Sunday, January 24, 2016

Borderlands 2 - 20/20 hours

I'm actually at 21 hours, but since I was so close to beating the game at 20 hours, I decided to hold off on writing a post.

So, Borderlands 2's story is just a thin wisp of nothing. That's not a criticism, just an observation. You want to kill Handsome Jack and stop him from reviving an ancient monster. You do this mostly by going to places and killing things, gathering macguffins, and listening to Handsome Jack insult you. There's a twist about 15 hours in where a couple of major characters die, but it's one of those twists that's so structurally obvious that it does not come at a surprise.

If the plot isn't anything to write home about, the texture of the game, the details of the world and the characters are more than enough to hold my interest. From Lilith's brash psychopathy to Sir Hammerlock's genteel loquaciousness, to Handsome Jack's unfathomable dickishness. Around every corner is something fun to see, some joke to enjoy.

It's a good background for the relentless shooting and looting gameplay. On the one hand you have this mindless, almost compulsive activity, and on the other you have this clever and amusing commentary. It's a perfect blend of rhythms to hold my interest for hours at a time.

How best to describe what I'm like when I play Borderlands 2? You know how there are these movies and tv shows where the writers are clearly ignorant about video games, so they portray the "gamer" character as zoned out in front of a flickering television, seemingly oblivious to both the world around him (and it's almost always a "him") and the horrifying noises coming from the television, clearly in a semi-comatose state caused by sensory overload from the orgy of violence in front of him?

Yeah . . .

There's just something about the combination of short-term mayhem, long-term character-planning, and constant accumulation of new weapons that sends me into a blasting, grinding, hoarding fugue.

My favorite character is Salvador, the Gunzerker. He gets the ability to wield two weapons at once, and his playstyle encourages holding down the trigger buttons and just unloading with everything you have all the time (once you've snagged the abilities that make that possible, that is), and it's just such an amazing experience. I'm constantly at the brink of catastrophe, cackling with homicidal glee (metaphorically . . . mostly) and much like Pandora is a perfect video game world, Salvador is a perfect video game character because his prescripted screaming tracks perfectly with my spontaneous reactions to the game itself.  It may not be sophisticated or deep, but it is clever, and when he goes berserk and screams "BERSERK SCREAMING!" he is speaking the language of my heart.

It's a strange paradox of my nature. Most of the time, many would describe me as staid, methodical, and risk-averse, but in certain games that give me the opportunity to attack, I'm the sort of player who lets the red mist descend over his sight and just goes all-out on offense. That makes Salvador my favorite character, but honestly, I take the same approach with all the other characters.

Which is kind of the great and terrible thing about Borderlands 2. It makes me want to delve deep into it, to play new game+ and new game++, to try different characters and different builds with those characters, to collect a whole menagerie of exotic guns and to beat all the optional bosses. It's a set of goals that will potentially take hundreds of hours (I know, because I spent hundreds of hours on the console version and didn't get even halfway there). It's a black hole of time that is incredibly pleasurable and very addictive.

The thing is, if it weren't for the blog, I'd want to get addicted. I have been before, and it was great. I was lost in the glorious chaos of the game's frantic battles. This time, it will have to be different. I'll have to modulate my expectations and make a plan for eventually coming down.

As far as I can foresee, the way it's going down is this - I'll start up True Vault Hunter mode and fight my way to Sanctuary, then start up the DLC, going in chronological order from Captain Scarlet to Hammerlock's Hunt, then Mr. Torgue's Campaign of Carnage, and Tiny Tina's Assault on Dragon Keep. My hope is that by waiting to play the DLC until True Vault Hunter mode, I'll be able to evade the level cap on the normal game and allow the level-scaling to keep up with my character's advancement. It might be possible that I'll gain enough levels to blow past 50, in which case Ultimate Vault Hunter Mode could  be more difficult than necessary (though that's academic, because I don't intend to try it).

After I do all that stuff, my plan is to just walk away (after writing a neat blog post, of course). That's easier said than done, because even after the numerous hours and four DLCs worth of events, I'll have just started the real game. But it will be an interesting test of willpower to see if I can do it.

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