Borderlands 2: An Alternate Take
I can’t decide why I like Borderlands 2. I’m not sure there’s much more to it than just shooting and looting. At time of writing, I’ve sunk 28 hours into it and, while I’ve enjoyed it, and would recommend it to a friend, I’m just not sure why.
The worst thing I can think of to say about it is that I can’t escape the nagging feeling that I’m not actually having fun. I wonder if I’m just plodding along in a dopamine haze; fooled by some Pavlovian-style conditioning into thinking that being rewarded with new loot every 30 seconds is the same thing as having fun. Borderlands 2 manages to trick you into thinking that you’re making real choices and decisions about upgrading your weapons, when all you’re going to end up worrying about is how quickly the bad men’s red bars go down.
Almost every time I come away from it now I hear a little voice in my head asking, “Wasn’t there something better you could have done with that time?” Levi and I are at odds on this one; he loved the game, almost without reservation, while I’m struggling to figure out why I’m still playing it.
Graphically, it looks great. While cel-shading is frequently a cheat for developers to hide a multitude of graphical sins, that isn’t the case here. That said, my PC is quite capable of running the game with almost all settings on high, with Field of View set to 105 (to avoid migraines and motion sickness), and it looks very nice. Sharp, clear and bright, there’s no denying the work put into how the world looks.
At the core, the game does exactly what it says on the tin: shoot and loot. The shooting is… good, and the looting is… also good. It’s almost the very definition of repetitive. You shoot some guys, you pick up loot, then you shoot some more guys and you loot some more stuff. And that’s about it. In the game’s defense, it doesn’t claim to be anything other than that.
Strictly speaking, there’s very little difference between this game and the first. Unlike the first game however, this time round there’s a clear antagonist to pit yourself against. Handsome Jack opens the game by trying to murder you, and continues to pop up at semi-regular points during the story. As the primary antagonist, he’s a strangely compelling one. Charismatic, witty, and psychotic, he only gets in touch so he can mock, taunt, and threaten you. He has some of the best lines in the game, and Dameon Clarke delivers them wonderfully.
Speaking of the NPCs, the game is extremely character driven. There is a central plot, but it’s very much secondary to the interesting characters you meet and interact with throughout the game. Alongside the protagonists from the first game who pop up in supporting roles, a bunch of weird and wonderful “personalities” are on hand to give you more reasons to go places and shoot bad things. That central plot isn’t very compelling; you’re hunting down yet another vault full of quasi-legendary treasure. The steps you’ll take towards that pretty much amount to shooting guys and taking loot from their corpses before handing it off to an NPC. You then try to decide if the weapon they reward you with is markedly better than any one of the many you already own.
And there are many, many things for you to use those weapons on. Some of those things will die easily, others will not. You will not be able to guess, prior to your first shot, which category they’ll be in. This is due to the game’s difficulty spikes. Difficulty spikes everywhere. One thing I noticed a lot of other people writing about Borderlands 2 was the difficulty spikes they were running into. As I rattled through it, I started to wonder what they were talking about – I was having no problems at all. “Maybe I’m just better than everyone else,” I thought, right up until I hit my first savage difficulty spike.
Borderlands 2 follows on from its predecessor by offering quick and easy respawns when you die, generally located quite nearby. Any damage you’ve done to an enemy will stay past your death, meaning you can chip almost any enemy away, one bit at a time. It’s a great idea, meaning you’re never banging your head against a brick wall for very long. But you will find yourself doing that very thing, and not always on boss fight where you’d expect them. Random optional sidequests, flagged as having “trivial” difficulty, regularly turn into grinding wars of attrition, as ridiculously tough enemies repeatedly turn my character into mush while I flail feebly at their health bars, chipping away a fraction in between deaths.
Special mention should be made of the multiplayer in the game, given that praise for it is near-unanimous. Sadly, I’ve yet to give it a try. Pretty much all of my online friends are based in the US, meaning they’re multiple time zones away from me. Given that I’m very particular in who I group up with online, that’s left me with slim pickings for team-based play.
So, a rather inconclusive rant I guess. If you’re able, you should get your hands on this game. I’d recommend buying it if possible, rather than renting it. That might seem odd, given how I feel about it, but even if you feel the same way I do, you’ll keep going back to Borderlands 2 time and time again. That you do might have more to do with addiction rather than a real sense of fun, but that’s nothing new to many of us, is it? You never really quit; you just stop using for a while.
All images are via 2K Games.
Follow Craig’s intermittent tweets @d20shapedheart.