Tuesday, September 25, 2012

TheAssailant Reviews: Borderlands 2

I bought the first Borderlands back in January 2011 when I had the urge to play a Shooter-RPG that would take my mind off of things. I played Borderlands almost everyday with my best friend in split screen co-op for hours at a time, and for even longer on a separate save. To me, playing Borderlands by myself was always a lot more boring and felt more like a chore than the pinnacle of fun it was in co-op. Sadly, since that time my best friend and I are now attending separate Universities, so I had to go through Borderlands 2 alone. However (and luckily for me), Borderlands 2 is just as much fun alone as it is with another person or a group, which should speak volumes to how it has improved over its predecessor.

Much like in the first Borderlands, a vault reveals itself on the planet Pandora after the original four Vault Hunters opened the first and were greeted with a fist (or tentacle) full of disappointment. Since the opening of Pandora's "box," a new substance began appearing across Pandora that attracted the attention of the Hyperion Corporation, dispatching the Interplanetary Ninja Assassin Claptrap, which goes awry as you should know if you played Claptrap's New Robot Revolution DLC for the original game. You play as one of the four new Vault Hunters who travel to Pandora in search of the new vault. Upon arrival, Handsome Jack attempts to murder you via exploding train, fails, and that's when the game actually starts.

He's bringing sexy and evil back.
I'll be frank here, I love the story of Borderlands 2. It has such a nice balance of seriousness and off-the-wall humor that no other game that I've played before has achieved; not even the original Borderlands. The main antagonist is a condescending dickbag that attempts to take potshots at your self-esteem every chance he gets (telling you countless times to just go kill yourself). In fact, I would go so far as to draw a comparison between GLaDOS and Handsome Jack. He's just one of those likable villains that the original Borderlands didn't have (Commandant Steele was a bad villain). The other two lovable characters that were consistently funny or amusing were Claptrap and Tiny Tina (voiced by Ashley Burch of Hey Ash, Watcha Playing?).

The storytelling is also leaps and bounds ahead of the original. Whereas in the original game, most of the backstory to missions were told in long dialogues shown only in the mission details page, Borderlands 2 gives you a short, single-sentenced snippet of the context of the mission, and then the characters will tell you all about it either in person or over ECHO. Not having to read in order to understand the story is a definite plus here. For once I actually felt like I was a part of the Borderlands universe, something the original game couldn't do. It also helps that the writing is tremendously superior to the original game, including childish humor for us to giggle at, which is always nice to have.

Much like the original, Borderlands 2 has you doing quests for experience, loot, and money. Leveling up allows you to use better weapons and armor, find better loot, and finish mission objectives within a reasonable difficulty. This time around, Gearbox added some new gameplay elements. The original Borderlands gave you Weapon Proficiencies where the more EXP you gained while holding a certain type of weapon, the better you got at using that weapon. Though it made sense, leveling up your proficiency proved difficult later in the game when training to take on Crawmerax the Invincible (more on that later), especially if you were trying to level up Eridian proficiency because the weapons were fairly weak and only began showing up in the middle of the game.

I prefer the other name for Bullymongs.
As a replacement, they've added in the Badass Rank system, where instead of giving EXP, completing challenges gives you Badass Rank points which will earn you Badass Tokens and you can then redeem those tokens for stat increases that carry across all your characters (you have the option of turning off these bonus stats). Since challenges are kept on a per-character basis, you could theoretically use Badass Rank to increase your Gun Damage stat to +100%, but it would take some time as you're only given a choice one stat from five per token, of which there are a total of fourteen. At the moment of this writing, my Badass Rank is 6589 and my Gun Damage stat is at +6.4%. These stats are also only increased in fractions of a percent.

Leveling up also gives you upgrades to your Action Skill, which is similar to the Action Skill system in the original, but more refined; allowing you to do more with your skill and your character (like being able to use the skill while downed in Fight For Your Life mode). However, ammo regeneration is no longer a perk to the Soldier/Commando class, forcing you to constantly buy ammo or use an absorption shield to absorb enemy ammo. Additionally, there are no more shields that regenerate health over time, but there are class mods and skills that allow you to regenerate health over time.

And yes, this time there's more color too.
The level cap is currently at 50 and the final boss is around the early-mid 30s. Completing the game unlocks True Vault Hunter Mode, which is analogous to the Second Playthrough in the original Borderlands. However, the enemies in TVHM are much tougher and far more varied than the first playthrough. Playing this mode, you will actually encounter new versions of enemies that don't appear the first time around, like Armored Maniacs (Psychos) and corrosive Bullymongs. I see this difficulty increase as a challenge to my badassitude, and I accept. It's a good thing enemies stay dead when you respawn from a death.

Additionally, they added a new Invincible creature for you (to attempt) to defeat. Much like Crawmerax in the General Knoxx DLC, this creature is at a level beyond the cap, which you cannot match. Allegedly, it was designed as a boss for four level 50 characters to tackle together. So if your friends are either dysfunctional or non-existent, I wish you the best of luck.

I liked the first Borderlands, and this game really stands out as a testament of what a good sequel is. The 30+ hours I've spent playing Borderlands 2 were more enjoyable than the 100+ hours I spent on the original. Everything that bothered me in the original was fixed, and everything I liked was kept the same or made even better. I highly recommend getting Borderlands 2 and either playing it alone or with your friends, despite the distinct lack of the promised 96.5% more wub wub.

Dub subs with the wub wub.

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