I’m still working on my review of Borderlands 2, possibly because I’ve spent too much time obsessing over which guns to carry, and not enough time actually playing the game. But that won’t stop me from sharing a few thoughts now that the shooter-RPG crossover is available for Xbox 360, PlayStation 3 and PC. Look for my full review next week. In the meantime, here’s what I’ve learned after shooting and looting my way to about the halfway point in Borderlands 2:
Guns Are Like Snowflakes
Borderlands is all about building an arsenal of newer and better guns, of which there are seemingly endless variations. The problem with the original game was that too many of the weapons came from the same basic mold. That’s less of an issue in Borderlands 2, where a higher number of unique properties help set each weapon apart. Elemental damage plays a more common role, and guns may have other interesting traits, such as exploding ammo, burst fire and the ability to throw a weapon like a grenade when reloading. Replacing a favorite gun with a shiny new one isn’t just about boosting stats, but about making trade-offs where higher damage and accuracy may come at the expense of some special ability that you liked.
No Room for Noobs
Unlike so many other shooters, Borderlands 2 doesn’t make you decide up front whether you’re Hardcore, Insane or just Adept. There’s only one mode of difficulty in Borderlands 2, and it’s actually pretty brisk. This could pose a problem for novice players, but as an avid gamer I found it just right. Even as my Assassin grows stronger, the game is mindful to throw in some difficulty spikes to keep me on my toes.
Pandora Doesn’t Need People (But It Helps)
The addition of characters who walk and talk in Borderlands 2 brings a liveliness that was lacking in the original game, but does little to change its core. Even with a better plot and a fully-animated supporting cast, you’re still gathering missions, heading into the wild and coming back with piles of loot. There’s no real conversation between your hero and other characters, and no major choices to make beyond which guns to take with you, so the changes feel like window dressing in the end. For a formula that worked so well the first time, that’s not such a bad thing.
I Need a Bigger Backpack, or a Minion
No matter how many times you expand your backpack in Borderlands 2, it’s never enough. There’s always extra loot you’d like to bring home for cash trade-ins, or gear you’d just like to have around, but are forced to leave behind. This may be by design, but I’d still like a way to conduct loot-related business without finding a vending machine–something like the pet system in Torchlight.
I Weep for the Midgets
Though I rarely feel remorse for video game villains, something about the death of one particular Psycho Midget got to me. Hidden behind a corner, I could only hear his high-pitched squeals (“So cold! So cold!”) as he bled out. These are the same type of foes who get strapped onto larger enemies’ shields to serve as extra padding, and at one point, I freed one by killing the brute first. But then, in a moment of panic, I shot the midget dead during his freedom celebration, fearing he’d come after me next. These guys just can’t catch a break, and it’s really all my fault.
The Game Wants to Slow Me Down
I’ll get into this more in the review, but in my time with Borderlands 2 I’ve been gathering a list of nitpicks, mainly related to things that impede my progress through the game. For instance, one mission required me to kill a large number of enemies with a certain type of gun, but didn’t provide nearly enough ammo to get it done. In another area, enemies respawned even before I’d left, which turned some necessary backtracking into a chore. Even the fact that you can’t view more than one mission at a time on your mini-map slows the game down. In a game that’s all about killing and leveling up as efficiently as possible, I could use fewer obstacles.
2K Has Some Breaking Bad Fans
The villains of Borderlands 2 are a vocal bunch, prone to screaming death threats and vulgarities across the battlefield. Still, I was surprised to hear “I am the one who knocks!” among the racket on at least a couple occasions. Apparently even on post-apocalyptic Pandora, they still get AMC–or at least Netflix streaming.