Saturday, October 4, 2014

Borderlands - 2/20 hours

The opening of Borderlands does a pretty good job selling the game. Marcus narrating the legend of the the Vault is just plain fun, though his list of things people hope to find is a bit whimsical. Money and power make sense, but then he includes fame and . . . women. I guess the implication is that people will be super impressed by whoever finds the Vault, but I always wind up imagining that there are women just hanging out in the Vault for hundreds of years. Who are they? How did they get there? Why would aliens bother putting human women in their Vault? Who knows. I don't imagine them as unhappy, because that would be depressing. Nor do I imagine that they will reward the Vault hunters with sex, because that would be gross. What I picture is opening the Vault and some random, unremarkable woman saying, "hey, hello," in surprised, but otherwise perfectly ordinary tone of voice. It always makes me laugh.

After Marcus' narration, there's a cool opening song, and then the character select screen. The vault hunters are introduced by each one inexplicably striking a badass pose on an apparently uneventful bus ride. Also, Angel starts talking to you, but nothing she says is particularly interesting or important (to clarify - Angel is a pretty cool character in Borderlands 2, but her appearance here is total snoozeville).

Once off the bus, Claptrap guides you through a brief tutorial level (minor gripe - the pop-up tutorial messages don't register the presence of a controller, and thus instruct you on which keyboard keys to press, even when that advise is useless - luckily, I've played this game so much the controls are now pure muscle memory).

Claptrap is a lot like Angel in that the second game gives him a lot of characterization that isn't present in the first. His voice is still moderately annoying, and he still dances when he has nothing better to do, but his instructions to you are direct and straightforward, with none of the delusion self-importance or slightly fey incompetence that makes him such a funny character in Borderlands 2 (he may get fleshed out more in the DLC - I'll keep my eyes open).

I think the issue here is that Borderlands has not yet found its voice. You have a semi-serious storyline of helping Fyrestone deal with bandit gangs, but then Skooter talking about his mama's busted girl parts. Many characters have their defining quirks (or at least hints of them), but it's not yet clear who's going to capture the imagination of the fandom (I have a suspicion that TK Baha was originally conceived as being more important than he eventually winds up being).

So, the story and presentation have not yet reached their maximum potential. And the gameplay is pretty rough too. It's a fun, casual shooter, but so far the rpg elements are kind of a hindrance. Specifically, the level scaling and map layout makes much of the early game a little tedious. I'm level 10, but in order to turn in quests and advance the story, I had to pass through long stretches with level 2-4 enemies, which can do me no serious harm, don't offer enough experience to be worth fighting, and yet are too annoying to ignore. This will clear up a bit later in the game, when enemies are more of a threat, but for now, I'm just going through the motions.

Collecting loot is still a blast, though. I found a blue double anarchy in TK's wife's grave. (For those of you who aren't familiar with the game, that makes the already easy opening levels completely trivial). The gambling-like rush of lucky finds like that never gets old, and for all its lack of polish, Borderlands is built on an incredibly fun and addictive formula.

Truthfully, it seems churlish to complain. Borderlands 2 also had a slow opening section. It's just something that I have to deal with. Luckily, I'm almost through the worst of it, and soon the game will open up enough that I should be able to stick to more rewarding areas (provided I don't do what I always do and accept every damned quest that comes my way, and thus wind up 3-5 levels ahead of the curve).

It's been awhile since I've played, but Borderlands is already sucking me in. It is truly a time waster par excellence.

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