Some stuff that I wrote about Borderlands and then Borderlands 2

Bordering on the Bored

First published on the 7th of August, 2012.

I went ahead and ploughed through this lovable little scamp of a video game by myself, since I was short on money and long on time (to be truthful, I still am) during the Steam Summer Sale. I felt that I could reimmerse myself into this somewhat familiar world and experience it for a good chunk of grand ole times once again. After a significant lapse in time since my first go round, I thought I might try and get under the hood just a little bit, explore some of the finer points of guns and shooting people in the head and face.

For starters...good golly, isn't that just a jolly little FPS to romp around in? Coming back to it after a couple of years away from the Xbox 360 version of the game, and getting down to the juicy PC version (it ain't that terrible, despite what many people say about the UI, as it happens, you should be using a Xbox 360 controller anyway) was a great experience. The amalgamation of blasting through half remembered parts of that game along with experiencing the new sights and sounds proffered by the DLC that I had missed out on the first time around (namely, Claptrap's New Robot Revolution) was really quite a good bit of fun.

The instantly familiar heft and weight of the weaponry was somehow soothing to my ailing digits, the tried and true left trigger/right trigger combination of firing a scoped combat rifle into the squishy heads of distant enemies was like a warm comforting blanket around my shoulders. In fact, this familiarity was fed by more than just these feeble human feelings, but also due to the fact that I was still using the same wired Xbox 360 controller that I had bought in October 2008, and which I had originally played Borderlands with back in 2009. There is a small story to this particular controller (and in particular, the particular parts that make up this particular controller) that maybe, someday, I'll be able to share with you all. If you're good, and don't leave any of this homemade content on your plate.

What a crock of shit all that was, maybe I should write about why I thought this was an awesome game in 2009, and why I think it's still pretty not bad today, or whatever day I post this edition on (yeah...that's right, these posts are called ‘editions'...bringing back that magazine terminology for twenty does). Here we go.

I started a completely new game on a completely new platform, but I still choose to roll with the only class that I had ever poured any serious amount of time into, the soldier. It's not as if I'd not tried out the other patrons of punishment during my first go-around with the game, but the time I spent with the other four characters probably totalled something in the region of a dozen hours or so. The primary reasons for picking the same guy once again are that I really like having a deployable turret with homing missiles, team ammo regen, grenade regen, huge magazine sizes on scoped combat rifles, along with grenades and bullets that heal my whole team. All of these little features packed into the soldier really suit my style of gameplay, at least in this game, which is to usually stay out of way of enemies and put about 500 corrosive rounds into their skulls from outside of their effective range. Now, Mordecai and his affinity for sniper rifles could of course reach out and touch those distant enemies with great ease, but those rifles tend to be semi automatic and have small magazines. I like to be able to go from burst fire to fully automatic as and when the situation demands.

I've not forgotten that all of the classes can indeed make use of all of the weapon types, but the way I tend to play is to stick with the favoured weapon of that particular class, I find I can make the most of class mods and proficiency levels that way. Speaking of class mods, and their interaction with your skill points (oh yeah, this game includes some RPG elements...hmm...), did you know that even though you can only have five points assigned to any one skill in your skill tree, any bonuses applied by class mods invisibly stack above and beyond that ‘maximum' number, all the way up to nine points in total, made up from five points from the tree and four points from a mod. Huh, that's not a thing that's ever mentioned or explained at any point in the game, ever. Which is a shame, at least for the ghost of past me, because I never knew that the first time around. I rectified this by making damn sure that I exploited this functionality throughout my recent playthrough.

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My faithful soldier is called Walter White, and I can role play him. Wait, no, that's not really what I mean, let me try and explain what I'm getting at. As we all know, Borderlands has a light sprinkling of RPG Parmigiano-Reggiano all over its meaty FPS lasagne base. Now it clearly isn't a RPG in the same way as Fallout or The Witcher or Baldur's Gate is, but it does have those flavourful crunchy nuggets of RPG elements mixed up in there. I, however, am not talking about functionality or mechanics, loot tables or the levelling up that is bestowed unto the player by these associated RPG elements. What I mean by role playing in this case is that, more than any other single player/co-op FPS game that I can care to remember, you are being constantly encouraged and rewarded by the effect you are having upon both your enemies and your teammates. The role that you are playing. Not through dialogue choices or a colour-coded morality wheel, but through the weapons and abilities that you bring to bear on your opponents, and the well-defined niche that you are filling inside of the team dynamic. More words coming at you in the next paragraph...

In a 4 player co-op campaign game of Halo 3 (which is great fun, by the way), you have a ‘role' as part of the team in relation to the weapons that you are carrying, which in turn probably comes from your skill and ability with those said weapons. There are certain people who are expert snipers, and will never pick up a hammer or a sword, then there will be those people that prefer to stick with plasma weapons in order to effectively rip through enemy shields and so and so forth. Due to the weapon balancing that Bungie does in its Halo games you are actively encouraged to change weapons as the situation demands it, you cannot physically reach out to an opponent who is 300 feet away with a shotgun, so you must switch up or scavenge up something else to deal with the threat. Ideally, your teammates will be aware that you are holding the sole shotgun among your group, and therefore target the enemies that you can not...ideally...

Now, these roles as defined by balance of player ability and weapon limitation in Halo 3 are morphed into something quite refreshing when we look at how Borderlands handles things, at least in my gorgeous watery blue eyes. You have quick access to any one of four weapons (not quite from the beginning of the game, but still early in the grand scheme of things), with no restrictions as to what kind of weapon you are able to use at any particular time. Unlike what we find in the Halo games, where every weapon behaves in the same way every time, you are able to supplement and upgrade the effectiveness of your armaments in Borderlands. This, of course ties into those scrummy RPG elements mentioned earlier, upgrading and levelling up and whatnot. But what I feel that Borderlands is giving me here is a continual feedback loop where I become more and more invested in using a weapon, along with the feeling that I'm playing into the role that the combat rifle is best suited to.

I've just spent all that time just rambling about how I think the combat rifles in Borderlands feel rewarding to use.

I THINK WE'LL END THIS TRAINWRECK THERE FOR NOW THANKS!?

I'll sit quietly and think about what I done, and try to form actual real boy thoughts about this game and talk about other goods things that are on the inside of it, suffice it to say that it's still a great game overall and it remains as enjoyable as ever. And except for the slight inconvenience caused by the lack of warp points inside of the DLC levels, I have learnt to love it all over again. The warp points are just a minor issue that I'm sure Randy has personally fixed for Borderlands 2, which will drop into my gaping British computer machine in 45 days time.

Some numbers related to me playing this game:
First played: 21 July, 2012
Last played: 4 August, 2012
36.7 total hours on record
51 of 80 (64%) achievements earned
First achievement earned: And They'll Tell Two Friends (21 July, 2012)
Last achievement earned: It's so realistic! (4 August, 2012)
Level 44
Level 30 combat rifle proficiency
34 items purchased
72863 total shots fired
573 kills from critical hits
2411 combat rifle kills
437 sniper rifle kills
149 pistol kills
10 rocket launcher kills
9 SMG kills
0 shotgun kills

Bounding around Borderlands

First published on the 30th of September, 2012.

Since last month's update on my shoot ‘n' stroll around the original Borderlands, I went and stuck a few more hours up inside it, attempting to pound every last quivering rivulet of content out of it. Which, of course, in this day and age, means getting 100% of all possible Steamchievements...right...right!? Well, I ain't got the hundo quite yet, but I'm still happy with where I am right now. Especially since Borderlands 2 is now out and downloaded and playing on my computermatograph, which means the sad tired original is getting tossed aside for the short to medium term. More on that new hotness later in the programme!

Sticking with my congealed thoughts on the original game for the time being, let us discuss more of what I think makes this a wholly great CFPSWRPGE (Cooperative First Person Shooter With Role Playing Game Elements). I have already talked about how the weapons (the combat rifle, in particular) and classes (the soldier, in my case) provide an extremely solid set of gameplay mechanics from which to base the team-oriented combat puzzles on, the strengths of certain elemental types against particular enemies, the balance of extreme-range snipers backing up the close range Action Powers of those getting up into the enemy's fray. A quick thought here, those special class abilities you use are called Action Powers. Action. Powers.

Bravo, Gearbox, bravo.

Since I talked about that shit that I just talked about before, before. We'll move swiftly on towards the next little thing that I want to fill your squishy eyes with words about. Plot. Firstly, just to make sure that we are all on the same page as each other, I am talking about plot in the old skool sense, as defined by Aristotle way back in the day and around the corner. This, in essence, takes the word ‘plot' to mean "the arrangement of the incidents". Not the story itself but the way that the events inside of the narrative arc are presented to the audience. Good that? Good.

A quick synopsis of the storyline in Borderlands could look a little something like this:

The Beginning

The player character (herein and henceforth called the Vault Hunter) arrives on the planet of Pandora, in search of mega treasures located inside of a mystical place known as the Vault.

The Middle

You shoot lots and lots and lots of people and mutants and wild animals and crazed lunatics. Gaining information or keys that progresses your progress towards the...

The End

Whereupon you find and open the Vault, gaining fame and renown the world o'er.

At least that's what it looks like to me, cause I ain't knee deep in the corpses of my felled enemies because of well wrought characterisation, or deeply compelling tension sprinkled around the game in order to drag my ass through to the end. I'm here to shoot things. Lots and lots of things. Again and again and again. In this way I would liken it somewhat to Halo, yes there is a story wrapped up in there, but it's the combat that you partake in that writes the interesting scenarios you and your colleagues find yourself in. That time when you were both so low on ammo that you had to beat down every mother fucker in the place with your bare hands, that time when you ran your vehicle into a group of soon-to-be-road kill only to have the physics engine throw a shit fit and send you spinning out into orbit.

This near-constant action-packed "arrangement of the incidents" is what I consider to be the real plot of this game. Those moments, good and bad, funny and sad, crazy and mad, are all the reasons I need to play games like Borderlands 1 and 2. Which is why I'm not bothered by the lack of a strong story in the first game, and the addition of lashings of more story sauce in the second.

Me and my combat rifle are writing our own stories. IN BLOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOD.

Before we bounce on this segment, here are some more numbers from then and from now...

Smelly Old Numbers:
First played: 21 July, 2012
Last played: 4 August, 2012
36.7 total hours on record
51 of 80 (64%) achievements earned
First achievement earned: And They'll Tell Two Friends (21 July, 2012)
Last achievement earned: It's so realistic! (4 August, 2012)
Level 44
Level 30 combat rifle proficiency
34 items purchased
72863 total shots fired
573 kills from critical hits
2411 combat rifle kills / 437 sniper rifle kills / 149 pistol kills
10 rocket launcher kills / 9 SMG kills / 0 shotgun kills

Hot New Numbers:
Last played: 12 August, 2012
51.3 total hours on record
64 of 80 (80%) achievements earned
Last achievement earned: Speedy McSpeederton (12 August, 2012)
Level 69
Level 50 combat rifle proficiency
57 items purchased
100,000 total shots fired (at least)
938 kills from critical hits
2500 combat rifle kills (at least) / 670 sniper rifle kills / 260 pistol kills
10 rocket launcher kills / 9 SMG kills / 34 shotgun kills

Donederlands

First published on the 31st of October, 2012.

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I think, for the time being, I've had my fill of delicious Original Style Borderlands. I've not attempted to make any further strides in my noble fight to 100% it on PC, mainly because me and my co-op partner have been wrecking faces and jumping off places in the stunning sequel (although there are some minor caveats to that blanket statement of praise). Whilst I will eventually get back to the hike up completionist mountain, in order to stake my flag into the top of Borderlands peak, I will use this time and space to talk about the dozens of hours that I've enjoyed, so far, in Borderlands 2.

Let's start with breaking down, in the most simplistic and shittiest terms possible, what I majorly like and majorly dislike about this game. Just, because...well...I feel like it.

I like:

No more per character weapon levelling
The slightly thicker, meatier plot
No fall damage

I dislike:

No more per character weapon levelling
Most of the dialogue
Some of the humour

These above points are in specific reference to changes made from the original game, and in that regard, we are going to have a look at how and why these changes were made; and why I think what I think of them. Let us start with very first issue/improvement...

I like AND dislike: No more per character weapon levelling
Okay, just to make sure we all know what I'm talking about (I have enough trouble with that as it is), this fairly small combat-related system is a thing that was present in the first game, whereby you essentially levelled up your skill with any one of the seven weapon types, in a Daggerfally/Morrowindy stylee. Here are some pictures to jog your manky memory!

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Got it? Course you do! It's easy enough, use a combat rifle more and you get better at using a combat rifle (as you can probably tell, I used the combat rifle a lot). Now, in Borderlands, this always gave me an incentive to stick to one or two main weapon types, essentially ‘maining' them. This system also linked into the classes and their associated class mods, ideally if you wanted to get really sexy powerful with the submachine gun; you'd want to use a class that would get buffs to their submachine gun effectiveness based on class tree as well as mods, and finally the overall weapon proficiency.

This trinity (cut down to a duology in the sequel) lightly punished you for not sticking to a cohesive weapon and class plan. Going ahead and picking up that dope rocket launcher when you possessed but a mere level 1 proficiency with it, would mean you'd miss more, take longer to reload and do less damage. I feel that Gearbox perfectly balanced these points in the combat system with the benefits that were very easy to gain from just sticking with a weapon throughout the game. This, in turn, made picking a class and weapon combination really matter so much more than in Borderlands 2. Which opted for a slightly broader system, where anyone can use any weapon, and tied the ongoing weapon-based levelling into the mighty Badass Rank.

Which, don't get me wrong, isn't a bad thing, I'm not saying that the move to this different levelling system is worse in some way. I just dislike that the old system isn't in there as well (or modified and incorporated in some clever way). I JUST LIKE THINGS THAT LEVEL UP THE MORE YOU USE THEM!

Anyway, that was a stupid thing. On to the next thing!

I like: The slightly thicker, meatier plot
More twists, more turns, we get to see cooler places, and experience better characterisation throughout the overall storyline. All good. Except for a couple of little things...

I dislike: Most of the dialogue
I cringed throughout nearly every single line of Tiny Tina's (I love Ashly Burch in every single way possible, by the way). Handsome Jack ceased to be threatening in any way after a few hours of idle threats and perfunctorily poor puns. I did like the majority of the Claptrap stuff, but it did grate on my nerves in a few places, the idling or ‘hanging around not doing anything' stuff was pretty great all round. To be honest, the less words that I have to listen to, between me and my shooting of people in the head, the better. To my mind, and from what I can remember, there was just less of that stuff in the original. And I kind of appreciated the slightly scant amount of words that I was subject to.

I like: No fall damage
Yes! My god yes!

I dislike: Some of the humour
The frequent use of overt Internet-based humour just did not jibe with me, I felt that the way the first game handled stuff like film parody and self-referential stuff was just funnier. Again, this is just me (I love Anthony Burch in every single way possible, by the way). I would have been fine with nods to stupid dubstep and silly memes (both of those things are big parts of my life) if it was kept out of the ‘front of house'. References to that stuff inside of menus, achievements, item descriptions, rather than the more in-your-face approach taken this time around.

Signing Off and Out

And there, for now at least, we have it! If you made it this far then a hearty congratulations are in order, if you cheated (like when you keep your finger tucked back a few pages in a Choose Your Own Adventure) and simply skipped down to this bit right here...then...well...I salute your serendipitous scrolling. And I very much hope to see you soon. Happy Polygonning!?

Max

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