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.