BL2: Resistance is futile


Borderlands 2I tried to resist. I really did. I avoided it for more than a year, skillfully averting my eyes from the store shelves where it sat, ignoring the emails with invitations, sales offers that dangled newly-released DLC packages before me. I looked the other way when ads popped on on websites.

I have more serious things to do, I’d tell myself. Getting too old for games, I’d mutter under my breath. I have better things to do with my time. Like reading. Studying. Developing website material. Learning music. Besides, I’m running out of hard disc space.

But then I saw the intro, below. And I succumbed. It just seemed way too much fun. And I love the theme song (it was also the theme for the excellent British action TV series, Flash Point). Watch it. Stick with it because it gets fun around the 1:50 mark.

I had seen the “Wimoweh” trailer, below, before I saw the one above, and it almost convinced me. It’s hard to resist such a call. And if you haven’t seen it either, give it a watch.

Late in 2013, Steam had Borderlands 2 on sale – the whole Game of The year package at one low price – and I gave in. GOTY was just too damned tempting.

Now I have a handful of characters scattered throughout Pandora in various stages of game completion, edging up their stats slowly as I learn and test each one’s style, weapons and special features. Finishing quests. Opening chests of loot. Gathering eridium. To be honest, I’ve played only three of the possible six characters so far, but I plan to try them all.

And I’m not alone. On many missions, I am accompanied by a friend in Nova Scotia who joins me for co-op play sessions. Two old farts playing edgy computer games. What a lark.

There are a lot of in-game BL2 videos on Youtube, too, if you want to get a sense of gameplay and mechanics.

Like its predecessor, released in 2009, BL2 has the easy ability to suck the life out of you. I find myself playing for “just a little bit” to complete a quest I had to leave off earlier, and ending up a couple of hours later still hunting for eridium, shooting skags, battling nomads and marauders in some new area I hadn’t explored before. Driving madcap around the landscape blasting bandits and buzzard choppers. There are some satisfyingly huge, open zones to play in.

The original Borderlands, from 2K Games (home site here), was released in late ’09. It was a wild and crazy first person shooter set on a future frontier planet, a sci-fi/western combo replete with crazies, creatures and loot. Lots of loot. Loads and loads of loot. Bazillions of gun types and styles.

Like other good FPS games, it was story-driven, with central and side missions, as well as hidden things to discover and explore. There were vehicles, too, to drive around some areas. Some spaces were wide open, others linear. Overall, it was nicely and cunningly designed, well balanced and oodles of fun. Numerous downloadable content (DLC) packs extended its life and fun for several years.

BL1 also featured unique co-op play not seen in many FPS games: up to four players together. Most FPS tend to be either solo or multiplayer (and generally MP games are battlefields, team vs team or all-against-each other, not mission-driven). Co-op lets you play the missions as a team.

The game changed with the number of players, getting both more difficult and providing more and better loot as the number grew. Yes, you can always play it solo, but the challenges are better with more. The game also provides a function allowing you to join in other players’ online games that are suited for your chosen character’s level. BL2 continues that, by the way.

BL1 looked different from most modern FPS games, in that it was designed to look cartoonish (as in comic book, not silly or comically exaggerated like World of Warcraft). As in cel shading – which it isn’t: rather it uses a black-line shading around objects that cleverly mimics comic book style.

It isn’t visually as realistic as, say, Call of Duty, but that just seems to add to the fun factor. You can, by the way, turn off some of these visual effects in an .ini file, but then it just looks, well, ordinary. On the other hand, it can improve your frame rate, so it’s a useful trick on an older PC.

The four characters were varied (soldier, tank/brawler, hunter/sniper and siren/psi), and their talents/skills/abilities trees very different. Each one made you play the game a different way, to find different ways to handle combat, traps, or challenges. Personally, I preferred the hunter and the soldier.

BL1 was also distinguished from the crush of FPS games by its mad humour. Spoken character lines were wild and imaginative, like the characters themselves. The plots and missions were often zany, too. It never felt old, tired or lame. Playing through with one character made me want to try it again with another just to see if I could ace it that way.

Borderlands 2
More guns than you will ever be able to carry…

BL2 is still like that, but moreso: with a whole new map (although with some nod to previously-seen areas from BL1 are thrown in), six different character types (commando, assassin, siren, mechromancer, psycho and gunzerker), upgraded loot and more weapons than you’ll ever know what to do with. It also has a new upgrade system based on picking up eridium (found in drops, piles, and chests).

Like the graphics suggests, your biggest problem is what do do with all the stuff you come across. After a while, you simply stop looking at items below a certain value threshold.

The DLC packs add levels, loot, opponents, even some new vehicles and a lot more fun. Most DLCs seem to be scalar: the opponents scale with the level of the players (so they get tougher as you level up).

AI in BL2 is better than in BL1, but it’s not a realistic combat sim, so don’t expect SEAL-team tactics. The AI characters bob, weave, duck, fund cover, cower, run, attack and shoot. That’s all I need from them. Sometimes it’s more than I can handle.

Not everyone thinks BL2 is the bee’s knees as much fun as I do. Some even deprecate the humour. Me, I like it. I can never appreciate the oh-so-serious FPS games like CoD because they’re still games, after all. But still¬†others agree it’s a much better game than BL1.

A review on arstechnica notes, BL2 has a better, more cohesive story line that helps the player’s immersion:

The most significant change Borderlands 2 can boast over its predecessor is a cohesive plot that actually hangs together reasonably well and drives the story missions forward at a decent pace. The connective tissue tying the story together is Handsome Jack, an explorer who has leveraged his discovery of a vault full of treasures into an iron-fisted despotic rulership over the powerful Hyperion corporation and the planet of Pandora. Jack is an entirely believable villain, with just the right mix of charm, sanctimony, and psychosis coming through in both his actions and frequent radio banter with the protagonists.

I could ramble on more about how much fun I’m having playing BL2, how great the game is, and what a hoot it is to play co-op, but instead, I think I’ll just stop writing and boot into the game.

Note to self: you’re never too old to play games, so stop telling yourself that.

~~~~~
ClaptrapAnd the other thing I always liked is CL4P-TP: Claptrap, the crazy, smart-aleck robot that outdoes C3PO for insecurity, wisecracks and general looniness. I wish there was more of Claptrap in BL2 than there is. He sort of vanishes, mid-game, into irrelevance. Too bad.

Damn, damn, damn. I should have bought one of those Claptrap toys when they were available. Now I want one… and damn they’re just too expensive on eBay these days. I’l own one yet, I hope.