The Vault on the Borderlands

Borderlands is the second big game I’ve played on the Xbox, and I finished it last night. It was a rocking good time! I started it just as the sequel was released and wondered if I should stick with it or just jump straight to the second one. Opinions were mixed, but I stayed with it and am glad I did.

Borderlands is an FPS set on a dilapidated, junk-strewn world filled with ne’er-do-wells and vicious beasts, a planet called Australia Pandora. You are one of the adventurers looking for the fabled Vault, a mysterious alien location containing — power? wealth? knowledge? guns? something else??? Along the way you will run into wild varmints and normal folks who are just trying to go about their daily lives. Unfortunately for you, their daily lives consist of killing Vault Hunters.

One of the appeals of the game is that even though it’s a future-based FPS, it takes a lot of cues from Diablo, which I kind of enjoy. Items in the game are randomly generated, providing tons of different guns, shields, and so forth to pick up as loot and sift through. You’re constantly checking your haul to see if you’ve picked up a shotgun that’s even slightly better than the one you already have. Even with all those choices, though, it wasn’t overwhelming to me. (I often get frustrated with having to decide between minute differences in weapons, which is dumb: if it’s that hard a choice, just stick with what I have until something obviously better comes along. Worst case scenario, the one they’ll pay more for when you sell it back is usually better.)

That alone would make for a good game to me, but Borderlands offers more on top. For one thing, the look of the game is fantastic:

I love ligne claire (“clear line”) comics art, and Borderlands is a treat for my eyes. Everything in it looks great, especially the funky, chunky technology. (It was especially nice coming off of the haze and low-saturation of Fallout: New Vegas.)

Also, there are just some nice touches in it. The characters, voice acting, and humor are spot-on, and I never ever got tired of hearing Scooter say, “This is where the cars live! Get you one!”

Most of all, it’s just fun to play. I went with Mordecai and played as a sniper because that’s what I like to do. And it was pretty clear that my focus in that direction made some bosses super easy (Krom) and some much harder (Baron Flynt). Someone taking a different character path would no doubt have different results.

As I say, I finished last night and began Borderlands 2, just in time for everyone to be tired of that and move on to something else. I’m still early in, but so far BL2 is kind of bugging me a little. I hate the new character interface, and the tiny little area map in the upper right is nice, but not having enemy blips show up on my radar is irritating. I also don’t care for the new design on ammo (it’s not as obvious to me right away what ammo is in front of me) and the loot boxes (making “treasure chests” into porta-potties is kind of…come on, guys.) Still, these are things that will fade once I get used to them (at least I hope so, in the case of the character screen).

I faced my first boss, which was a midget riding on a polar bear, and it was more frustrating than just about anything I encountered in the first game. Just when I’d see where he was (he kept jumping around) I’d go to take a shot and suddenly no fewer than thirty thousand bad guys would all spawn around me who I’d have to kill. By the time I had taken care of them and/or died yet again he had moved on and of course thirty thousand more bad guys spawned. Pretty sure I only killed the guy because the game eventually says, “Fine, newb, I’ll let you actually have one.”

I’m playing as a Commando this time, deliberately trying to not be a sniper. Old habits die hard, though, and not having scopes on all my weapons is killing me. Still, I resisted the urge, and when given a choice between getting a shotgun or my first sniper rifle of the game, I made myself go with the former.

I’m also planning on doing some co-op in this game, which is something I just kind of need to do. Playing with friends is part of the reason I got an Xbox, but I haven’t really done it yet and, inexplicably, I’m kind of nervous about doing so. That’s assuming they haven’t all moved on to Halo 4 now.

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