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The Good and Bad of Borderlands 2

For a game that was one of my most anticipated of the year, I haven’t played Borderlands 2 for nearly as much as I would have liked. Alas, just as I got started getting into it, something else for review dropped into my lap and I had to devote some time to it. Such is the way of a game reviewer, you go where the money takes you. Wait, we’re not getting paid for this?

Get my agent on the phone!

I have put in enough time with the game to talk about some of the stuff that I like, and some of the stuff that I don’t, though and I’m happy to share it, thereby gaining me a small respite from Bill’s incessant cries for a piece about my Borderlands 2 impressions. A real taskmaster, that Abner.

The Good

The Siren

I played through all of Borderlands and all of the Borderlands DLC as a siren, switching over to other characters only long enough to get their respective achievements. I don’t know why I picked her in the first place, but being a female redhead with psychic powers and a propensity for SMGs certainly didn’t hurt. I mean, she’s Commander Shepard, just on Pandora. In practice, my use of the Lilith’s powers were, shall we say, less than effective. Oh sure, I killed plenty of dudes, but more often than not, I’d leave myself behind enemy lines with no way to pop off my power, instead having to shoot my way back to the safety of my co-op partner. This time around, Maya’s power, the phaselock, can be used on an enemy without exposing yourself to any more enemy fire than when shooting them normally. Not only that, but the various bonuses that can be built upon the ability (healing orbs, elemental damage, sucking in other enemies) makes it a powerful crowd control tool as well as a more easily planned tactical tool. It’s also a lot more effective when I don’t have a co-op partner to run back to, a situation I will no doubt find myself in as my time with the game progresses.

The Weapon Freedom

While I appreciated the weapon proficiency stats from the original game, as you got deep into the higher levels, those weapon skills felt more like a limitation than a boon. If you found a really awesome assault rifle, how did it compare to your SMG, knowing that your SMG proficiency was much, much higher? Those proficiencies are gone in Borderlands 2, so you’re free to use whatever weapon you want, or whatever weapon best fits the situation at hand. There still are some character specific weapon skills, Zer0’s sniper rifle skills for example, but for the most part, if you just picked up an awesome new shotgun and you want to use it, go on with your bad self. Give them psychos what for.

The Skill Challenges

Weapon proficiencies have been replaced with badass points earned by completing skill challenges. I love, love, love games that reward you for not just playing, but for playing around. Look, I’m going to get the challenges for killing bad guys with SMGs and using phaselock and probably setting dudes on fire, as I gravitate towards weapons with fire damage. Tell me that I can get points for killing guys with sniper rifles or barrels, or melee attack or a bunch of other weapons and environmental items that I may not have looked at before, and I’ll try them too. Maybe I’ll find something I like that I wouldn’t have noticed before. Frost that cake of experimentation with a tasty buttercream of attribute progression and I’m one happy camper. Having these skills go up a percentage point, or half of one, at a time isn’t going to let you wade through crowds of higher level monsters with impunity, but when I start up another class from scratch, I’m sure I’ll appreciate the little bumps in skill. I also like the fact that you can turn said bumps off if you so desire. Not sure why you’d want to do that, but it’s your game, do whatever makes you happy.

The Villain

I’ve only heard his voice over the radio, and seen him him in the opening movie, but I already like Handsome Jack more than any enemy encountered in the original game. Granted, I couldn’t tell you who the main enemy was in the original game, but that’s beside the point. Jack gives you someone to focus your ire on, and his taunting words drives you forward through the main quest. Jack and I also share an affinity for gem encrusted ponies, so there’s that too.

The Inventory

Maybe this stuff was in the last game, but there seems to be a lot more in the way of inventory management this time around. Trading weapons with co-op partners is no longer an exercise in vomiting up your gear and making your partners stare at the ground for ten minutes. You can go into a trade screen and trade weapons for weapons or weapons for money or whatever. Granted, true co-op partners give away guns, they don’t sell them, but if you want to merc your friends over a corrosive sniper rifle, I guess that’s your business. Being able to stash unwanted weapons away for other characters is also a welcome addition. Lord knows you’ll need it.

The Bad

The Pistols

Look, I get that you’re not going to give a level one character a rocket launcher that shoots acid-spewing kittens, but for the love of Roland, can I please find something other than a pistol? Here a pistol, there a pistol, everywhere a pistol, pistol. Seriously, it’s getting pretty old. I’m not looking for pearlescent weapons at this point, but seeing how the bandits I’m killing are armed with weapons that are far, far more powerful than my cruddy little popguns, it’s not entirely out of the question to ask for an assault rifle or an SMG. I’m hoping that once I get to Sanctuary, the loot river will begin flowing because if not, Mama’s gonna be unhappy. And when Mama’s unhappy, ain’t nobody happy.

The Save System

Borderlands 2 quests can be long, both in time spent and distance traveled. If you need to quit your game prior to completing the quest, when you come back you’ll be at the entrance of the last level you entered and you’ll have to do everything all over again. “But”, you say, “who cares, when more fighting means more loot and more experience?” That’s true, but if in attempting the quest and failing, you go up a level or two, the experience gained by killing dudes all over again is downright piddly. The weapons probably won’t be that much better either, not to mention the money spent on ammo used to kill people you’ve already killed. I know that this was also the case in Borderlands, but these quests seem longer and tougher, especially solo, so it’s more of an issue this time around than the last time. Note, this does not include if you complete the quest but just haven’t turned it in. This is only if you haven’t completed the quest objective.

The Lower Levels

I know that this isn’t the game’s fault, but when you consider how much time I spent playing Borderlands, including all of the DLC, I spent much more time as an unstoppable killing machine than as a gun fumbling newbie. When you burst into flame upon killing someone, can run like a jackrabbit, do increased damage, have increased reload speed and increased weapon speed, that’s a hard thing to give up. It certainly doesn’t help that those abilities fueled a lot of my behaviors, behaviors I have retained for Borderlands 2 only without the abilities to support them. I know that this isn’t the game’s fault, but hot damn, it is taking some serious getting used to. I used to be Death, destroyer of worlds and now I’m a lady with a disco ball. No wonder the enemies all run right at me. I can’t hit the broad side of a barn.

The Telescopes

If you are playing co-op and you should come across a telescope, do not, under any circumstance, look into said telescope at the same time that your co-op partner is looking into said telescope. Trust me.

I’m looking forward to spending some time with the game when I can sit down and really dig into things. Hopefully that will be tonight. My overall impressions of the game are positive, despite my complaints and I think that spending more time with the game, especially in co-op, will go a long way towards addressing my issues. Before I know it, I’ll be back to tearing up the battlefield and playing a chorus of destruction on the strings of my SMG, or shotgun, or assault rifle. You know, whatever works.

E3: Borderlands 2 and Dishonored Quick Hits

It’s late and I’m exhausted, but I wanted to throw up some quick points about Borderlands 2 and Dishonored, two of the best games I saw today, and two games that will probably end up being some of my favorites of the show.

Bill and I played both games, cooperatively in the case of Borderlands 2 and separately in the case of Dishonored. In fact, they had to usher us out of the room when we were playing Borderlands 2, so enamored were we.

Don’t worry, this won’t be my last word on either of these games. I just wanted to throw up some quick impressions.

Borderlands 2

All four playable classes were available but I stuck with my Siren to see the differences. We were given 20 skill points to allocate but without a lot of time to see what you could play with, they were somewhat wasted. Ditto for the combat load-outs. I like to be able to compare my gun stats and pick the best tool for the job but we were on the clock so Bill’s gunzerker and I went to town.

The new phaselock power is cool, essentially trapping an enemy in a ball of energy and holding him/her aloft like a giant pinata. I picked a power that released health orbs when a phaselocked enemy was killed. It worked wonders. Unfortunately phaselock does not work against robots and we fought a huge number of robots. Like, lots and lots of robots.

The color palette was very bright andeverything was extremely detailed. The same Borderlands sense of humor was present and as an added bonus, I got to chat a little with Gearbox writer Anthony Birch. Nice guy, that one. The gunplay was still very fast and chaotic, teamwork was still very important and respawning still sucks when that aforementioned teamwork didn’t work out.

In other words, it’s Bordelands, just more of it and by God, I couldn’t be happier.


This was a game that I really didn’t take notice of until the last two trailers. The hands off demo we saw showed two different ways to complete an assassination mission, one where only the targets were killed and one where everyone was killed.

The game uses a central power wheel, accessible via the left bumper, to choose either powers or a weapon (crossbow, pistol, grenades) for use in the left hand. Your blade is always in your right with how you hold the blade changing depending on whether your skulking or not.

In the stealth run the devs were using short range teleports to move to higher ground as well as hide choked out guards in hard to see places and then merging (think possessing but full body, not just mind) with a fish to swim through a sewage outlet in to the building. Dark-o-vision helped with the sneaking allowing the devs to see through walls as they slipped through the shadows and killed their targets.

When it was time to kill, they went balls-out, using grenades, their sidearms and their blade to kill everything that moved. The game is a little too dismemberment crazy, but I guess that’s what happens when a supernatural assassin kills people. Bodies were flung with wind blasts, rats were called to devour people and lots of blood was spilled.

The game controls very well, picking and using powers is intuitive and the game has a really neat art style, not photo-realistic but not cartoony either. As I tooled around the level, I found multiple ways to get to my objective, even though I never completed it, having to leave to go to another meeting.

I spent a fair amount of time playing the game, don’t get me wrong, but with so many cool powers unlocked and so many paths to explore, it’s easy to get sidetracked. The game comes out on 10/9 and I know I’ll be marking that date with a big red circle.

I also saw Summoner Wars on the iPad and it looked awesome, but more on that later. Today it’s Darksiders 2, Star Trek and Of Orcs and Men. Just another day in paradise.