ability past the first or second tier
            -(probably) Any legendary items, which all have some unique and useful effect – and in some cases combine sets to become even more powerful
            -Dealing with more varied, difficult and coordinated enemy attacks (I’ve played for 75 hours, and I have just now encountered Hyperion Snipers and Jumpjet soldiers.)

            So – you’re just wrong. There are many more player choices that only become available after level five, and some of it is due to the random system they have created. Finding really rare and powerful guns is part of the fun – and for a few levels you can switch up your gameplay to accommodate the new toy. Implying that every find is a tiny incremental change, or a zero-sum option is incorrect.

            Now – you also have the choice to not choose. You could probably just grab the biggest assault rifle every time and just keep hosing down bad guys. But, again, you can’t claim that the gameplay is shallow just because you never jumped into the deep end of the pool.

  22. Kat October 2, 2012 at 9:22 pm #

    I can say thank you a million times and never feel like I’ve covered how great it was for me to read this. I’m a staff writer for an Xbox site, and prior to writing a full review, I threw out some comments about b2 being basically an 8 masquerading as an 11 in reviews. I can’t tell you how fast I got attacked! I used the pitchfork reference, actually- as well as a Lord of the Flies reference… It’s crazy! Don’t get me wrong, I don’t dislike the game- but apparently if you’re not saying that this game is gaming’s gift to man, you’re obviously bashing it and hate kittens and babies and freedom. Since my coop players got bored, I ended up soloing most of the game, and you really notice the problems with the game when there’s no one else to distract you from it! Anyway, fantastic article.

    And yes, for a game that is barely more than an expansion of the first game, 15 hours is enough time for a fair assessment of the game. I played it for much longer than that and came to basically the same conclusions (although I think the story is CONSIDERABLY better than the first). But you’ll never convince someone who thinks that having to choose between a rocket launcher that explodes like a grenade when you reload it or one that doesn’t is “depth.” Looks like you’re getting a dose of that yourself, anyway. :/

    • McKay October 3, 2012 at 9:39 am #

      Eh, it’s Barnes. He’s used to it at this point.

  23. Rob N October 3, 2012 at 7:37 am #

    Agree 100% – its never going to be a great work of storytelling, but its a hell of a lot of fun for casual co-op gaming, which is the way my playgroup plays, and is why we love other co-op games like Left 4 Dead so much.

    Related to role-playing and character development, we realised just yesterday how little we know or care about the main characters – Maya, Axton, etc. They’re just placeholders. But then thinking back, the original characters felt like that too until we had played through a few times and created our own experiences for them (also, we named them “Loland” and “Lolith”, because we’re also completely juvenile).

    But then something funny happened. (Spoiler warning). After Roland dies and Lilith is captured and transported us back to Sanctuary, we had the following conversation:

    Me: Oh God, you know what this means?
    Friend 1: What?
    Me: Mordecai is in charge now.
    Friend 2: Oh f**k, we’re screwed.
    Friend 1: Nah he’s cool, he’ll just shoot the satellite down.
    Me: With a rocket.
    Friend 1: Yeah, riding on top of it all yee-haw.

    So somewhere along the way we created personas for the original characters. While Borderlands 2 fleshed them out to some extent, I’m pretty sure we already had these already established in our minds. I do wonder though how much of it was our own ideas and how much came from the game, and whether or not after a few playthroughs of BL2 we’ll find we know who the new characters are too.

  24. Collin October 3, 2012 at 3:28 pm #

    I agree with you completely, and would even like to add a few complaints:

    1. I found quite a few glitches that required me to log-out and log back in to get missions to appear correctly, or objectives to show up at all.

    2. LOOT SUCKS! At least in the original, I came across vending machines that had ‘level restrictions’ on things to buy, and occasionally you would find a gun WORTH saving for. Unfortunately, I am a level 29, and I have YET to find a gun in a vending machine that I could not easily buy. Also – other than being levels 1-10, I have not found ANY guns that required me to level to use.

    3. TOO CARTOONISH. The texturing needed some final touches. (look at anything on ‘fire’) It is like wavy wall-paper and does not give the impression of actual flame.

    4. Story-line. I have to agree with you. Getting to 24 was when things started to get better. But it was too little to late.

    The game itself was the SAME as the first one, with slightly better shooting. BUT a ‘bazillion’ guns only makes sense if I am constantly upgrading; NOT deciding which to keep for more profit at the vending machines.

    Lastly, I liked the addition of the slot-machines at the bar. UNFORTUNATELY, I found my character had an extreme gambling problem. Throwing 100k into the machines, and using THOSE weapons as my upgrades. Most of my finds on the ‘field of battle’, were either left there, or sold for more gambling.

    I would give this game 1-star. If it was the first of it’s kind, probably 4-stars. But the game was a copy of the first one. Even some of the levels look VERY familiar to the first game, but with snow texture and not dirt.

    Changing the textures; Adding new character mods; Throwing in more guns than necessary; AND bragging about improved dialogue (which got boring VERY quickly). These are NOT contributions to an NEW game. Just a make-over of the first.

    Conclusion: This game was not worth my 40+ hours, NOR worth the $60. ESPECIALLY when I walked up to the counter to buy the game, and they try selling you $100+ of additional game-play to be released almost a year down the road. GAME FELT INCOMPLETE FROM THE GET-GO, AND AT THE END…I FELT ROBBED.

  25. weasley009 October 6, 2012 at 7:56 pm #

    Umm…yeah…you do know that they specifically made the game to be shoot and loot, right? Its got story, which I think is a fantastic story, you instead being the total good guy, you are both good and bad in ways. But there is also the co-op. The game is fun single player. I just beat it recently, and am on my second play through. The game is meant to be played with friends though. Its a whole lot more fun to pick up your “two dollars and sniper rifle bullets” when you are collecting them with a friend.

    On to the story…its awesome. I love the moral grey areas. The first game was you being neutral just trying to get your treasure. I liked that. There was no “greater threat” or anything, just you wanting loot. You do play a treasure hunter, after all. The second game had an even better story than the first in that it introduced Handsome Jack, a jerk of a man who wants to wipe out bandits. Whats bad about that? Then again, if he gets the Warrior, he will probably become a total tyrant. Plus, he is already a pretty bad good guy. At the same time, though, you are trying to stop him, thwarting his plans to get rid of bandits. So now you are in the bad and good, too. I like that. I do wish to know why he wants to kill vault hunters, but I digress. Its an amazing game.

    As for the whole “NPCs are just quest givers: thing, I like that. When playing a game thats shoot and loot, I want to kill everything. I even do that in Skyrim, just go on a killing spree. I don’t care about conversing with computer controlled people who have nothing good to say in the first place. I like the characters you can talk to. Scooter, Dr. Zed, Tannis…they are all awesome characters who are also funny.

    That brings me to my last point…you take things way to seriously. The game was meant to be funny, casual shoot and loot. Not “story must be amazing and everything must be perfect”. This is why Borderlands 2 is my favorite game right now.

  26. doug.steelbreaker October 7, 2012 at 11:18 am #

    It seems that borderlands 2 is a love it or hate it game. I went back and invested another few hours into it. At level 20 I’m still dying way too easily. one or two hits and I’m done. The suggestion to go some where else and level up and then try again worked to a point. i don’t have all day to grind my way through lower levels repetedly. I work 12 hours a day 5 days a week with a 45 min commute to and from work. that leaves very little free time for gaming. I’m not interested in a game that forces me to spend + hours grinding before I can move on to the next level/zone/mission objective. This game should have a warning on the label stating it is only fun when played with friends. The solo play is really not worth it.

  27. Brandon Dumsky October 11, 2012 at 7:54 pm #

    I totally agree with your assessment, Michael. At first I was intrigued about the whole genre hybrid concept, that is until I realized I was just doing the same redundant missions over and over. Is this supposed to be fun? We gamers really have to question ourselves regarding what constitutes as a game. I see the industry in general approaching a similar precipice Atari and the ilk fell off during the crash of ’83. We basically have two primary genres: interactive movies and a Pavlovian rewards system.

    Uncharted franchise? Orgasmic to the eyes in terms of graphics, Hollywood-caliber narratives, and charming characters. But gameplay? It was like one of those interactive movies that were made on Laserdisc and Sega CD back in the early 90′s. Total fail.

    And as for Borderlands, so much potential wasted. I overlooked the series at first, but recently came around and tried them out due to the hype for the sequel. Great concept, but not executed well at all. Got tedious incredibly early on.

    I say if developers are going to create mission-based games in an open world, at least incorporate some variety! Have some objectives where you have to swarm off a horde of monsters/zombies, infiltrate a facility and pick off a target–hell, utilize other genres in these trending sandbox games. Borderlands was merely fetch questing and targets to kill. I want a developer that primarily focuses on gameplay mechanics, and nothing else. There is a dire need of innovation needed in this fleeting industry. Have our attention spans permitted this limitation on gaming? Remember old school games being hard as fawk and requiring skill? One can argue about Demon’s/Dark Souls (and don’t get me wrong, great games), but you have to admit, they are sophisticated loot games as well. But what makes them special? The combat system and the allure of discovery! There should be much more innovation, especially with the growing indie market.

    Great site, BTW. Glad I discovered it on Google. Very thought-provoking articles about the world of gaming compared to the faux developer/publisher PR site, IGN.

    • Bill Abner October 11, 2012 at 9:58 pm #

      Thx Brandon — appreciated!

    • coyote_blue October 12, 2012 at 12:39 pm #

      “We basically have two primary genres: interactive movies and a Pavlovian rewards system.”

      Better and more concise than any comment I’ve ever made here. Though full disclosure: I love me a well-executed interactive movie.

  28. Jonathan October 21, 2012 at 2:34 pm #

    BTW! The games genre is: RPS FPS

  29. Vince November 7, 2012 at 12:47 pm #

    Great article, Barnes. I felt like I do when a politician finally agress with what I’ve been saying for years!

    This is what I consider to be a “guilded egg” game- something far too often produced over the last few years- where all the effort goes into designing the shell without paying attention to the substance. BL2 looks nice, sounds good, with very good voice acting jobs and a decent soundtrack. But unfortunately, without any of these things and the witty humor, it would be rendered unplayable. BL1 was already behind the curve when it came to combat and gameplay, and with BL2 remaining steps and steps behind, Gearbox is dangerously close to losing fans. Wag-of-the-finger to 2K Quality Assurance too…

    My hats’ off to Kojima Productions for taking pride and effort to create PS3′s greatest game, Metal Gear Solid 4. It set the standard in my opinion 4 years ago…

  30. Michael Barnes November 7, 2012 at 1:25 pm #

    Ah, but Kojima games are one-in-a-million, aren’t they? He’s one of the few true auteurs in the game business, and really there’s a vast gulf between the kind of product that BL2 is and the kind that MGS4 is.

    I’m finding it really funny now that there are folks that are claiming that Halo 4 isn’t innovative or isn’t doing anything new over the past games when BL2- widely praised by the same critics- is not held to the same standards. It REALLY doesn’t do much that wasn’t in the first game, it’s as “iterative” as any Call of Duty game.

    • Vince November 8, 2012 at 9:40 pm #

      I have 2 beliefs pertaining to the gaming industry today: (a) that there is a lotta money to be made by selling games, and companies have uncovered a max-profit system of underdevloping and over-hyping their products; and (b) that lots of mainstream media have either been incentivized or intimidated (somehow intimidated by gaming nerds?) into advertising those games. I wonder when was the last time IGN actually reviewed a video game?

      Call it ridiculous or not, but gaming consumers ought to start demanding more of their product. Quick funny, my roommate and I recently finished the first playthrough, and as we looked through the credits, we’re like, “it took THIS many people to make THAT?!?!?”… stunned…

      Great site for honest reviewing, from a consumer perspective, thank you.

  31. Cizoca January 10, 2013 at 2:53 pm #

    Stop reading when you said Borderlands it’s not an RPG. You obviously don’t know what RPG means.

    • Michael Barnes January 10, 2013 at 3:58 pm #

      I would argue that anyone that believes that a RPG means that you have stats that you fudge around and XP points that unlock upgrades doesn’t know what a ROLE PLAYING GAME is.

      Fact is, a lot of what video gamers call RPGs aren’t RPGs at all. Borderlands 2 included.

  32. bobbobjones April 19, 2013 at 1:38 am #

    I agree. I am so baffled how the same company can create my hands down favorite game of all time (Borderlands) and such garbage (Borderlands 2) as the sequel. Wow is 2 a bad game. I had some awesome gunfights in Borderlands, and didn’t see real powerful weapons until further in the game. I actually had to do a couple side missions to level up – loved it. The enemies were creative and comical.

    Borderlands 2 showers you with high power weapons. The only tough fights are boss fights, not anything leading up to it. I’m tearin through skull enemies like aluminum foil. I actually equip myself with lower power guns so I can play strategically. The enemies are stupid and the constant attempt at humor is just cheap. The first one was comical, but commanded respect as well. The sequel is just not funny.

    And why try to be Halo with the tech music and flying repair units? I guess I’ll sludge through it just to complete it, but damn, we liked Borderlands. Should’ve kept it Borderlands.

  33. Maxwellj1992 May 20, 2013 at 2:39 am #

    THANK YOU. I picked up Borderlands 2 because it was on sale on Steam for $13.50. I couldn’t believe I wasted my money on this game. It shouldn’t even be called Borderlands 2… It’s more like Borderlands 1.5 AT BEST.

    It’s the exact same story line, the exact same characters with minute differences, some newish environments and a few more guns. This is a $60 title and they didn’t do anything except slightly polish an already successful game.

    I ask, where the hell is the innovation? Borderlands 2 could’ve been $15 DLC for the original and I would’ve said that’s okay. I can’t find anything to get excited about in this game that I didn’t already get excited and then bored with in the original. I loved the original. It’s the reason I bought the sequel, but I’m honestly outraged that I paid good money for this! (Even if it was only $13.50; I can’t imagine how pissed I would have been if I purchased this game on release for the full $60)

    This game was in development for 2 years, and had insane hype behind it. So what do they do? They keep everything the same and add small, minute differences like having a mini-map, and making more guns. There were so many guns in the first game that it felt diverse enough, and while more guns is never a bad thing, it does not make up for the simple fact that they did nothing to this game except make it what the first probably should have been.

    What were they doing for 2 years? They couldn’t come up with a single innovation besides changing a few talent trees and switching up, and not by much mind you, the characters you start with.

    If you go play the first game and beat it to be 100% caught up and refreshed for the second; you’ll find that it’s more or less unchanged. Not to mention after you play the first and get the second expecting some kind of innovation, the second just feels like a grind. I don’t want to shovel through shit just to get to the mediocrity at the end of the tunnel.

    It’s not good business practice, and it’s certainly not a good game. Gearbox had the opportunity to really go crazy and make a great game. The game oozes with style and laughs, but at the end of the day I find myself beating the same dead horse from 2 years ago; forcing a chuckle at the dialogue as I go through the tedious and boring task of opening every locker in sight and constantly trying to make room in my backpack for the millions of weapons that drop with the hope that it will be slightly better than my other hundreds of weapons.

    This is clearly a game designed around coop that is supposed to get better as you go by, but once again shoveling through shit in hopes it will pick up is not a good way to design a game. You can argue that the co-op saves the game, but it really doesn’t. The various abilities do not work in tangent to make cool combos or be exciting. It’s just 4 people running around together with no real co-op interaction besides being physically near each other. If I wanted something as simple as just having another person shoot shit with me, I’ll go play any Halo game on co-op with a friend and probably get more entertainment out of it.

    Shame on you, Gearbox.

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