Borderlands 2 in Review

So there we were, the Hyperion Circle of Slaughter, Round 5. Petey and I had been handling ourselves pretty well for the first three waves. He’d cover the right, I’d cover the left. Our corrosive weapons made short work of the loaders, helped out with the judicious use of Petey’s turret, its rockets and bullets pointing out enemies, its shield giving us temporary respite from the hail of bullets while at the same time allowing our Bee shields to add as much damage to our shots as possible. When flyers or more mobile soldiers showed up, I’d pick ‘em up with my phaselock and together we’d knock ‘em down.

Everything was going to plan, until the Super Badass Loaders showed up.

We had both moved a bit too far forward off of our starting position in an effort to flush out some loaders when the telltale “WHUMP” of an orbital strike signaled the arrival of three Super Badass Loaders. One we could have handled without a problem, two was doable, but three? Out of position, surprised and in desperate need of a power cooldown, three was more than our merry duo could handle. Or so I thought.

Petey went down first, with me following shortly afterwards. As my second wind bar steadily decreased in size, I crawled towards the super badass loader, desperately filling it with SMG rounds and hoping that the corrosive effects would buy me precious seconds. Right when I was about to die, the loader succumbed and I was back on my feet. Quickly, I phaselocked the remaining loader and took him out. Petey respawned up top, and couldn’t get to me, but found that he could still shoot enemies, and, more importantly, he could throw his turret through the gaps in the gantry to the floor of the arena where it could help me out.

With Petey calling out targets and laying down covering fire, I was able to move between my hiding spot in a shipping container and the arena floor, phaselocking flyers, shooting loaders and, more importantly surviving. Two waves later, the final round of the Hyperion Circle of Slaughter was over. The four thousand experience points was welcome, although at level 35 and level 40, the points were mere drops in the bucket for both of us, but more importantly, we had survived, and survived when we really shouldn’t have.

And that right there, is why I love Borderlands 2 so much. That freedom to adapt, improvise, fight through and survive encounters that find you outmanned, outgunned and outmatched. The exhilaration of returning to a shelved quest or area, made impossible due to a low level or subpar weaponry, only to chew it up and spit it out several hours and weapon upgrades later. That constant feeling of moving forward, getting more powerful, obtaining better stuff, all propelling you headlong into an encounter with Handsome Jack, one of the better gaming Big Bads in recent memory.

And what an enemy he is. One of the biggest problems with the first game was that there wasn’t much of a story. You were on Pandora, fighting your way towards opening The Vault, all at the behest of some mysterious AI. I played almost a hundred hours of Borderlands and I couldn’t tell you who the main enemy was, if there even was one. The goal was The Vault, and once there, the opening of it, and the resulting battle was a tremendous letdown.

Not so with Borderlands 2. Stopping Handsome Jack not only gives the narrative a much needed focus, but it also gives a truly excellent villain. Between the smarmy real time messages, the prerecorded radio dispatches, the elitist city of Opportunity (an ode to the one per cent if ever there was one) and the late game revelations of Jack’s earlier actions, including his orchestration of the previous game’s events, you’ll be looking forward to the inevitable final showdown more than you ever looked forward to opening The Vault. Helping the story along the way are a collection of memorable side characters, all voiced by some truly excellent voice talent, and giving the game the personality needed to sustain you when you head off the beaten path in search of side quests and hidden gems.

Also improved this time around is the weapon progression. The only weapons I’ve kept throughout the game are ones I’m saving for my alt characters, and said weapons are safely stored in the bank, rather than taking up precious inventory slots. At this point in the original Borderlands, I had been toting the same weapons around for at least a dozen hours, if not more. Here, I’m finding so much good kit, that choosing this sniper rifle over that one, is an agonizing decision, one made even more complicated by the fact that the numbers only tell half of the story. Yeah, that SMG may do more damage, but using it in iron sights mode makes it waver like it was wielded by Uncle Phil after too many drinks on Thanksgiving. Sure, that one is accurate as hell, but its shots are slow as molasses, requiring you to make sure you’ve got your enemy dead to rights before pulling the trigger, even if it means having your shield whittled down in the process of aiming. Doing nothing but a straight up numbers comparison will rob you of the joy of experimenting with the various weapons and realizing that the worse choice on paper can often times end up being the best choice in practice.

I’ve spoken before about how I like the tactical nature of the Siren’s phaselock power much better this time around and my position on the matter has not changed. If anything, since starting the game over in True Vault Hunter mode, my love of the power has only grown. Whether it’s picking up an enemy to use as a health pinata, taking a badass enemy off of the battlefield while I deal with lesser enemies or using the power to nail down pesky flyers, it is still as satisfying to use the six hundredth time as it was the first. Best of all, it has weaknesses. There have been battles, particularly battles with lots of buzzards, where my power’s usefulness is stretched to the breaking point. Similarly, the Commando’s turret can wreck shop, but waiting for it to charge back up can be a long, agonizing process.

Co-op is, as with the first one, excellent. Drop in a friend’s game and knock out some quests. When you get to them in your game, you can either do them again or skip them outright. Or, have them pop in your game and help out if you get to a part where things are a little hairy. Whatever you want, it’s cool. Yeah, loot isn’t shared, so an extra layer of pleasantries is required to ensure no one bogarts the magentas, but at least now we have a proper trading screen and no longer rely on dropping items on the ground like savages. Luckily, the same ability to drop loot, dashboard out and effectively dupe your gear is still present should neither one of you be able to come to a compromise. Not that I would ever indulge such a thing.

I’ve gone on record a number of times stating that I don’t like to replay games, yet with Borderlands 2, as soon as I was finished, I started it right back up again to play True Vault Hunter Mode while at the same time splitting time with the new Captain Scarlett DLC. Simply put, I can’t get enough of this game. I have Dishonored. I have Sleeping Dogs. I want to play XCOM and Black Ops 2 and Halo 4, yet more than all of those, I want to play more Borderlands 2. If that makes me a hamster on a wheel, then so be it. At least I’m a hamster with a 500 damage per shot, caustic sub-machine gun.

18 Responses to “Borderlands 2 in Review”

  1. Bill Abner October 17, 2012 at 2:22 pm #

    I finally played a little co op w/ Brandon.

    The experience was…like waking up on Christmas and getting clothes.

    • Brandon October 17, 2012 at 3:11 pm #

      Looks like it’s time to cull someone from Ye Olde Friende Liste.

    • Brandon Dumsky October 23, 2012 at 1:25 am #

      LOL! BL2: A few tweaks here and there, but plays exactly like the original. In other words, BORING. An overrated franchise. (Not a troll, either.)

  2. Erick T. October 17, 2012 at 2:27 pm #

    I’m a little surprised this is getting the NHS HS. BL2 is what the original should have been and is not what the sequel should be; with a lot of the same problems.

    The loot system is not great, a great loot system was Darksiders 2. Feeding weapons was fantastic way to keep your old lovelies from becoming obsolete simply due to a primary damage modifier. I realize the idea is receiving bazillions of guns, but the bazillions of combinations could have you going for hours without a favorite build-relative weapon. (The new Purples are WHITES!) Agonizing over weapon decisions for slight damage upgrades? Not fun and not intuitive in the menu system when trying to figure out what to sell.

    Pacing was awful, I immediately started skipping boxes tired of clicking on every green light imaginable. One of the games primary currencies/story lines becomes completely obsolete at the end of the game!

    Trying to track multiple quests? Nope. Enter zones separate of your co-horts. Nope, due to some funky quest / party developer decisions.

    Borderlands gets real repetitive real quick, pick the weapon that kills your enemies that fastest whether that be corrosive fire, or so forth (And on that note downing an enemies shield with shock and then switching to Fire or Corrosive is hardly worth the effort most times.) Almost all of my fellow friend-players and eventually ended up emptingy* their sniper rifle clips and then moving in with what ever is leftover.

    The story line, more of the exact same with a sprinkling of some new resource and awesome “ghetto hard-knocks” 13 year old and some dude who calls to much. Seriously, i’m over you man.

    Boss fights are pretty repetitive nuke’em or cover shoots; I like the Borderlands series, it satisfies a very primal part of the gamer cortex of being able to absolutely annihilate “stuff” while feeling actively involved in the leveling process. But Borderlands 2 is not a piece of gaming glory which is what I have come to believe the NHS HS stamp means.

    So i could be wrong.

    • Brandon October 17, 2012 at 3:10 pm #

      You’re not wrong. You just don’t agree. Nothing wrong with that. The NHS HS scores and your personal likes aren’t always going to line up and that’s cool. There’s room for all sorts of opinions round these parts.

      • Michael Barnes October 17, 2012 at 3:48 pm #

        And then there’s that nasty thing that Barnes wrote about it a couple of weeks ago.

      • Erick T. October 17, 2012 at 3:58 pm #

        It seems like everyone agrees though, on your “Hamster on a Wheel” idea. It may be shoddy wheel, but by-golly it’s fun running on that damn wheel.

        • Michael Barnes October 17, 2012 at 4:30 pm #

          Exactly, because I am right. :-P

          I played this last night for about an hour, and I did enjoy running on the wheel. Turned it off when I started to feel the grind and repetition settling in.

    • Vexxin October 18, 2012 at 3:03 am #

      I do agree that this sequel is what the original should have been. I would also argue that because it accomplished that, it’s still a win for the developers. How many mediocre to slightly better than mediocre titles have you played that got a sequel and did nothing to improve upon the original? I’m looking at Lost Planet and Army of Two, and that’s just off the top of my head. Gearbox had a successful franchise, and they probably could have half assed the sequel and still done well.

      Yes, it’s repetitive, but not nearly as tiresome as the first. And yes, it’s about picking the weapon that drops your enemy the fastest, but don’t forget adding talent builds and mods that suit your playstyle. It’s not just the weaponry.

      And I totally disagree with the story line being more of the exact same. Handsome Jack is one of the more hate-able villains I’ve played against in a while. Plus the Angel fight, with the dialogue leading up to, and throughout was heads and shoulders above anything that transpired in the orginal. Also, how could you not enjoy the original vault hunters actually speaking more than a sentence at a time? They actually had personalities, as opposed to one liners. That being said, I wish they’d have given this new group of vault hunters the same treatment. If you’re not going to develop my character, Gearbox, then let me completely customize him from the ground up!

      It is a hamster wheel, but it’s not like the game pretended to be anything else. It took the foundation from the original (which absolutely was a bit lacking, although not bad) and built over it. In my eyes, that’s exactly what a sequel should do.

      • General Anubis October 22, 2012 at 9:48 am #

        *Blows cereal out of mouth*
        Did you just say Army of Two had a sequel that didn’t improve on the first? Ok yeah I admit this is off topic and no, I didn’t read any further into your comment after that because anyone who believes this obviously has no idea what they’re talking about, sorry.

        AoT:TFD was an improvement in almost every possible way over the 1st, my friend and I, both hobbyist game developers, played TFD immediately following a play through of the first game and were blown away by the fact that nearly everything that was lacking in the first game was present in the second and well polished. I don’t see how anyone in their right mind can play game 1, then game 2 and then say “meh, no improvement at all”

        • Vexxin October 22, 2012 at 11:00 am #

          Unless the game was different from the demo I played, I stand by my statement. Gunplay felt loose and weak, story was arbitrary, interface just as clunky as the first. At this point enough time has passed that I’ll admit to being fuzzy on details, but I do remember getting bored quickly.

  3. nicthaninja October 18, 2012 at 8:32 am #

    Doesn’t every game with loot come down to getting the best gear that kills the fastest and suits your playstyle? I have never played a loot driven game where I picked the weapon that killed the slowest. I think the elements add a level of strategy to your load out. Sure a nice jacobs minigun basically nullifies that strategy but only if you want to use that kind of gear.

    I just beat TVHM and now I’m playing the kill this boss until I get what I want game. It’s where all the fun is. But I’m weird. I still have the DLC to do and a lot of the side quests but I’m content for now killing the warrior trying to get a confernce call. This game is exactly what it should be and what I wanted.

    • Brandon October 18, 2012 at 9:44 am #

      If you get a Conference Call, maybe hook a dude up? ;)

      • nicthaninja October 18, 2012 at 12:56 pm #

        Yeah no problem. I have a lvl 47 bee, a lvl 50 impaler, and a lvl 50 pistol that shoots in an arc.

        If you want any of it I can drop it off in your game. My GT is NicThaNinja

  4. Helios Krestel October 18, 2012 at 9:05 am #

    The only real problem (which more of a lost opportunity) is the lack of gun crafting. Hear me out, I know it’s not WoW or GW2. But one of the most intriguing things about BL1 (and possibly the most reviled) is save game editing with WillowTree. Although many people used it for nefarious purposes (beyond max stats/skills, ruining/trivializing MP), the best part of it was making different guns & experimenting with impossible (or very unlikely) weapon combinations.

    (for BL1) http://blmodding.wikidot.com/gear-calculator

    Borderlands 2 should have had a “crafter” NPC that allowed you to break down specific manufacturers weapons (rather than selling them for $$$) & make new ones (if the RNG gods weren’t favoring you or just wanting to experiment for the perfect set). The ratio could be like 10:1 break down (per manufacturer & weapon type), throw an in-game polished version of the blmodding’s gear calculator, and a worthwhile/progressive addition is added to the game!

    Right now (and I’m guilty of this myself), too many people are Golden Key duping/glitching. And that isn’t fun. Same goes for the slot machine resetting/no save.

  5. Chiggins October 18, 2012 at 9:20 pm #

    I think Borderlands 2 is kind of the ultimate Rorschach test for video game preferences. I have seen people complain about all manner of things: too little ammo, too little loot, the wrong kind of loot, too complex mechanics, too simple mechanics, too simple a story, too elaborate a story, too much of a simple hamster wheel, or too much challenge.

    This review did a great job of highlighting why the game is great, but beyond that – it can be approached in so many different ways that people seem to assume that their perspective is the only perspective possible.

  6. bob fett October 19, 2012 at 2:22 pm #

    Good review brandon. All I got.

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