The main thing I wanted from Borderlands 2 was more Claptrap.
Borderlands the first was fairly solid but tended to wear a bit thin by the end of a run. Its sequel promised more variety and more madness, and most importantly of all, a bit more fluff for us poor singleplayers who have no friends.
Since I’m too old for Santa to bring me prezzies, I treated myself to Borderlands 2: Game of the Year Edition for crimbo.
First impressions are important and while Borderlands 2 makes a couple of missteps (it takes 30 seconds to scan for DLC whether or not you’re connected to the internet — more on this later), it got the two most important options correct: Mouse Smoothing and Aim Assist both defaulted to glorious OFF.
It also begins with Claptrap. The fairly safe introduction where you take the time to get back into the controls and adjust the mouse sensitivity to suit has Claptrap as your guide and mentor through a fairly reasonably-sized dungeon crawl. Sweet, sweet Claptrap (I am well aware this is a turn-off for 99% of the population). Even once you get out into the more open areas of the world, Claptrap is your vital main quest giver for a nice big chunk of game. The up/downside is that he’s the only Claptrap in the world and you don’t hear too much from him after this.
The immediately striking thing is the massive increase in character banter. While Borderlands was fairly sparse on actual dialogue, hiding its quests behind faceless bounty boards with one-line descriptions with only a very occasional human being to spruce things up, Borderlands 2 has very much picked up the slack. While the people do still function as bounty boards in a similar way, accepting a quest results in a few spoken lines of dialogue to explain the situation — bringing the quest context out of “just click it and go” territory and into the game world.
Usually I’d be all against voice acting, but this isn’t a deep and twisty narrative-driven RPG where budgetary constraints are going to take their toll on the word count — while Borderlands the first didn’t have much actually going on, in its sequel we are treated to a surprisingly thick storyline with an immediately-visible villain, a plot which manages to neatly subvert the first game’s story to allow for continuation without contradiction.
In general the quests are quite a bit tighter too, though there seem to be fewer of them (not necessarily a bad thing, seeing as in Borderlands you could severely overlevel yourself by doing optional stuff). Characters will serenade you through each, speaking through the radio to give updates or just say something silly. Like the one to collect Bullymong fur for Sir Hammerlock — half-way through, Claptrap will chime in saying he wants the fur instead, leaving you to choose to whom you give the loot, with each offering a different reward. It might not sound like much, but it adds so much character.
And the more the game talks, the more hilarious dialogue spills out. Sure, most of the humour is extremely puerile, but while I put on all the airs and graces of a pretentious middle-class artist I am by no means above a good fart joke (or even a bad one).
So the framework has been improved, but what about the actual game? The guns and the shooting?
Well the guns are definitely more varied and more distinct, both visually and mechanically. Every combination of projectile and firing mode is catered for, with new hilarity like Tediore guns being thrown as grenades instead of reloading. Nothing as hilariously silly as TK’s Wave so far, mind you.
Enemy variety is up too, thought most of them are more visually different than mechanically — half the enemies are still human(oid), but the roster of psychos and bandits expands to include “nomads”, “goliaths”, “rats” and more. They will all leap up and down the tiered levels to get at you, and some will even steal loot off the ground before you can nab it. Since money, ammo and health vials now auto-acquire as long as you walk up to them, that can mean the difference between winning through to victory and death with an empty clip.
Of the animal species, each has its own enjoyable/hideously annoying quirk. Stalkers turn invisible, Wormhole Threshers suck you in to impale you on their spikes, Bullymongs lob projectiles you can shoot down… I like a good beastiary, I do, and there are plenty of new treats here.
Either way, whether it’s against humans and animals or both (with the inevitable three-way battles that such encounters can entail), combat is still fast and frantic and tremendous fun, and that’s exactly what we’re here for.
There’s always a downside. You know, when I bought the GOTYE edition, I was sort of hoping that would include all the DLC. Considering the massive list of extra content on the back of the box, it certainly seemed like it at the time.
But no. Should you have the temerity to be connected to the internet while you play, several menus become saturated with asterisked options — the fast travel map, the head/skin selector…
In the same way as Dragon Age: Origins’ inserting a character into your base camp you couldn’t help without buying the pack, this in-game cash-grabbing is more than a little offensive. Especially seeing as the “skins” are just recolours (the same recolours you could choose for yourself in the first game), which I know is magic that just happens in the Unreal Engine. There is no work to it, no new meshes or hand-painted reinterpretations — just more recolours.
At least the head swaps are actual fresh meshes, but really, who pays for this stuff? I only see my character when he dies or if I squint while driving, do I really want to fork over additional cash for a shiny hair-do or a unique set of colours? Does anyone actually fall for this shit?
On the other hand, and to be fair to the game, there is a phenomenal amount of content in the basic package. I’ve been playing for about three days straight without touching the mission packs I do have from the GOTYE, and I think I’m only just past half-way through the story. Not exactly rushing, but not taking it slow either.
It’s one of these games you can just lose yourself in — as the rhythm of shooting and looting takes over the hours just slip away. It’s rude and it’s crude but it’s all in good fun and the shooting, assuming you don’t hastily sell your good guns in exchange for “better” ones that turn out to be a bit crap, is unstoppable.
With more varied equipment and environments and enemies, new environmental tweats like ladders and a day/night cycle, and considerably more live banter than its predecessor, Borderlands 2 has really stepped up to the mark.
I should probably leave the house and get some fresh air at some point. Or I could go and kill some more bandits…
Hope y’all had a proper crimbo!