|Platforms||Xbox 360, Windows, PlayStation 3|
|Genre||Betterlands? Not so much|
|Score||8... for now|
|Buy from Amazon|
What began as a simple reply to my original Borderlands 2 review grew into a full on rebuttal almost as long as the original piece! We wouldn't normally rewrap comments into their own review, but since Mike in Omaha is our resident Borderlands expert and I was eagerly looking forward to his own thoughts on the game, I asked for permission to make a little copy and paste magic behind the scenes. What you see is his original comment to my review with some bonus formatting to highlight his specific points.
Before I hand it off to Mike, I'd like to thank him for transforming my original Borderlands 1 experience from a fun solo experience into an absolute blast of cooperative fun. He gave me guns, helped me fight the final boss together multiple times, and exponentially broadened my knowledge of the game. He's an expert on Borderlands, its biggest fan, and as you'll see below, its biggest critic. He awarded Borderlands 1 a 10/10 and provided first hour reviews for both games.
Here's Mike in Omaha on Borderlands 2 and specifically my review of the game from Monday. Original comment from October 10, 2012 at 2:07 PM.
I was going to write a full game review myself, but you've done a great job with your review and I agree with most of what you've written so I'll just add a couple of my observations/disagreements so far.
First, let me agree with you about the grenades and shields. They've really made these more interesting and more useful. Lots to see and do with regards to ones shields and grenades, allowing deeper customization and application of a variety of defensive and offensive playstyles. However...
"The guns, all 87 bazillion of them, feature much more variety in Borderlands 2."
I've actually found the opposite. I liked the idea of each manufacturer having a "Schtick" in theory but in practice I've found it actually pigeonholes the weapons too much, restulting in less variety, not more. For instance, I can tell you that I will ignore every hyperion gun immediately because they all have that terrible accuracy for the first few shots. I also don't use Tediore because I really dislike the grenade effect of the guns. I'm a guy who loves a full clip, so I'm constantly reloading. Do that with a tediore and you'll be out of ammo in about a minute. And the guns that have burst fire while zoomed, those are also very restricting. So I actually found that the guns were much more limiting this time, even as they tried to offer more variety, they really ended up with less since each brand is so similar to other guns of that brand. In Borderlands 1, there was a greater range within each manufacturer. They still had their own identity (Jacobs was all about power, S&S Munitions specialized in high capacity magazines, etc), but each identity was broad enough that you never knew for sure if the gun would be good or bad, or would be better than something you were using now. The new weapon design means the guns of each brand are more recognizable yes, but also more predictable, meaning fewer interesting and meaningful combinations.
"Borderlands 1 was a great game, Borderlands 2 is a greater game. Gearbox fixed many of the irks and pains of the first game"
So far, for me, Borderlands 1 is a much better game. While I do appreciate the improvements you skillfully enumerate in your review, especially the increase in enemy types and development of the story, they've lost a lot of the magic of the first game. Seeing Pandora with lots of water and even lush environments with grass and streams and such has really changed my reality. Part of the magic of Pandora was the presentation as this vast Mad Max wasteland. An environment so poison and lifeless that anything that actually does live there would be incredibly dangerous and aggressive (or it would be dead). The effort to offer more visually interesting environments (to address some peoples complaints about the first game which I never shared) has meant that the Pandora of the first game was really just a region and that the "badnessness" of the planet is really just because of monsters, not also because of the incredibly inhospitable environment. It's subtle but it's a big shift none the less.
Also, the classes feel much less "wild and fun" this time around. They are probably a bit better balanced (which pleases many critics) but there's no more going crazy like in the first game, at least not perhaps till the very end game. In Borderlands 1, going berserk as Brick, or Phaseblasting as Lilith or dropping Bloodwing could be a total game changer, even at very low level. The special powers of Borderlands 2 are not nearly so gamechanging. At least not until we got the Mechromancer. Each class has a skill that, rather than being amazing on its own, contributes to a cool group dynamic. This, to me, makes the game much less solo friendly (although, it probably makes the game feel deeper in co-op play). The first game was lauded for its inspired co-op design. But in my opinion the single player aspect never suffered because the classes were much more autonomous. In this game, the classes feel more needy. They almost feel imcomplete without another player to help make the most of their powers. Particularly with the introduction of slag (which was an effect that was part of corrosion in the first game, causing enemies to take more damage from bullets while being under its effect). Slag is much more effective in groups. Without a group, it's actually a pain to try to utilize for most of the game. You're constantly forced to switch weapons and/or switch grenade mods. In combination with enemies having massive resistance to certain elements necessitating equipment changes already, that kind of further metagame management isn't particularly fun. It's made worse by the fact that they've significantly nerfed elemental weapons, while at the same time making them more necessary.
In Borderlands 1, if you're using an elemental weapon, there are two damage components. Bullet damage and elemental effect damage. In that game, if an enemy was resistant to the elemental damage, you could still count on them at least taking bullet damage. However, in Borderlands 2, they've made a pretty serious change. In Borderlands 2, if a creature is resistant to elemental damage, they also resist that guns bullet damage. So, for example if you have a super powerful combat rifle that also does fire damage, a fire skag will resist both, turning your super powerful combat rifle into a useless toy. This bothers me for two reasons. It makes good guns with elemental damage much less generally useful. And second, it means more weapon switching and inventory juggling for solo gamers. In Borderlands 2, I feel the need to carry around more versions of guns to do the job. There's more to do and juggle. This detracts from the overall experience in my opinion.
I'd also like to mention the badass rank system which I think is pretty cool. I particularly like how it is profile wide so that your increases will help any and all characters that you create. You don't have to start over with each new character. I also love the inifinite ability to upgrade your stats using it. I do miss the proficiency and mini-quest system it replaced though. I very much liked the idea that as you use certain weapons you get better with THOSE weapons. If you want to be good with a shotgun, just kill more stuff with it. In Borderlands 2, if you use an SMG all the time, you STILL get better with shotguns and snipers. That feels a little off.
Then there is the scaling. They seem to have exponentially increased it per level. This does a couple of things. First, it can make difficulty feel very swingy. Something that is just a level or two above you can seem pretty hard. I've not had a lot of problems with this, but reading lots of feedback on the gearbox forums, it seems people think this game is a lot harder. I would argue that is at least in part due to the increased scaling effect. If you don't do enough side quests to maintain your level, this game will get harder faster than the first one. Second, it means that the math will skyrocket in the end game. Where guns early on do damage of 30-75 per bullet, you'll see guns later doing damage in the thousands per bullet. In the first game, where a great shield at level 50 might have been a 3000 point shield, in this game, a similar shield will offer 30,000 points of protection. But, yet, the enemies damage is also scaling so the increased protection is really just an illusion. An illusion that requires silly-large numbers to make it work. I say remove the ridiculous scaling so that things are a manageable scale again.
Lastly, I will lament the loss of repeaters and revolvers as distinct weapon types. First, I liked having a separate ammo pool and second, because again, it means we have less variety in the weapons we find. Gone are the glory days of giant hand cannons that could even be a good backup for a sniper. And so far, gone also are the ridiculous machine pistols that were like shotguns at close range, total bullet hoses with horrible accuracy and insane fire rates.
Ok, so my comments seem pretty negative. Overall, I do like the game. Not as much as the first, much of the magic of the first game has been "fixed", especially in solo play. But it's still very good. My critiques are those of someone who spent altogether too much time playing the original. I miss the previous classes and how guns and proficiencies worked. I miss that this game is more co-op driven and not as solo friendly. But I love the new quest mechanics, the pervasive ranking system and the class design while playing co-op. I think the game feels more complete and the design is more mature. I love the humor, the characters and the much more fleshed out story (the ending was more satisfying than the first game). With about 100 hours of playtime using 4 of the 5 available classes, beating the game solo as the siren and in co-op as the commando, I'd give it a very solid 8, but with a sad face next to it because I was more excited for this game to come out than probably any game in the last 10 years and for me Borderlands the original was easily a 10.