From the Pandoran Front

It’s hardly any secret among my close friends that Borderlands is one of my favorite games, to the point that I’ve taken two week-long vacations from work strictly to play the game as much as possible with my brother.

Now, I’ve been obsessing over its hit sequel, Borderlands 2.

And certainly, it does have its improvements, as pointed out in so many reviews already (I enjoyed Angry Joe’s review of the game).

So rather than write a proper review, here are some random thoughts I’ve had regarding the game, strictly from a huge fan of the first game’s perspective.

When unarmed, my avatar’s hands are visible, bobbing in and out of the field of view, just as I’d see my own hands while running. I was hoping Mirror’s Edge would inspire more games to include this feature. Now, if I look down, why can’t I see my feet? Or even a shadow? That would certainly help with positioning on precarious cliffs, rafters, and so forth, like is needed in some areas of the game.

The dialog and story are much deeper than the first game’s, though still not on par with the stories found in games like Fallout 3 or BioShock. Of course, it’s difficult to beat the freedom offered by games like Fallout 3, in which nearly any character (even the “good” ones) can be killed off, affecting how the game’s story plays out. Evidently missions can be failed now; however, I’m not entirely sure how the game is affected by that as I’ve not faced such a failure (yet…).

The environmental nuance added to the sequel is nice. Wildlife noises lend a much needed ambiance, and the incidental music — especially during battles — is nice enough to not be a distraction. My only complaint here is that occasionally, in areas that are populated with Rakk (giant carnivorous bat-like creatures), it’s pretty common to see a giant shadow pass near you on the ground. However, when turning to fight the creature the shadow belongs to, there is nothing there. At all. The shadows make no sense whatsoever.

The variety of guns may very well be much improved in Borderlands 2, but it sure doesn’t seem like it. But perhaps I’m distracted by the ridiculous random names generated for the guns in the game, which aren’t anything at all like the more “realistic” names generated for the weapons of the first game. Although, the first time I picked up a “greesy Ass Beater” (or was it “Beeter”?), I had to laugh. Still, we’re supposed to believe that the corporations in the games’ mythos (Dahl, Maliwan, Gearbox, etc.) went from using polished, consistently-spelled-and-capitalized product names to using random, misspelled, inconsistently capitalized nonsense for their products? Minor issue, but it bugs me.

Interactions among the enemies are more interesting, and I’m having a blast enraging the goliaths just to see how many of their cohorts they can take out for me. And while a bandit quoting Shakespeare is amusing, the dialog of the first game was simply far more entertaining. Thus far, nothing in the sequel comes close to the endless amusement provided by bandits screaming “Strip the flesh! Salt the wounds!” and “More meat for me!” as they come at you, axes waving.

On the subject of the enemies, the animation is far nicer — shoot enemies in the leg, for instance, and they’ll fall over in that direction. But what happened to the awesome elemental-death animations from the first game? My brother was questioning my sanity during our endless hours of Borderlands as I was having way too much fun taking my elementally-tuned Siren into battle with a top-notch Maliwan incendiary submachine gun. Enemies in the first game that died by fire, acid, or electrocution gave (and yeah, I may sound insane saying this) very satisfying death animations. Burning, melting, or head-popping their way into oblivion while screaming “Mommy! Mommy, help! Aaahhh….” It never got old. Borderlands 2? Not so much. They just kinda fade away rapidly, and I’ve not noticed really any entertaining dialog to accompany the fading.

On the topic of combat, the first game provided ample opportunities to use sniper rifles and to play stealthily, from a distance. If you could zoom in on a structure, you could see the enemies there, no matter how far away you are. This allowed the clearing of an area before you ever set foot into danger. Borderlands 2 seems to abolish that style of gameplay altogether. While finding decent sniper rifles has been fairly easy — seems as though I’m upgrading my sniper rifle more often than any other gun — enemies don’t appear in an area until, well, you set foot into it. In other words, if you want to use your sniper rifle, you already need to be in machine gun range. Doesn’t make much sense to me. I’m sure it was done to save on system resources (maybe the computer version is different here?) given that the environments are larger and more detailed, but it takes away one of my favorite styles of play present in the first game. My brother and I became quite adept at using sniper rifles and scoped rocket launchers to dispatch with danger from a mile away.

The characterizations in the sequel are at times rather annoying. Granted, they were all rather, well, quirky in the first game, but the game seemed to take itself more serious than the sequel. In the sequel, characters, including important ones, seem like they should be on some MTV reality show, not participating in a civilization-altering war. Even the Guardian Angel, the mysterious guide from the first game, is shown much more clearly and is portrayed in a much more human fashion. Not cool, Gearbox. Not cool. Also, unless something changes soon in the game, I’m very disappointed with Moxxi’s portrayal; in the first game’s add-on content, she was lively, talkative, and entertaining… Now? Not so much.

Why can’t we fly our own buzzard craft?

Do the guardians make any sort of appearance? The Crimson Lance? Do any of the first game’s add-ons have any bearing on the plot at all? … Never mind, don’t spoil it for me. (That said… I miss New Haven.)

This must be Gearbox’s (the game’s developer) thought process. 1) Design a game with countless gun variations, some of which are extremely rare and sought-after. 2) Provide players an extremely limited means of storing accumulated items. 3) Laugh maniacally. Evil…

I haven’t tried it yet, but when playing splitscreen, if the second player chooses a Playstation account that is signed into the Playstation Network, can that player earn trophies while playing cooperatively? I know the first player can. Also, can the screen be split vertically? That worked fantastic in the first game.

When playing splitscreen, the menu really needs to have a different design. We shouldn’t have to pan left, right, up, and down just to see the menu. That’s a huge usability fail, in my opinion.

Didn’t Pandora have two moons in the first game? I’m only seeing one this time around. What happened?

How is it that skags went from being one of the most prominent inhabitants of Pandora to only occupying snow-covered areas? (They may appear in other areas later in the game, but thus far, I’ve only seen them in snow, despite a skag’s appearance elsewhere in the game intro.) It’d be nice if there wasn’t “stalker territory,” “skag territory,” and so forth. Mix up the creatures, let them interact. Cave- or snow-dwelling creatures make sense to not see mixed up with other creatures, but why aren’t there stalkers near the spiderants?

Final thought for now, thank goodness the loading screens aren’t as disorienting; after twelve+ hours straight of playing the first game, when exhaustion and hunger kicks in, the first game’s loading screens were not kind to the ol’ eyes.

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