Friday, September 21, 2012

Borderlands 2: Halfway Through

Borderlands 2 plays smoother than the original yet maintains the charm and action that made its predecessor so successful. I find myself laughing as much as I'm tense and swarmed by attackers...or grumbling at my screen because I'm having trouble killing a monster (threshers and constructors drive me nuts).

I was sometimes annoyed with the original, either from running through the same exact paths and areas over and over and over...or at Claptrap. Not this time around. While there's some side quests that require backtracking, it's not as repetitive; I don't recall having to visit the same mini-area on a map more than twice unless I choose to waste some time exploring/weapon hunting (so many guns). Now and again, there's even a mini-boss thrown at me to spice things up. Thankfully, Claptrap isn't up in my grill the entire game. He's there, and I can hear the sad-sack all over the town of Sanctuary, but it's nowhere near as extensive as Borderlands.

The non-player characters are as silly and insane as the original, which makes for some stellar laughs. You'll recognize a few as well, and they offer side quests that are downright fun. I've seen an homage to the Ninja Turtles with pizza-eating mutants living in a fully replicated version of the Turtles' lair from the 80s cartoon; I also instigated a clan war that involved me getting drunk and taking out an entire bar of people at a wake. Almost as an amends to how annoying Claptrap was in the original Borderlands, there was a quest for his birthday party; no one showed and I was stuck with him in a back alley, eating cold pizza, listening to his new Dub Step.

On the main quest line I'm at the Wildlife Exploitation Preserve looking for a Claptrap upgrade (hint: you have to kill a boss), which is the halfway point. I have no idea how many hours I've sunk into Borderlands 2 already, but it has to have exceeded thirty, and that's excluding the first character I made. I abandoned my initial Gunzerker because I didn't enjoy charging at things.

There are four unique classes, each with three talent trees. I went with Axton as a Gunpowder Commando my first romp through Pandora. Aside from a farther throw of my turret--a skill combined with a sniper rifle that can give you an insane advantage with long range fighting or combatants using cover--the talents I have picked are increased gun damage or increased mags. I've also spent most of my earned bad ass points on similar boosts, picking bonuses to reload, elemental effect, shield capacity, health, and larger mags when gun/melee damage aren't options.

The bad ass system is quite ingenious. Bonus stats are earned through the completion of challenges, everything from killing X number of a specific type of species to performing a certain boss tactic. Last night, after achieving a challenge of killing a zombie girl before any of the seven midgets defending her (Snow White and the Seven Dwarves with a Pandora twist) I scrolled through the extensive list of challenges, finding over a hundred, most of which had 5 ranks. These stats are then allocated for each and every character, whenever you start one; it should make my next play through, probably as the assassin, a bit easier. The stats, as well as a character's build, can also be reset at any time. The bad ass points also operate independently, so when I reset my commando it leaves my assassin alone.

While the music has left a little something to be desired I haven't found a glitch, bug, bump, or hiccup thus far; I'm shocked. I haven't played a game this ironed out in years. I have read complaints about the field of view. I have also read complaints about motion sickness. While I think the field of view might be a tad small for the Xbox 360 I've found I barely think about it, and unlike the original, I have not experienced motion sickness unless playing at 3 in the morning with all my lights off.

As someone who rarely buys or even tinkers with first person shooters the Borderlands games, particularly the sequel, are fantastic. The addition of gear drops, character builds, and a leveling system (rpg elements) truly enhance a stale genre, and I feel I've barely scratched the surface of Borderlands 2. At this point, I haven't even experienced group play.

Unlike some franchises as of late (Diablo), 2k Games seems to have a firm grasp on what works and what doesn't in terms of what the players want, and this gamer is very appreciative of that understanding--it makes for a great sequel.

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