New series time! With the release of Games’ Most Wanted, I’ve got to do whatever I can to keep it somewhat relevant. (Tell all your friends! Buy copies!) So I think for the next who-knows-how-long [insert time frame here], I’m going to do some quick blogs about games that I’ve enjoyed over the last…well, more than three decades.
We’ll kick things off with Gearbox’s Borderlands 2.
1. Insane Weapon Randomizations
Each weapon you run across within the game has several stats assigned to it, such as Fire Rate, Magazine Size, Damage, Elemental Chance, and so on. Coupled with the various color “rarity” levels, these stats are pretty much randomized within weapon classes (such as Sniper, Pistol, SMG, Rocket Launcher, Grenade, and more). This results in a unique weapon for every discovery, for good or ill. Even the set piece weapons that are dropped after defeating a boss have a little randomization as well, varying them from game to game.
What happens is a feeling that is akin to opening presents on Christmas morning. Because of these uniqueness factors – Gearbox boasts that the total combinations are in the “gazillions” – each weapon is like a new gift in your character’s hands. I cannot count how many hours my co-op partners and I spend test-firing those guns that intrigue us, as the effects can also be somewhat interesting.
Coping with this seemingly overwhelming feature is a matter of picking a couple of weapon classes you enjoy most and focusing on those. For example, my Siren character (Maya) – who is just about ready to hit Level 48 – tends to use pistols, SMGs, and rocket launchers. And my favorite weapon of the moment is a newly-acquired rocket launcher that fires a single rocket…that then unwinds into three separate warheads in a spiral pattern, causing untold damage and mayhem. I say “moment” because each weapon is assigned a level – adding to yet more randomization factors – and the farther the discrepancy from your character’s level to the weapon, the less damage it does. So you’re always on the lookout for more guns.
Lots and lots of guns.
The Borderlands storyline is pretty intense in its simplicity. Bad guy, who’s the head of a weapons corporation, wants to rule Pandora and use it as his own weapons testing range. Your job – after he attempts to kill you in the opening story sequence – is to hunt him down and eliminate him.
There’s a lot more to it than that, once you factor in side plots and tie-ins from the previous Borderlands game and its characters. And it all ties in rather nicely, if a bit convoluted. Toss in some sarcasm, humor, and craziness, and its a story that keeps you driving to the end. Handsome Jack’s characterization is so in-your-face you definitely look forward to eliminating him by the time the end comes.
While there is some outright crass humor, it doesn’t dominate and can be ignored simply by turning down the volume during the exchange.
I have to mention the downloadable content (DLC) here as well. With the four DLC add-on missions, as well as the two new character classes and additional skins (character looks), BL2 increases the enjoyment of replay. The DLCs add some depth to the Pandora universe, providing side quests and stories that involve some of the world’s more colorful characters. Actual playtime is pretty decent as well, and you feel pretty accomplished when you come to the end of each one. While the additional classes and skins aren’t necessary to finish the game, they add more to its versatility.
Before anyone asks, I’ll say that Tiny Tina’s Assault on Dragon Keep is my favorite DLC by far. And I’ll extend that to any other game’s DLC as well. Gearbox outdid itself with this “game within a game” concept. Using familiar tropes and gamer stereotyping that true RPGers are well aware of – if not experienced first-hand – ADK is an experience like no other that I’ve had to date within video gaming. From accidentally overpowered bosses to a changing environment on a whim, to the awkwardness of naming an NPC on the fly, it hits on chords that ring true for hardcore RPGers like myself.
3. Co-operative play
I admit, I did try to play Borderlands 2 in solo campaign mode. And it was horrible. I’m not the best first person shooter (FPS) player out there, as my reaction time isn’t pro level and I’m lucky to get a head shot with a sniper rifle on Easy mode in any game.
But I’d bought BL2 with the co-op in mind. With three other players – all three being good friends of mine from my local gaming group – we attacked the game together. The experience has been a bonding one of sorts; nearly every week, we tackle a portion of the game for a few hours of group escapism. It’s been akin to playing in a well-run RPG at the table, something I remember from days of yore. We’ve had our disagreements and some arguments (who wouldn’t?) but overall, we’ve enjoyed coming across the Pandora landscape and its invariable surprises, a camaraderie that has deepened our appreciation for each other and our gaming time together.
So there it is. Guns, story, and co-op play are my top takeaways from BL2. Arguably there are other great things, such as a raft of zinging one-liners, a few memorable characters, and some of the arena-style combat chaos…but comparatively, it’s the shared journey through an enjoyable story with lots of guns that clinches this game for me.