Friday, October 12, 2012

Game Review: Borderlands 2

So, Borderlands 2 huh? Let's just jump in.
This is Mad Moxxi's bar's music. It is great. The original was exceptional, and this remix of it is even better. So much of this soundtrack is good. I highly recommend buying the soundtrack, but then getting a gamerip, because there is a LOT not on the released soundtrack. This, for god knows what reason, is not there. My own copy of the gamerip is about twice as long as this, but it's about the same.

Background: Borderlands was made in 2009 by Gearbox Games and produced by 2K games. It was a loot-based first person shooter with RPG elements, featuring a major emphasis on co-op gameplay as well as a bloody-but-carefree sense of humor, placed in a pseudo-post-apocalyptic world (it's a space wasteland world, similar to the environment in many Post-Apoc settings, but without an actual Apoc event). Thanks to very strong support of split-screen gameplay, it was a ton of fun for me to play with my bro. For him, it ended up being one of his absolute favorite games, and stylistically I had to agree. It was done with a somewhat controversial cartoon-y cel-shading style, especially controversial with the sprint to photorealism that was happening.
Now, a couple weeks ago, Borderlands 2 releases. Both my bro and I have been highly anticipating it, making it one of our three long-standing preorders for the year (the others being Assassin's Creed III and Halo 4). So how did it do?

Plot: It was...decent. It made choices I highly disliked, but was coherent and intricate. I have much more of an issue with the content of the plot rather than the quality of it, which, frankly, isn't a black mark on the game. This is bad fit, not poor design. You want a couple of examples? Sure. Most prominently: I FAR prefer the idea of Angel as an AI. They did a good job retrofitting Angel as a siren instead, don't get me wrong; the Phase Shift thing, audio logs describing things (Dead Space/Bioshock ahoy! but I like games doing this despite the strangeness of everyone leaving their audio diaries everywhere), it was just well done in general. I just happen to prefer an AI to another Siren - in the first game, it was special that we could play as one of only six sirens in existence. Then in the first game you had the chance to square off against another of those super-special sirens in Commandant Steele. It makes sense that we needed to introduce another in order to keep previous siren-players happy, but ANOTHER one? This game has sirens all over the bloody place. And as a side-note to all those other Vaults that get revealed at the end - if you need a siren to charge a Vault Key full of Eridium, and there are only six, that was a lot of Vaults for six sirens to open. On that note, I haven't seen a sequel hook that blatant since RAGE. Mass Effect 2's sequel hook was less blatant, and that's saying something. Of course, I'm crazy excited for the eventual Borderlands 3, though the probability that we're leaving Pandora is kinda sad. Another plot weirdness is the Eridium wasting of the planet - I liked the wasteland environment more than this radioactive thing. But again, not fatal.

Characters: This is a big topic for me - the characters are really the core of the game. It, of course, features the four possible player characters. Here's what I think.
Axton the Commando: I dunno anything about him. I haven't played him, my bro hasn't played him, I haven't seen story reference to him, all I know is that he looks bland. EDIT: Saw my bro play him a bit. My opinion remains unchanged, with the addition that his skill trees are positively a bore.
Maya the Siren: Haven't played her, though my bro did on his own. I think that the game's canon would be better-suited if they hadn't included this siren either, but I understand the need to offer the gameplay similarity for those who played Lilith last game.
Salvador the Gunzerker: I don't like him. As a character, I mean - he's freaking incredible from a gameplay perspective. Maybe it comes from playing Zer0, but I find Salvador loud and obnoxious and stupid. Also, what sort of dude yells out "Gunzerker!!!!!" when they rage? It's not a real word, it's a gameplay abstraction, how does he know it? Also, why would he USE it? I just don't like the name in general. That said, damn if he ain't useful. My bro played Salvador in our game, and I would never have survived without him. Not just because I'm not all that good at the game (I'm decent, but not great on the level of my bro), but because of one of his abilities: Ammo regen. Oh my god, I watch bro playing the game and he just pulls out those SMGs and starts firing and never freakin' stops! We had a period where he took his revolver and literally didn't have to reload for twenty minutes of heavy firing. Not just didn't reload - lost ZERO ammo, we thought the game was glitching out.
On that note, I'm a sniper. But I'm not an amazing sniper, and even when I'm doing great, blam blam blam the enemies take far more bullets than I have. I was always running out of ammo and having to rely on my shotgun and pistol. It sucked. Then, suddenly, we found a Gunzerker mod: Team Ammo Regen 1.2. Bro put it on and I haven't let him take it off since. As far as I've seen, this is the only Team Ammo Regen mod I've seen for any class, and it is by far the most useful thing for me. I now pack four sniper rifles in my slots and am able to handle it just fine. Thank god for Team Ammo Regen. And Salvador never has to worry about ammo EVER with that action skill, aside from rockets of course (rocket ammo doesn't regen :/).
But if I could have a different character with his capabilities, I'd be grateful.
Also, his Sledge Vault Veteran head is sweet.
Zer0 the Assassin: Me. For the whole first playthrough, I was entirely a sniper-type. It was very enjoyable, I like snipers. I recently, having beaten the first playthrough, have reset my stats for while I go back and clear out some older sidequests, I'm now the melee set. It's pretty awful against characters of my level, but it is extremely effective against swarms of low-level enemies, at least if you're high enough level to be able to chain Deception hits.
On that count, once again, the sniper's Action Skill sucks for snipers. Seriously, deception isn't worth much of anything. Here's why: If you're in the middle of combat, one strong shot that's hard to aim isn't very helpful. If you're low on health and using it to escape, the fact that you stay still for a second and enemy shots fired at the decoy will still hit you, likely knocking you down. If combat hasn't started yet and you want to start with a really strong shot, using the action skill releases the decoy and alerts everyone to your presence, eliminating your ability to be hiding and get that ultra-strong opener. For the melee character it's significantly better, but Zer0's ability to melee is highly limited by his lower health. All this said, the highlighting of enemies when you go invisible was extremely useful against Stalkers and Hyperion Infiltrators. I was often the spotter for my bro's bullets against these cloaking enemies.
I said "once again" before. I didn't get a hell of a lot of use out of Mordecai's Bloodwing last game. It was just too limited for a sniper to use very well.
What about Zer0's character? I'm...conflicted. On the one hand, he's easily the most fleshed out character. We found a series of audio logs of Handsome Jack and Angel trying to figure out who the hell he is, and it's genuinely funny. At first I thought that Zer0 was doing a lot of really boring stating-the-obvious about things, but once I figured out the trick - he's speaking in haiku - I'm starting to think it's almost kinda clever. Zer0 may not even be human under there, which is kinda interesting. In general, I'm starting to like him more.
Gaige the Mechromancer: Well, she has zero integration into the story as a bonus DLC character. That said, her voice clips aren't annoying, and she is a bloody monster in combat. Deathtrap is a freakin' beast that lasts forever, and her skill trees are made of magic and interesting. A lot of stuff about modulating the ammo in your weapon. The left tree, Best Friends Forever, has some great abilities in it, starting right off the bat with one that gives you HP Regen when your clip is full. Holy cow - HP Regen is hands-down the most important thing to me, followed by ammo regen, so that's amazing. Her middle tree is mostly all about shock and other elemental damages, and is the least interesting of the three, though it's still quite strong. The right tree though...Ordered Chaos. It mostly revolves around Anarchy, an opening ability for the tree. The idea is that, in combat, every time you fully unload your clip you get a stack of Anarchy, which boosts several stats. These do NOT go down over time - instead, you lose them all when you prematurely reload. Now, I happen to be that guy who reloads after every shot if I'm in between combats, regardless of how much ammo is left, so Anarchy isn't for me,  but the way it interacts with all the other parts of the skill tree (especially with Discord) is fascinating. When I have a lot of skill points, I'll probably do a reset and try Ordered Chaos out.
Though I must note that her design isn't the most interesting thing it could be for someone with the tag Mechromancer. It's still good though, the name is just incredibly cool.

The old vault hunters are all in this game, and they all actually have personalities now!
Well, except for Roland. But his new personality is about how he's not really got any character.
Mordecai was my favorite last game, but I'm a bit upset at how they've pretty much made his character entirely based around "Fuck yeah Bloodwing!" and "Boo hoo Bloodwing..." and "I'm full of drunk." There were so many better places to take- what? Oh man. I did this one little side uest about getting him some booze and I'm suddenly hit with WAY more interesting backstory! He was together with Moxxi after winning the Underdome, but she dumped him for Handsome Jack (also because Mordecai is a terrible boyfriend only interested in his bird), but he still loves her. Also one of his side quests gives an AMAZING sniper rifle that entirely ignores shields. But seriously Mordecai, what is with that beard?
Brick...what happened to your voice? Don't like the new voice. But he's cool - he has a lot of play in the story for being a big meat-head. Also, in that last mission where you're trying to get through all the Hyperion stuff and Brick is on your team? You can pretty much just sit back and watch him rip those loaders in half until you win.
And Lilith. Lilith is GREAT. My new favorite. She's got good personality, a lot of speaking lines, a lot of history between the last game, and she has emotional pull at the end, oh, and she's a bloody wizard. She's awesome.

What of the supporting characters though? They make the game.
Handsome Jack: TOP OF THE LINE. This is a hardcore, really, REALLY good villain. He's smart, he's motivated, he's got backstory, and he's an awesomely hilarious asshole. We need more missions like "Kill Yourself." from him. He's far deeper than I would have suspected, and again, his humor is consistently, CONSTANTLY good. I'm not always happy with the game's humor - it very often drops to "bro humor." I do not like bro humor. It is extraordinary how much of the game revolves around treating itself like a bro, like when they were told that people enjoyed the very casual humor of the game that they should make frat humor. Handsome Jack is pretty much immune to this somehow. Also, his voice actor is superb.
Angel: Why are you a Siren? Not a great choice in my opinion. She was way better as an AI. That said, it's very well done. I don't like the image of her face as much as in the first game though. The Lilith version of her fuzzy face thing is really cool though. At some point, general when she starts getting more relaxed with you, she starts her transformation into a bro - this comes across as a general theme that AIs are bros.
Who's the next most important character? It pains me to say this, but...
CL4P-TP (Claptrap): Oh my god. I hate and love this little shit at the same time. On the one hand, he's the paragon of the Bro Humor. I honestly was sitting in terror the whole game whenever he was nearby because he was always one step away from yelling YOLO!!! at the top of his robo-lungs, and I'd made the commitment that, the moment I hear YOLO in the game, I'm turning it off. By some stroke of dumb luck, it actually wasn't used in the game that I've seen. Now, while Claptrap is the ultimate bro, there are forgiving factors. He establishes very early on that he is actually incapable of keeping his thoughts to himself. And he is, on occasion, really funny himself, so I'm definitely starting to let up on him. I also fear this means I'm slowly becoming a bro myself, god forbid. There's one conversation very early on, when you've just beaten Captain Flynt and you take the boat. When you land, Claptrap will start monologing. DO NOT LEAVE. If you start moving along the path toward the goal, some bandits start a little scripted dialogue bit and cut him off, and that is a really funny bit of Claptrap.
Zed/Marcus/Moxxi/Scooter: I'm so glad they're all here. Zed is just the same as last game, which means he's still entertaining. Kinda wish he made a Dr. Ned reference, but I'm sure I haven't heard all of his dialogue yet, so there's still hope (that same logic means a potential yolo continues to haunt me). Marcus is nice to actually have present, though he really is kind of one note. Moxxi is one of my favorite characters in general, and having her pretty much omnipresent is really nice. Wish she still had the Underdome, but I haven't played any of the Circle of Slaughter stuff. Scooter is hard. Everything about him puts me at odds with him as a character (I faceplam just about every time he opens his mouth), but for some reason I continue to enjoy him a lot. For sure, as Sanctuary lifts into the air, his yelling CATCH A RIIIIIIIDE is actually really charming and actually makes the scene quite epic. And the silent little relationship between him and Ellie and Moxxi is really nice. I also really like their whole backstory with the Hodunks, and it definitely makes sense why Scooter and Ellie are so vehicle-focused. I wonder if Moxxi lapses into thick southern accent when she's stressed out.
Even Smaller Characters: Tannis is batshit insane and I love it. Ellie is okay, but not a favorite. Sir Hammerlock is...well, I gotta say, he's such an anti-bro I think he looped around and became a bro again. I quite like his "monocle" being formed by a pair of glasses being broken rather than trying to justify wearing a monocle. Crazy Earl continues to be entirely without character.
Tiny Tina. Man, I don't know what to make of her. For one, her face graphics are kinda screwed up - it doesn't make a lot of sense. Also, her voice pattern, her actions, all of it really sets me against her. And yet, she makes sense in game. I want to know more about her and Roland.

That seems to be a theme with the characters in the game. There are so many aspects of each that pit me against them, and yet for some reason I can't help but like them.

Gameplay: oh yeah, the game. Basically, it's super-fun. The mini-map is annoying in that it has no elevation measurement, but that's not too bad. This is one of the most finely tuned FPS's in a while.

Graphics: The graphics are top of the line, MOST of the time. Unfortunately, I think there's quite an issue with texture pop-in - textures take forever to load sometimes, especially when you play split-screen.. Ammo in particular rarely loads before you grab it. This is caused, most likely, by the same gradual pop-in system that's been explored in recent games, most notably RAGE. Because you load them gradually, you spend less time on the absolute base polygons, but it takes longer to reach full detail.
Aside from this and some occasional facial hiccups, it's top of the line. The animation variety is amazingly present, and the reload animations are interesting. The sheer variety of guns is much better than last game, where it tended to be a small set of parts that just jumbled together into different combinations, while now they're very visually different.
Also, every character has a wealth of skins and heads. I wish using one in co-op unlocked in for all players in your game though.

Sound: The soundtrack is amazing. Jesper Kyd outdid himself, though in a very different way from Darksiders II. I'm going to avoid talking too much about this since I want to do it on the upcoming Songaday post, but hey, it's freakin' amazing. HOWEVER I'm not a fan of The Heavy and think Cage The Elephant was a far better match for the game. The opening cutscene with Short Change Hero is sure no Ain't No Rest For The Wicked. It's certainly good, but it doesn't quite live up. I'm a fan of both the more dubstep side of the soundtrack as well as the wasteland vibe ones.

Conclusion: This is a game that's unbelievably good. Seriously, I don't believe it. There are so many factors that set me on-edge to the game and yet it is so incredibly fun that it doesn't make sense. In short: PLAY THE GAME. I can't think of someone this game ISN'T for. More games need to take themselves this casually.
Score: 9.75/10, A+.

Again, I'll be back later with news about what I'm getting for my birthday, and again at midnight with tomorrow's Songaday.

End Recording,

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