This might not have been the best idea.
From what I’ve seen in preview videos, Borderlands 2 appears to be getting the budget that Borderlands desperately needed. What is good about the original is utterly brilliant, but there’s not very much of it. The art style, voice acting, co-op modes and loot of this three-year-old game are amazing. However, several hours into it, I’m wondering what happened t the rest of it.
Borderlands is a great concept – a Diablo-style action RPG first person shooter (got all that?) set in the post-boom wasteland of an alien planet. The brief sketches of the the game’s few characters that we do get in the first hours are tantalizing, as are the cel-shaded vistas, making it all the more disappointing when Borderlands fails to deliver any more goodness. The towns are devoid of life. Shops are just vending machines parroting the same lame voice lines. Enemies are so palette-swapped that there is little feeling of progression. “Dungeons” feel like the were procedurally rendered by a mad god. The menus are an abomination.
The concepts were all there. The budget to flesh them out were not.
And Borderlands is a painfully slow grind to play by yourself. Don’t bother. The matchmaking system has been fixed for PSN, at least for pickup games. And, despite complaints I’ve heard about griefing and such, I’ve yet to meet a true bunch of assholes.
What is tough to decide is whether Borderlands succeeds as a multiplayer game. The loot mechanic requires a lot of menu babysitting between missions, but most of my online compadres appear to be on their second or third playthrough and don’t have much patience for loadout twiddlers. The result is that I tend to be way underpowered until I log off, fix my loadout in single player mode and then log back into a public game. I got stuck in a half hour, World of Warcraft-style boss slog with a pack of similarly underpowered buddies that was more tedium than fun as we repeatedly died and respawned at a nearby checkpoint.
Most of the games you will find online are boss missions. It’s rare to find a team willing to embark on stat-grinding fetch or culling quests. So, you’re often stuck soloing these snore jobs by yourself. And, when you do punch into a boss fight, you often bypass the base assault phase and find yourself already embroiled in the main event, skipping much of the exploration (and loot) of the quest.
On the flip side, there was nothing besides honor binding me to boss fights. Borderlands makes it exceedingly easy to punch in and out of games without losing personal progress. The rough terrain and frequent enemy encounters keep the twitch kiddehs from abandoning the group and running ahead to rob all the good loot. Also, the Fight for Your Life system, which revives your character if you manage to kill and enemy before a timer runs out, keeps you from having to constantly depend on flaky teammates for healing.
Hopefully, Gearbox was able to re-invest the success of the first game and make Borderlands 2 a more rounded experience. If they can breathe life into the world and fix the menu system, the game will be a big hit.