Writing one of these looks at Borderlands 2 is quite difficult because while I had good things to say about torchlight 2, the best part of that look is to think about ideas to improve the game and its systems. Borderlands 2 is big, complex, well-crafted and polished, but not without minor flaws. Taking terrible games and suggesting ways to make them less so is easy, taking great games and having to scratch your head on how to refine some systems here and there can be tough, but doable. No game is perfect for everyone but I don't want to be seen as nit picky; I'm offering the view of what I think is flawed in these games I take a good look at. Don't get me wrong, for me to play that much, the game has to have something!
Welcome to borderlands! Two!
I spent the first six hours of Borderlands 2 complaining internally that this wasn't really a new game. I played so much Borderlands 1 - but not any DLC - that I was feeling too much like this could have been DLC for the first game. Expend the planet Pandora, expand on the vault idea, expand on the concept of vault hunters, introduce new villains, that could have been done into DLC, no? I don't mean that Borderlands 1 and 2 are the same game but I could have an argument that they aren't that different.
The character classes are basically the same.
In borderlands 1 you had the following characters: An army guy that could throw turrets, a tough guy that became berserk, a magic girl with a stealth power and a guy that sniped and threw birds. What do you get in Borderlands 2? An army guy that throws turrets - and this time, turrets can't heal nor replenish your ammo - a tough guy that becomes berserk, a magic girl with a stun power and a guy that snipes and uses a stealth power. See the pattern? I haven't played all of the game with all classes, but I fear that they don't change radically through the whole thing.
How to fix this
Well, try classes with more variety. Of course, changing completely whole systems of the games would need very much discussion here and I'm not sure how well I could write my ideas of how talent trees would work for my made-up classes. That being said, how about the other archetypes of characters in video games? How about a doctor? A scientist? A treasure hunter? A crazy survivalist type guy? No reason why they had to (almost) copy and paste the basic ideas from the old characters.
I have some ideas, of course, a character with a physical shield, a character that can control multiple weapons at once (Maybe a siren using telekinesis?), how about actual stealth? It'd be neat to be able to kill silently. A character that uses blood magic to fire life at enemies? The possibilities are there, they are a-plenty, no real reason to make another 4 of the same batch of guys.
From sand to snow to buildings in ruins
Pandora is the location of the two Borderlands games and it shows, they try to make it interesting by adding a few exotic locales here and there - the big futuristic city is nice! - but otherwise, you're driving or running on the snow for a good chunk of the game and on the sandy deserts of the planet for another one. You can do so much on a desert/tundra planet but that's not really an excuse on an academic level. Indoor design was also taken a bit from Borderlands 1. Basically playing the two games from back to back made me realize that yes, they were so much alike.
How to fix this
Maybe terraforming? Biomes? Glass domes full of jungles? Deep-sea missions? Pandora has ice, no reason it can't have water! Even forests would be neat. Different building styles? Maybe? It lacks a distinct look, that's for sure. I would add new environments and work them into the story somehow.
Aside from bosses which are mostly unique to each stories - but often stronger versions of specific enemies - Borderlands 2 features almost the same species of enemies to kill. Bandits, bruisers, midgets, psychos, rakks, skaggs, ants, burrower snake things, robots... To be fair, there are a few new enemy types in Borderlands 2, bullymongs, nomads, goliaths and the like, so it's not entirely the same thing.
Needless to say, there is a huge improvement in enemy AI. I literally had a row of bandits stand behind a short wall in borderlands 1 and shoot in my direction until I killed them all. Enemies in borderlands 2 are much more mobile and will dodge around to avoid grenades and generally being shot, they are much more accurate and some synergy exists between certain enemy types. While I applaud the effort to make enemies more interesting, the lack of variety is still a bit jarring, I'm surprised that we're still fighting the same psycho bandits and bile spitting monster dogs than in borderlands 1.
Bosses are also vastly improved, you can't really stay in one spot and just shoot forever anymore, you need to move a bit and employ some form of tactical process that wasn't there in the original game.
How to 'fix' this
Find a reason why the bandits are gone, Hyperion replaced them with mercs? You're on a different part of Pandora and other gangs rule the spot? It's not that big of an issue...
You look badass
Badass ranks are a new mechanic of borderlands 2, you get achievements based on certain tasks such as killing enemies with assault rifles with increasingly demanding tiers of achievements (killing 10 enemies, 100, then 500) and you get badass ranks from achieving these goals. These ranks can be traded for permanent stat bonuses to any and all of your characters that you create. The more you rise in badass rank, the more points you need to get a stat bonus. This is a really interesting system that makes your new characters slightly more powerful, gives you a reason to take one weapon (in this case the assault rifle) then try and complete all the challenges related to that one thing.
When you start a new character, all the challenges have reset so you can theoretically create an infinite number of characters and get ridiculous stat bonuses. In practice if you want to get all the challenges with one characters you'll need to switch weapons often and play lots of the game. All and all it's a really neat system, achievements that give tangible bonuses in games are motivating for a certain kind of players to try and get them all. Of course, the completionist side of me I would have loved it if challenges counted as completed on your new characters so it would've been easier to complete them all over multiple playthroughs.
Fight for your life
There is nothing more frustrating than being shot down and having to kill an enemy under a certain amount of time and not being able to do so. Stuck having to reload in FFYL mode? The worst. An enemy hides behind some cover and you can't possibly kill it in time? The worst! You have a wildly inaccurate gun so you shoot randomly trying to get that last sliver of life down on the one target you have but can't and respawn five seconds later and the boss is now full life? The worst! I'm not going to say that it's VERY easy to go down in Borderlands 2, but you do from time to time, and then I hope you have left some enemies weakened or you have some special skill you can use while down because otherwise it might be a frustrating experience.
Especially if you're doing arena combat and the end of a wave is near, but you get down and can't make it, you have to start over.
How to fix this
Simplest solution? Add health recovery items and maybe stimpacks that you can use in FFYL to get back up. Make it so you can carry 2-3 only at any time to not break completely the game. This way you'll be able to fix the small errors you make when you tackle enemies the wrong way but won't be able to cheese your way past bosses simply by chugging potions.
Customization! I got it, you need it.
The new gun system is fine. You can expect some specific abilities from different gun makers - bandit will have more ammo, Tediore fires explosive bullets, Hyperion guns are more precise - and most often than not you can tell what a gun will do only at first glance. That being said I haven't seen much in the crazy/overpowered category for weaponry and shields. I've heard reports of bee shields being really good?
The skill trees allow for some choices, upgrade to melee attacks, gun combat, special skills, you're going to be able to build the character of your choosing with what borderlands 2 offers.
The shields are also reasonably interesting, you get high capacity shields that lower your health, shields that drop boosters, shields that increase your damage when you shoot with a full shield, grenades have interesting effects that return in a mix-and-match fashion from borderlands 1 and you get a class mod and a relic. You can customize your characters pretty well and the visual options are really extensive and you unlock more as you go on.
In conclusion, some one-liners
- Why give that much focus to the characters of borderlands 1? They aren't that interesting, also I didn't know people were fan of them.
- What's up with that checkpointing? Why can't I come back to a checkpoint at the end of a level when I quit and relaunch the game? Do I really have to do the whole thing again?
- Why did they remove weapon proficiency? It was cool to become better with weapons you used often, maybe they did so because people wouldn't try different weapon types?
- How did they manage to make the driving seem worse than 1? There's something different to it.
- Tiny Tina won't be my character of the year.
- Good job on the PC port this time around.