They did it again. They forced my hand and made me buy a game. This time Steam did this by using one of their mechanisms that I appreciate the most: the offer to play a game for free all weekend and then buy it on sale once it’s not free anymore. I bought Civilization V this way, and I bought Borderlands 2 that way.
Borderlands 2 had never really been on my radar. It’s a coop-game, and sadly I don’t really have coop-partners because of timezone constraints. It looked ultra-violent (and it is), and it’s a shooter, which hadn’t really been my favorite genre ever. What no one really told me is that a) it is hilarious and b) that it’s basically Diablo as a shooter. A very fun shooter. With chests and nests and lockers and outhouses to loot everywhere. Yes, I said outhouses. These are actually some of the better treasure chests that you can find. Yeah, grab that shiny new gun that just jumped out of the toilet. Dang.
BL2’s backstory is a bit confusing, I didn’t fully get it. You’re on the world of Pandora and you are one of four vault hunters. The Vault was discovered at the end of the first game, and a guy called Handsome Jack has taken over control, declared himself President of Pandora and is one mean asshole. At the beginning of the game, he tried to kill your character, but you survive, and are found by a CL4P-TP robot, short Claptrap. He’s the last robot of his kind, and is called Claptrap because he cannot shut up. Literally. He will say whatever comes to his mind. He made me laugh a lot. As your first missions involve assisting Claptrap as a yeti-like creature has stolen his eye, he starts calling you his minion.
You play one of four classes (or six if you buy the game of the year edition): a commando – basically a soldier dude with a gun turret, a gunzerker – crazy tank dude who dual-wields guns to regenerate health and ammo, an assassin – guy who can cloak himself mid-combat with a decoy for massive stealth damage and a siren, a caster-type who can stunlock enemies in a kind of stasis. At level 5 you get your active class ability, and from that point on you can spend 1 skill point per level in three very Diablo style skill trees, all of them passive boosts.
Gameplay is yanked straight from WoW in some parts. Your main story campain quests are always active but yellow exclamation marks point you to side-quests you can pick up and that you can turn in at the green questionmarks. There are bounty boards in most towns where you can pick up additional quests. The side-quests seem to scale with your level. The start area in BL2 is an icy glacier wasteland full of yetis that are called bullymongs and bandits who are more than happy to kill you for the huge bounty that Handsome Jack has put on your head. There are boss fights that can be farmed for loot, much like you farmed bosses in Diablo 2. Bosses and major NPCs all get a fancy intro screen in the comic book style that the whole game employs. You shoot your way to glory, strafe a lot, can use a cover system to regenerate your shield, and use your class ability when necessary. As reward you get ammo, grenades and guns. Many many guns of all kinds. White, green, blue, purple, orange guns. I wonder where they got the loot colors from…
But you know what, I actually like the color system. When you have played WoW as long as I have, the color systems of other loot-based games always confuse me. When I see something shining blue on the ground, I know I have reason to be excited. The guns all look different, and they feel different. It’s the addictive spiral of loot-based games. Always chasing the next piece of even better gear. Oooh, this one actually puts people on fire when you shoot them…
If you’re not a shooter afficionado, you’re bound to die in some places. BL2 uses a Second Wind system much like Guild Wars 2, with the difference being that in BL2, I often manage to get Second Wind and come back to kick some more ass, whereas in GW2 I hardly ever managed. If you do not manage to come back, which can happen if only a boss is up and none of his cronies, then you respawn for a fee at the closest savepoint from where it’s mostly a short walk back to try the fight again. All the mobs you managed to kill will be gone, which really helps for boss fights.
There’s a vehicle system to make crossing the large maps a bit easier. Also, it has gun turrets and you can run over mobs to stun them or actually kill them. Mobs are on respawn timers, and when you leave an area and return, the mobs are back. I have just made it to a level 12+ zone, and there, bandits also have vehicles and even helicopters that they use to shoot at you, so you’re not 100% safe in your vehicle anymore. Mine did explode, and that was a nasty surprise. I love zipping around in the vehicles, they’re like the Mako from Mass Effect, with one major difference: they’re actually fun to drive.
The atmosphere of the game is a bit post-apocalyptic. It’s like Fallout and Firefly had a love child. The soundtrack reminded me a lot of Firefly. It’s cowboys in space all over again.
I mentioned before that the game is hilarious, and it is. It doesn’t take itself serious at all. The humor is maybe a bit gross and juvenile in parts, but it also makes me laugh regularly, either by the quest text, the NPCs chatter or Claptrap being himself. As example, when you come to Sanctuary, the major hub of the game, Claptrap rolls around on wheels chattering non-stop. Eventually he shouts ‘Claptrap beatbox time‘. I don’t know, maybe I am a 13-year old at heart, I think it’s funny.
I played the game all weekend, totally hooked, and by Sunday evening I was sure I wanted to play this some more, even if it’s likely I’ll never actually experience the coop-fun that it’s supposed to be. I have a feeling I will play this game for many hours. I went ahead and bought the Game of the Year Edition that comes with most of the currently released DLC plus two extra classes. My weekend playtime was with the assassin, because I have a weakness for melee characters, I know it. I went ahead and rolled another character yesterday, from one of the two classes you get via DLC and picked Gaige, the mechromancer. Her class ability is that she can summon a robot companion called Deathtrap. Little did I know how awesome that is. Boss fights that gave me huge issues as assassin are now a walk in the park, the Deathtrap is that awesome. A lot easier as solo class than Assassin, for sure. Along with the GotY edition you get one Golden Key that you can use to unlock a loot chest that scales with your level. I should probably have waited til max-level or something, but I didn’t, so now I have a shiny epic shotgun and sniper rifle. The difference to the other loot out there is quite amazing, seriously, no kidding.
Of course, maybe I find I have a leg up with the mechromancer because this class has the infamous ‘girlfriend mode‘ fame of casual sexism from game developers. I did go into the game expecting lots of sexism but as far as computer games go, especially one full of black humor, it’s been fairly mild. I hope it stays that way.
My verdict: steaming pile of awesome. I am having more fun with this than I had with Diablo 3 and Torchlight 2 combined. There’s tons of achievements that get you permanent upgrades for all of your characters, and exploration is rewarded, in the form of dropped audio logs and viewing glasses hidden in some maps. If you fancy an action-packed, comic-style shooter with tons of RPG elements, and the possibility of playing with 3 of your friends on Steam, then you might just want to give it a try the next time Steam has a big sale.