Thursday, January 03, 2013

Borderlands 2 PS3 review

Other than catching up with telly I spent a vast majority of my time playing Borderlands 2 on the PS3, so is it really any good or just a useful time-sink?

The "2" at the end of the title should give the subtle hint that this is a sequel to the 2009 game Borderlands; for those unfamiliar with that title it's a first person shooter with role-playing elements set on the planet of Pandora and features a choice of four playable characters called Vault Hunters as they roam the planet in search of the fabled Vault which is rumoured to contain a fabulous treasure.

This sequel follows on from the opening of the vault, the rumours of another, and the arrival of yet another set of four Vault Hunters.

The first reaction from some may well be "Oh no yet another Shooter than tries to have 'customisable' role-playing elements" that's not Borderlands. This game really is a nigh-perfect marriage between FPS and RPG; in fact I'd say some of these elements are better than in some full-on RPG games.

I'll start with the shooting element. It's a standard first-person look-through-the-eyes which means that when shooting at enemies where you're aiming at makes a big difference; it's not just hit the attack button and let the calculations work in the background; but it comes with a difference - all the weapons have their own accuracy rating. Sounds contradictory, and could be annoying if you know you're aiming directly at someone and miss, but it works well. Aim down the sights of a weapon with low accuracy and it'll bob up and down, and side to side and this happens shooting from the hip even though it's not as obvious; so yeah you'd expect to miss occasionally. There's the first RPG element - all the weapons have different ratings and this marries in with the FPS aesthetic. So that means turning to the RPG side of things.

And boy do the weapons differ. At their basic level all weapons have a damage, accuracy, reload speed, and magazine size. Add in potential elemental damage of electricity, fire, acid, explosive, or slag along with their own chances of inflicting damage and how much; then just for fun mix in weapons that are thrown and explode when reloaded (don't worry you get a copy each time) or come equipped with blades for melee combat; fire more than one bullet at a time, or just have bonuses for critical damage and it's an RPG gamers delight. Sure this pistol might do more base damage than this other one, but that one has a chance of setting my enemies on fire and causing more damage over time. For 'pure' shooter-gamers this may be too much and the inclination to hoard may overcome the strongest of wills, but easy arrow up/arrow down comparison indicators and a limited inventory and store makes this much easier.

Okay but so what? A plethora of choice of weapons doesn't a RPG make. How about choices of skills? Each playable character has their own skill sets divided into three trees that compliment that character. The Assassin can get better at sniper rifles and melee combat; the Commando assault rifles and health and shield upgrades. Put points from levelling up into each tree to unlock more advanced skills; and if you don't like it pay to reset them and build it all up again. But still weapons and skill sets feature in every RPG and a creeping into so many FPS why should this be any different to either? Because of the quests.

Boring - everyone does quests now. Locate farmer and kill 10 wolves for a reward; they're just grind to build up your character to be able to take on the real story missions. Except despite being the same, Borderlands just does it differently. For starters it makes sense that you'd take on these quests in-game; how many times are you supposedly the saviour of the world yet some random passer-by expects you to stop and locate their lost handbag? You're not the saviour here (well okay you might be) you're just another treasure seeker who's rolled into town who needs a job to earn some scratch.

Every side-quest fits into that storyline; every quest sends you to areas of the world you might not even have visited if you stick rigidly to the story mission. Every quest is also crafted with its own little story that will likely make you chuckle (or groan at the puns). These aren't grinds you'll want to do the quests because they're fun in their own right.

If, so far, this seems to be a review of Borderlands rather than the sequel it's because both games are pretty much the same. Borderlands 2 is larger and slightly tighter in pace. It adds a couple of new elements and removes a couple that didn't really work, but that's it really. Technically there's still the slow texture update; and notification updates from the PS3 block the mini-map. Subtitles can still alternate between the person giving you a mission update and the nearby radio which can be annoying.

Controls still work with the obvious four weapon slots tied to the d-pad there's little need to let go of the sticks except for those things one would expect to need to stop moving for. Menus are pretty much the same; the bonus things you could do in the first game (Kill 10 enemies with melee) now award "Badass" points that can be exchanged for bonuses that will permanently alter things like gun damage for all your characters. Death still gives you a chance to gain a Second Wind by killing something or just recreates you at the last station.

All pretty much the same except for one thing - you can no longer play back recordings you find.

Why was this removed? Seriously this is one area of the original that needed a tidy-up and instead got removed entirely. Given what I've just said about how well the story has been written the game now presents the situation when a recording or mission remark can be interrupted which means never being able to hear it again. That's unconscionable. At times I've resorted to going online to check for written quotes or video playthroughs just to find out what was going to be said.

Beyond that one major, major flaw it's a really fun game.