Note: I re-reviewed this game in 2015. Please disregard this original review.
So, Steam occasionally does these Free weekends where you can try and plow through a game over the course of four days while also being able to get the game for half off. As a concept, I certainly do understand it, but then you have guys like me who decide that they will download a game, play it for the weekend, and stop part way through as they realized they were not having fun… 23 hours in. So yes, here’s what I thought about Borderlands 2 after giving it a full day.
Borderlands 2 Review
Platforms: PC(Played), Xbox 360, PS3, and eventually PS Vita
Developer: Gearbox Software
Publisher: 2K Games
Following the events of the first game, which I recall not enjoying to the point I wrote an elongated rant that was something like six pages long about it, Borderlands 2 picks up some years later where the terrible crap shack of a planet that is Pandora went from one type of bad to another. Instead of there being no real civilization and just a bunch of infinitely spawning thoughtless bandits in a big dull desert with vaguely futuristic elements, Borderlands 2 adds in a bit more scenery and a shamelessly evil corporation, Hyperion, that is after a rare mineral that it will destroy the planet to get. Not that the story seems to be taking itself seriously, at least 80% of the time. It is a very odd blend between listening to the maniacal super villain eating pretzels and talking about his gem encrusted horse, and hearing the protagonists from the first games, who now have character beyond being vessel for the player, talk seriously about how they need to keep the resistance alive.
However, and this may just be me being dumb, but aren’t games with a four player co-op focus suppose to be light on the story, and not have legitimately funny dialog that would probably be drowned out by conversations? Even then, I was never good at paying attention to dialog when in the middle of even remotely intense combat. So perhaps this just isn’t for me, as I certainly felt that about the loot heavy first person shooter aspects of the game, which is to say the great majority of it.
If I may begin very bluntly, Borderlands 2 is one of the most terribly unbalanced single player experiences I have played in quite some time. With difficulty curves that spike like mad while being a game that directly punishes you everytime you fall in combat, or fall into a pit of death, of die against bosses who can take away half of your health after breaking through your shield. In fact, it was that very instance where I died four time trying to get past one area, which inspired me to stop the game as making progress without running away and grinding for two hours and sniping the enemies from afar were my only options.
Now, there are two scenarios for why my attempts ended up the way they did that could be blamed on me. Well, three, but let’s just assume I am not atrocious at first person shooters, and I am merely subpar. One, I was underleveled for the scenario in front of me. A very likely option, but here’s the thing about Borderlands 2 and leveling, everything is scaled, so being overleveled or underleveled is theoretically impossible, as I should have gotten all the EXP I needed seeing as how I often ran around the game obtuse environments twice over. Or two, I had bad equipment. It is a far more plausible idea, but one I disagree with for the simple fact I made a judgement call on every piece of equipment I picked up throughout the game, and that still didn’t prevent me from having a level 7, 17, and 15 weapon in my three slots when I was level twenty in the very scenario I had so much trouble with.
Although, there is one particular aspect I ignored throughout most of the game, and that is the elemental weapons, which I did not use for the most part because, quite simply, I couldn’t find any ones I liked from the randomly generated weapons, which are 95% garbage anyhow. A fact that goes hand and hand with how the core of the game is a dungeon crawler with guns and a far more resource heavy environment, even though randomly generated ones would likely suffice just as much as the ones provided. With nothing short of huge areas that merely exist for one or two missions, some not even getting the privilege of a single one if I recall an unexplored area in the beginning of the game. Borderlands 2 is a very large game, but it is also one where I say, “so what?” to the very notion of.
True, you can ride around cars that are intended for two people across the big deserts or ice riddled environments, but it is not fun to explore. At best you will find a camp of bandits or bugs that, while different in terms of its composition, is the same thing you would see constantly anyhow. Or perhaps you will find a weapon that has good stats as luck of the draw, which is great aside from how the game is very flippant with its equipment, so I felt as if I was doing something wrong by not constantly switching up my gear as there is so much time in between every level of it at your disposal. Although, if the very slow crawl to getting anything worth a damn from the skill tree is an indicator, Borderlands 2 expects the player to be in the game for the long haul. An assumption rightfully assumed as there are people insane enough to play through the game six or more times. Though I ponder these people threshold for repetition, as I was getting bored with the game before I was at the halfway mark.
Yet, I do suppose if I had to say something nice about the game is that when it works, the gameplay works very well. Gearbox has been making shooters for over a decade, so they naturally know how to give every gun a bit of a well placed kick to it, and when you are fully aware of the environment, which can be difficult due to its size, it is something along the lines of enthralling to plow through without getting so much as your shields shattered. However, when things do not work, you die, and the game takes away a designated percentage away from you for being such a terrible person who had the audacity to die. A mindset that will forever baffle me, as them needing to once again trek through the mile of progress they must redo, fighting respawning enemies who give them .05% of the EXP to get to the next level.
Enemies who are slaughtered to the point where a kill means absolutely nothing and the enemies are just well animated hit boxes with health bars over their heads and numbers from their everything. It, along with what I could only view as very uninteresting level layouts that emphasise just how terrible of a place the setting actually is, somehow managed to make the semi-cel shaded look that the first game likely helped popularize into a very dull looking title. Yes, there are a decent amount of colors in the environment, but there is nothing about the enemy, most character, and even environment design that comes across as eye catching. The only things that do, oddly enough, are the cloth physics which I recall the game advertising at one point or another.
I will argue that Borderlands 2 has a kernel of goodness, but I would also argue that the game has very little of worth beyond the potential for multiplayer co-operative enjoyment. I’ll say that it can be funny, it can be enthralling, and it can even be quite pretty. Yet is is balanced like a cow on stilts for soloists, is the worst kind of both long and big for a game to be, and is at the same time ugly as sin when you break down the terrible planet the game is set in. It is a game I once considered buying, but after my twenty hours with it as a free game, I felt like I was testing an unfinished one, and should be compensated for wallowing through a game I would be hesitant to ever call anything better than mediocre. Yet seeing as how I needed to drown most of the game out with my own music in order to prevent me from installing it before the double digits mark, I would firmly place mediocre as a compliment.