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Thursday, June 13, 2013

Game review: Borderlands 2

Make yourself comfortable as you once again take stride as a vault hunter on the planet Pandora, where you will kill, loot, purchase and sell, loot, chase and be chased by Handsome Jack and his minions, loot, and blow shit up! …and loot. Oh, and did I mention loot. LOOT!

Yes, Borderlands is back, in its entire looting and gun-crazy splendor! It's been 5 years since the end of the last game and in that time, a certain joke-cracking villain (who constantly refer himself as the hero) by the name Handsome Jack has appeared. He became super-duper rich by mining the strange mineral known as eridium that poured out of the planet when the vault opened at the end of the previous game. He has then used that fortune to make himself head of the Hyperion corporation and has been up to all kinds villainy and whatnot.

The game opens with an intro video introducing the four playable character types: Gunzerker, Commando, Siren, and Assassin chasing Jack, and gets blown up in the process. As you start playing, the hilariously irritating little robot Cl4p Trap finds you in the snow and “helps” you out in the beginning.

From there on out it’s a never ending barrage of killing and looting as you try to find and stop Handsome Jack.

The story is about as generic as stories get in games: Kill/stop the bad guy.
Of course, there are developments, twists, side stories, etc. But the main storyline ultimately never goes beyond “Kill Handsome Jack”.

While the story itself may be a bit short of marvelous, it makes up for it with often really funny tongue-in-cheek humor and an entertaining set of crazy (in many senses of the word) characters.
So if the main story isn’t that good, how about the side stories? Well, honestly, they’re really nothing to shout out loud for either. They are certainly better than, say, the billions of fetch quests in games like World of Warcraft, but not by all that much, if you only go by the quests themselves. What does set them apart by a wide length is the comedy, which is mainly represented by the dialog. Without it, the game wouldn’t be nearly as much fun to play. Even the minor enemies have some really funny dialog here and there when you kill them.
While the excess comedy is one of the game’s greatest strengths it is in one way one of its weaknesses. And that is because it’s only the comedy that’s really well written. All the serious parts of the game are highly forgettable. There is a certain scene where two of the game’s main characters die, and it’s not moving or horrific or anything in that regard. It’s just ‘meh’, then blowing straight by that to return to main game and t’s humor. If the game had some seriously strong emotional parts here and there – even just one or two would be enough – then the whole experience would have been much more grabbing.

Borderland 2’s cel-shaded graphics are really impressive, same with the enemy designs and the color palette. It’s often easy to forget just how much a color palette can set the tone for a game. And what we have here are bright and vivid colors.
As for the music, I can’t say I’m impressed. I’m definitely not disappointed either, but I hardly ever paid any attention to it whatsoever. There is however one particular tune which grabbed me right away. It’s not just because it’s a nice tune, but also because I’m sure I have heard it – or one nearly just like it – in Final Fantasy VII.

Balancing out the ‘meh’ factor of the soundtrack is the voice acting – by everyone. Every single character has been perfectly cast and they all do a smashing job. My favorite is by far Tiny Tina – “the world’s deadliest 13 year-old” – with her ‘urban’ style speech which includes colorful phrases (yeah, pun intended) such as “badonkadonks”. 

Borderlands 2 is surprisingly long, extending the story with a twist of some kind, and when you’ve finished the story you have the ability to replay it from the beginning at your current level at a harder difficulty (vault hunter mode). This is a great addition and certainly increases its lifespan. But it does bring up a certain fault, and that is the Max level of 50. While 50 is a rather decent max cap – and not as shameful as Fallout 3’s level 20 max cap – it is still annoying that there even is one, at least one below 99. Reaching the max level makes the game somewhat …irrelevant to continue playing considering that leveling up is possibly the game’s biggest attraction. And if you do every side quest in the game and play the game to its entirety, then you will reach the max level before you’re even close to finishing the second playthrough. This is a major miss by Gearbox – and what some simple tinkering should have been able to fix.

There is also a function here which is a cause of some really intense and fun gaming moments, and also some break-your-controller frustrating ones: second wind.
When your health is depleted you enter into the second wind mode where you’re slowly crawling on the floor, dying, and has a short amount of time (a couple of seconds) to kill an enemy in order to revive yourself.
The reason second wind is good is because it really gets your blood pumping. And the reason it’s so frustrating is that the timer occasionally depletes at such a fast rate that you have no time kill anyone. The positives of this function clearly outweighs the negatives, but there shouldn’t even be negatives like this in first place.

Another impressive feature is the respawn one. If you die, you respawn at the nearest checkpoint with increased – that’s right, increased – ammo, but it does take a large chunk of your money. And that stings. So it’s nothing really horrible about dying, removing a possible quitting-frustrating factor, but it’s still something you very much would like to avoid. 

And let’s not forget the – as they themselves advertise it – gazillions of guns. And it wouldn’t surprise me if that’s true. Everywhere you turn in this game, there’s loot, and more often than not, they’re weapons and I don’t think I have ever seen a weapon drop more than once. Now that’s impressive. 

One of the biggest issues with the game is the lack of any great “wow” factors. There are no scenes or standout moments which truly impress you. And this is not such a minor fault. Anything I would consider to be truly great has these moments. To top it off, the game ends in an unimpressive manner. The final boss is very weak, in every sense of the word.

If you liked the first Borderlands, then you’ll definitely like this one. I’m sure of that because they are incredibly similar. So similar, in fact, that this seems more like a massive expansion at times, rather than a sequel.

For a final word, this is a really good game. But some slight misses here and there keep it from being a truly great game.


The good:
Long campaign
A gazillion weapons
The humor
Wide variety of enemies
Second wind

The bad:
Second wind issues
Uninteresting story
Max level
No “wow” moments

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