All The Right Elements: Borderlands 2

It’s not about the writing or the humor.

Having played and enjoyed the original Borderlands, picking up Borderlands 2 was almost a necessity. I have heard good and bad things about the game prior to picking it up.

The good usually covering the improvements and polish given to the game and the bad almost exclusively centering about the writing, juvenile humor and pop-culture references.

After playing Borderlands 2 for approximately 8 hours during the past few days, I think that the current criticisms thrown at this game must be some kind of smoke-screen embraced by Gearbox. I honestly can’t find a single pop-culture reference “joke”, the humor is genre appropriate (exploitation humor), and the writing isn’t half bad.

The Problem is that Borderlands 2 has more severe mechanical problems that go unnoticed while everyone collectively loses their shit over some pony jokes in their sci-fi loot’n boot.


Everything Is Better (It isn’t)

Guns. Guns are the reason why everyone plays Borderlands. The excitement of finding your perfect gun, the hunting and scavenging, good times.

The biggest problem with guns in Borderlands was the random generation system. It created junk guns, and lots of them, even at very high rarity levels. Finding a good gun that does what you want it to do was ultra rare, yet if you found such a weapon, you were almost guaranteed to stick with it for a -very- long time.

As an example, I used my purple sniper rifle from level ~21 pretty much till the final boss, its elemental damage was way too useful.

This wasn’t really a good thing as it eliminated my motivation to collect loot altogether. What is the point of higher level and higher rarity weapons if my current gun stays superior for 5+ levels of play?

Enter Borderlands 2 where this problem was supposedly “fixed” by scaling. Except it wasn’t.

Now we have more diverse guns, elemental weapons have now very specific uses, the addition of slag-weapons that amplify other damage is supposed to encourage weapon-switching in combat and different manufacturers have very specific effects on the guns they produce.

For example Hyperion guns have increased accuracy the longer you shoot with continuous fire (whoever thought this is a good idea wasn’t quite there as a designer), Dahl guns have a burst-fire mode when scoped in, etc.

Now, with the weapon-gimmicks, its even more obvious what loot to ignore. I don’t want any Hyperion gun with which I can’t hit the side of a barn at 2 meters, I don’t want Tediore weapons that have a chance to explode in my hand when depleted.

In my 8 hours of play, I did not find a gun that was suited for my character.

I was looking for a high-capacity, high fire-rate machine gun, but I never found one. The problem is that those two stats are spread amongst two manufacturers: Bandit (large mags) and Vladof (high fire rate).

This is the problem, the manufacturer stats are now so incredibly exaggerated and specific that you can’t find a good gun that will do what you want it to. What good is a 1000 RPM Vladof with a 20 round magazine? What good is a 200 round mag Bandit assault rifle with 50 RPM?

I feel gimped, all the time.

All this could have been fixed with the addition of gun-modification, a crafting mechanic. All similar hack’n slash games feature some way to modify your randomly generated weapon/loot to make it more to your liking. Torchlight 2 has enchanters, socketers, and jewels that can be put into weapons to customize them further towards your favored use. A slow axe can be turned into a fast axe, a sword with fire damage can be made into a sword with lightning damage.

Borderlands 2 refuses you the control over the style combat. With the limited talent-trees, active abilities and character customization, the combat feels incredibly dull and repetitive without any real sense of control.

Gone are the class specific talents for guns from the previous game, every character is now good with every type of weapon. While this might be considered a good thing, it is also a problem, especially in multiplayer, since everyone wants -everything-.

And trust me, you want to play this game in multiplayer.

What Do You Mean Not Everyone Owns This Game?

When I first read the scathing Wall Street Journal article on Borderlands 2, I didn’t quite understand the comparisons to COD and Halo, now, unfortunately, I do. Yes, the WSJ article made the comparisons incompetently, for the wrong reasons, but they are, unfortunately, apt.

I play Salvador a Gunzerker, the kind of shortish, insane beefcake that can dual-wield any weapon for a short period of time while screaming.


From the, name, character design, his passives (increased ammo capacity, reduced ammo consumption, increased damage) and his active skill “Gunzerking” (regenarate ammo and health, dual-wield any weapon) I gathered that this is a character intended for maximum carnage and therefore, maximum fun. I fantasized of Gunzerking into hordes of enemies while popping elemental explosive rounds into everything in front of me, slowly advancing towards the horde, making them scream in terror at my sheer insanity.

Unfortunately my dreams were short lived as some generic bandits tore me to shreds in less than 10 seconds.

So I started to play more carefully, hiding behind cover, taking potshots with a sniper rifle, using the environmental hazards like toxic barrels and explosive containers, slowly making my way through levels. I used Gunzerking for the free ammo and health regeneration when in a bind and with shields low. I died 44 times.

So when I reached lvl15, at the dam, with Roland being kidnapped by the W4R-D3N, and died my 45th time, I saw my character lying on the ground, desperately grasping a small high-accuracy pistol and a sniper-rifle on his back, and I thought to myself:

What the fuck is this shit?

This is nothing like the promised amazing character I picked, nothing at all what I wanted to play, nothing like the picture above. I wasn’t a badass (even though the game insisted to give me ranks in it), I was a cowardly pussy, easily dealt with by regular mooks.

I mean, 45 times! I didn’t die as much in Dark Souls! Ok fine, I lie, I died more in Dark Souls, but you get my point.

This seemed so completely against the design and theme of the game, so massively at odds with everything. So I went online to find out if I was just somehow incompetent in playing a sequel to a game that I completed three times.

What I found out is that the game is apparently -significantly- easier in multiplayer with Salvador because other players disperse the damage so you can cut loose with your Gunzerking. Well whoopdie-fucking-do, nobody of my friends has this game. I also learned that apparently its far easier to play solo with characters like Axton the Commando, as he can put down a turret that will focus fire and add DPS.

So the suggestion was: play online or re-roll Axton/Zero (apparently solo Maya isn’t any good either).

I’m sorry, there is a difference between multiplayer being a fun addition, even preferred for the social/mechanical experience, and making multiplayer essentially mandatory for certain characters.

The whole design, marketing, visuals, sound, dialogue, EVERYTHING in Borderlands 2 screams: BE A BADASS! FEAST ON OUR STYLISH ULTRA-VIOLENCE!

The solo gameplay instead says: hide behind this chest-high wall like a bitch

I would like to play THIS instead of the one I’m playing.


Borderlands 2 isn’t a bad game, its well polished, with a multitude of features, but its combat-design is at odds with its theme.

I appreciate the increase in challenge, but its entirely the wrong direction if it diminishes the flow and feeling of the game. Borderlands 2, in its combat, is much closer to COD than it is to its predecessor, Borderlands. And since the game rests on the combat, it utterly fails to deliver what it tries to convey.

Borderlands 2 had all the right elements, but failed to make them work in the scope of its theme.


2 Responses to All The Right Elements: Borderlands 2

  1. Gnalvl says:

    I think you’re too polite in your criticism. Granted, at times my girlfriend and I had a lot of fun co-oping our way through Borderlands 1 & 2. For all their flaws, the weapons are more fun to use than a lot of other modern games. It’s almost all conventional pistols and rifles, but at least the weapons have some recoil, and force you to pick your shots carefully – unlike COD, BF, and other AAA shooters.

    But the game is chock full of problems. As you pointed out, the loot generation is garbage. Huge spans of time go by where you can’t find a better gun; much less a better gun with the properties you want. LMG’s, assault rifles, and battle rifles are almost entirely removed from the game – instead regardless of what class you are, sniper rifles, magnums, and SMG’s are the only decent guns you can find.

    For a crazy sci-fi/fantasy shooter, Borderlands 1 & 2 are really lacking in terms of unique scifi/fantasy weapon ideas. There are pretty much no low-velocity “projectile” weapons, other than those weak, crappy semi-auto grenade launchers. Rocket launchers are still too weak and inaccurate to be worth picking up. There are 1 or 2 token plasma rifle-style guns appearing as rewards for 1 or 2 specific missions in the game. The Tediore exploding property was a 1-trick pony gimmick and totally worthless. There should have a lot more creativity here than merely being able to shoot the same old bullets – but with a different color that causes rock/scissors/paper elemental DOTS.

    Also, the class abilities are just poorly balanced. If you play Axton, his turret does all the work for you. My friend had a horrible experience trying to co-op with his step brother, who had maxed out all his turret’s stats – the turret mowed down everything before either of them could score a kill. The sniper and the siren are basically the only classes worth playing, especially since there are few good LMG’s, AR’s, or explosives in the game, and so much of the terrain is open and favors long range fighting.

    In truth, the Diablo-style vertical progression grind-for-loot formula is just deeply flawed and doesn’t work, especially in an FPS. The deciding factor in beating enemies should be your skill at manuevering, taking cover, and shooting – not experience points. At some points in the game, it’s too easy because you wind up overleveled for the enemies you’re fighting, and then in others, it’s a tedious bullet spongorama because you’re underleveled for the area you’re exploring. It simply enshrouds the fundamental skill-based combat mechanics of shooters in a thick fog of skill-mitigating bullshit.

    The vertical progression also runs entirely contrary to the co-op focus of the game. Your friend just finally bought BL2 and wants to get in on your mission? Too bad, his XP is too low to compete. Even if you donate him more powerful gear, the game won’t let him equip it due to XP pre-requisites. WTF.

    Since Borderlands 1 was a new franchise, I could forgive its flaws. But Borderlands 2 burned me out. The AI actually is a little better, but it’s too little, too late.

    Most of all, this series needs to change to a horizontal progression system where you collect different weapons and gear for their unique tactical features, and not to receive across-the-board stat increases. This would make it impossible for the loot generation to create an obsolete gun – you might not like the gun’s features, but it would still be powerful enough to do the job if handled properly. It would also allow any player to co-op with anyone else, regardless of how many hours put into the game, because raw verical stats would not create a barrier to entry.

    We need more outlandish tactical weapons, like the UT1 Ripper’s razer discs, we need more plasma rifles, nail guns, plasma cannons, and shock pistols – all with varying velocities which require varying amounts of prediction and leading to land hits.

    Also the class abilities – too many of them are just dumb. All the stat upgrades should be removed – instead armor and shields should decide your horizontal balance of protection vs. mobility. The abilities themselves need fewer RPG stat gimmicks too. Why not add a dodge, roll, or wallrun ability, rather than randomly shooting 2 bullets at once, or randomly causing status effects. You should never have to deliberately avoid adding certain abilities, just to prevent gameplay from becoming mindless, skill-less, and boring.

    And AI…the enemies should be smart enough that they’re hard even if 1 headshot kills them. I’m done with shooting the same guy in the head multiple times while he just stands there yelling like an idiot. The non-bipedals don’t have to be utter trash mobs either, they could move a lot more unpredictably, and make themselves harder to hit. Also, who did Gearbox think they were fooling by making the monsters “fly-jump” 100 feet in the air when you shoot at them from a high cliff?

  2. Wantoo Sevin says:

    I agree, you’re being way too kind. Borderlands2 is Gearbox going balls-out to capitalise on the original game’s reputation, without having to work at all to maintain its restrauned integrity.

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