Today’s Big Friday post features something I haven’t done in long time – a commentary on a game I’ve been playing.
My PS3 doesn’t get much usage these days, but a bit over two weeks ago I turned it back on to try out a game that I had gotten as a free download last year but never bothered playing. That game was Borderlands 2. It was highly recommended to me by a friend and from a quick perusal of major gaming websites I saw that it had reviewed very well with the gaming media. I wasn’t working on any other games at that moment, so it seemed like a good time to finally get around to playing it. One night I commenced the download and the next day I got started on Borderlands 2. I haven’t finished the game yet, but I feel I’ve played enough to give some impressions on it.
I never played the first Borderlands, but I have seen and read enough of both games (and now played enough of the second game) to know the basic premise. The Borderlands games take place on a planet called Pandora, which is like a futuristic Wild West crossed with Mad Max, but with a liberal dosage of humor thrown into the mix. You choose one of four characters to play as, each with their own special abilities, and then proceed to adventure across Pandora to advance the plot. Since most of the life on Pandora is hostile, when I say you “adventure” across the planet, I mean you kill and/or blow up nearly everything in your path. To progress on your joke-filled trail of destruction, you are constantly upgrading your character’s equipment, which is done through loot drops that either come from fallen enemies or the seemingly limitless number of barrels, lockers, boxes, safes, and other objects that serve as containers. You’ll get things like different types of shields, grenade modifiers, and character specialties, but the most common type of loot is easily the myriad number of guns in the game. Guns are broken down into different classes, and within each class there are an absurd number of variants based on the attributes a gun can have. These attributes include damage, accuracy, reload speed, ammo type, and rate of fire, among other things. I don’t know how many different gun variations there are in the game, but I would guess there are many thousands, if not more. The other major system of Borderlands 2 which pushes you forward is the character progression, whereby each character has three skills trees that you can unlock to build your character as you see fit. You can upgrade your character towards offense or defense, close-quarters fighting or long-distance engagements, traditional gunplay or using special abilities, the list goes on. Since you can’t get enough points to unlock everything in all the skill trees, you have to be deliberate in what you choose if you want to build a character that has skills that complement your playstyle. For my character, Axton, I’ve focused primarily on bolstering his special ability, which is to deploy an autonomous turret that attacks enemies that come within range of its cannon and rocket launcher. The turret’s destructive force is then augmented by my character’s primary weapons, which frequently have explosive or incendiary ammunition.
When I first started playing Borderlands 2, I was not sure if I would like it. In the first few hours of the game the guns you have access to do a decent amount of damage but are not particularly accurate, which I thought made the game unfairly harder. Especially since I was attempting to specialize my character to engage enemies at medium to long range, I felt frustrated when I had a hard time hitting what I was aiming at. Granted, I realize that the reason for this is because Borderlands 2 is not trying to be a traditional shooter like Call of Duty where the guns never change, but rather a shooter with role-playing game sensibilities, so the idea is that you slowly get stronger weapons over time. After a few hours I started acquiring better guns, and my issue subsided, though during those early parts of the game I would have gladly taken a gun that did less damage but consistently hit my target.
As I progressed further into Borderlands 2, I started liking it more and more. Normally I don’t give games much time to hook me, but I felt compelled to stick with Borderlands 2 through the slow and somewhat troublesome opening hours, and I’m glad I did. It’s a significantly larger game than I originally expected and there are plenty of side-missions to go along with the main ones. The story so far has been pretty straightforward, but the characters behind the story have made it much more interesting. Just about everyone is messed up, but in a comical way that turns the narrative genre of the game into an action-comedy. The standout is probably the game’s main villain, an egotistical jerk whose bits of dialogue have been some of the most amusing in the game. When you combine Borderlands 2’s characters and dialogue with its cartoonish aesthetic, the myriad jokes and pop-culture references, and the silly nature of parts of its combat mechanics and missions, it’s clear that the game doesn’t take itself all that seriously. I can appreciate when a game knows what it is and doesn’t try to be something that it’s not.
There is, however, one small complaint I have with the game. It is related to the loot system, which as mentioned before is one of Borderlands 2’s core mechanics. You need the loot to improve your gear and help progress through the game, but there’s so much loot that I frequently felt that I was getting bogged down by it. It seemed that I was spending a quarter of my time looking for loot, examining it, comparing it with what I already had, organizing it, and selling off what I didn’t want. What’s strange about this is that Borderlands 2 is not the first game I’ve played with an overabundance of loot and I didn’t have this complaint in those other games. I suspect that the reason for this disparity is that Borderlands 2 is a shooter with lots of fast action, so my stopping to handle the loot feels like I’m interrupting the action when I ought to be pushing forward. After awhile I got better about dealing with the loot, but at the time I stopped playing Borderlands 2 it was still a minor gripe.
One last thing that I should note in this commentary, if wasn’t obvious already, is that I am playing the game solo. While the game works just fine when you play by yourself, from reading other peoples’ perspectives online I get the impression that Borderlands 2 is at its best when played cooperatively with friends. While I don’t feel like I’ve missed out on too much, I realize my experience may be different from someone who played the game as part of a group.
At this point I’ve put in about twenty-five hours into Borderlands 2. Recently I got busy with other things and had to stop playing the game, but I intend to pick it up again at some point in the future. At that point I’ll be ready to render a final verdict on Borderlands 2, but unless the game takes a sudden turn for the worse, I’m guessing it will be a pretty positive review overall.