The truth is that I’d rather be playing Borderlands 2 than writing this right now. In fact, I was just playing it. And it’s addictive, and funny, and quirky and smothered with love. For those of you who’ve never played the first (guilty as charged) you play a “vault hunter.” You don’t really have much of a backstory, but then, for this kind of game, you don’t really need one. Suffice to say, there is a Big Bad out there named Handsome Jack, a suave, psychopathic representative of a megalomaniac Hyperion Corporation bent on unlocking some vault which contains a powerful creature they hope to control. You are sided with a charming band of rebels in a town called Sanctuary, who aims to stop him.
Borderlands 2 Trailer
1. PREVIOUSLY ON…
For those who’ve never played the first, there is a quick recap to start the game. It’s not really necessary, but it’s appreciated. It lends some context to the long, epic journey you’re about to begin.
2. OOZING CHARM
Everything in the game, from the art style to the dialogue – even the jaunty sway of your rifle’s target scope as you sprint, is packed with personality. I don’t know if you’ve ever read much sci-fi, but Borderlands brings to mind the parodic universes of Terry Prachett’s Discworld, the punny fantasy worlds of Piers Anthony, or Harry Harrison’s Bill, The Galactic Hero. This is Bizarro Mad Max, and you will love spending time here.
3. THE TRAIL LESS TRAVELED
Sometimes in a game, sidequests are these cookie-cutter things endlessly repeated. What’s great in Borderlands 2 is that the sidequests are hand-crafted little sojourns in their own right. Often times they will return you to an area you may have visited during a main quest, but open up another section that was previously inaccessible.
4. TWO GREAT TASTES
While they don’t advertise it on the back of the box, Borderlands 2 is kind of an open world. While the tale itself is pretty linear, the world is monstrously large and has almost a kind of sci-fi cartoony Skyrim quality to it. Fast Travel terminals let you go anywhere you want, and while you might not have new questlines there, the creatures and lootboxes always respawn, so you can farm at will for new guns, money and experience.
There is a marvellous sense of space to the hostile world of Pandora. This largely has to do with the fact that not only are there wide, flat open spaces where winged Raak (a kind of pterodactyl) fly, but plenty of verticality. Gaping caverns sit beside looming towers. You’re always climbing up or jumping down in this game, and shooting while doing both.
6. MY LITTLE FRIENDS
Every gun you find is like a new best friend. With literally millions of variations, and a slot-machine style way of disgorging them, you’ll be picking up each one and examining it carefully against the ones you’ve already got. But the differences aren’t just in the numbers — the guns have personal aesthetics as well. The developer must have had a whole team just drawing guns for years.
7. IT’S HOW YOU GET THERE
Enemies don’t just rush at you. Some do, especially the suicide bombers. But for the most part, enemies are quite agile. I witnessed two crazies leaping over railings down some stairs to get to me. Also, they’re pretty good at dodging. The best part is when you kill them. They jerk like the cartoons they resemble. It feels like the game was tuned for fun.
8. HARD KNOCKS
Look — the game is hard. There’s no option to change the difficulty, and that’s a shame. It’s easier when you play 4-player co-op, but for those of you who don’t have friends, to solo this game requires a lot of farming skills, weapons and money, and a lot of dying. And if you don’t have friends or much time, you might want to give this game a pass, despite its alacrity.
9. THEY’RE BACK
Even after you’ve cleared an area, enemies respawn quickly. Not quite Far Cry 2 bad, but it’s frustrating when you have to repeat an area and suddenly you’re swarmed by these animals you’ve already killed. Sometimes I find myself just running past them, pulling them behind me like an angry train until I reach a new area and they lose interest in me.
10. SAVE ME
That brings me to the thing I hated the most in the game. The save system is terrible. There are liberal cheeckpoints, and if you die you respawn at them, but if the kid is crying, or if you’ve just got 15 minutes to kill, and you save and quit in the middle of a quest, the next day when you boot up the game, you’ll find yourself all the way back at a fast travel hub and have to work your way back to where you were the previous day. What’s more, all the enemies have respawned and you have to kill them all again. A warming — play your missions all the way through before you save and quit. It’s like one of those relationship talks you have with a partner – finish the conversation or you’ll pay for it the next day.
FINAL WORD: The game is great. A few snags, but overrwhelmingly awesome.
Sherwin Sullivan Tjia is the author of five books: Gentle Fictions, Pedigree Girls (Insomniac Press), The World is a Heartbreaker (Coach House Books), The Hipless Boy (Conundrum Press). His latest is a choose-your-own-adventure story told from the perspective of a cat. It’s called You Are a Cat! (Conundrum Press). His most recent invention, the E-Z-Purr, is a CD with over an hour of cats purring! and is available for purchase from CD Baby.