So, Borderlands 2 came out a couple weeks ago. Well, not quite for us UK folk. Quite why publishers and retailers still adhere to these stupid regional release dates is quite beyond me. Regardless, I picked it up on Steam and have been playing it pretty solidly lately. My enjoyment of it initially came as quite a surprise to me, considering I didn't take to the first game quite so well. However, after finishing my first playthrough of the sequel (as Zer0 the assassin, clocking in at around 30 hours), I feel I'm able to articulate why it is I like BL2 so much more than the first. Though, BL2 does have it's flaws, which I'll also get into.
The main reason, I feel, is because Borderlands 2 does such a much better job than it's predecessor at weaving it's narrative alongside it's gameplay. Something you often hear remarked about the first Borderlands game is "story? there's a story?". And obviously there is, but the game doesn't do a particularly good job at presenting it, and this is very evident when you compare the opening of the two games. Borderlands 2 has a more... typical story/introductory sequence, where you start off almost dead, with no equipment, or even a HUD, before Claptrap finds and essentially rescues you. You then go through a sequence where you fight off some enemies and a boss before arriving at the first town (Liar's Berg) before the game starts to open up a bit more. Compare that to the first game: You're dumped off a bus at the side of a road, already with a gun. The game quickly explains how everything works before pointing out some bandits and going "shoot these dudes". And there's nothing particularly wrong with that in and of itself, but I often find it difficult to enjoy a game that doesn't make a good effort to intertwine it's gameplay and story elements.
This is a problem I have with Torchlight 2. From a purely mechanical standpoint, Torchlight 2 is a great game, but it feels like there has been absolutely zero effort to present it's story elements in any meaningful way. You start the game, and you see an animated video depicting the PCs from the first game...? I guess...? fighting some dude. Then you're just dumped into the world and told to go to this place. The game does a pretty terrible job of contextualising why exactly it is you're going to this place, or why you're killing this particular mob. Diablo 3, on the other hand, presents it's narrative alongside it's gameplay absolutely flawlessly. Say what you want about the actual quality of that game's plot, but that's irrelevant here, the point is that Diablo 3 always makes sure that its story elements are as close to the forefront as possible. You have lush, amazing quality CGI cinematics, you have in-engine cutscenes, you have fully voiced dialogue for pretty much everything in the entire game. You're never wondering who the boss you're fighting is, and why. Everything is presented in a pleasant, easy to digest way, whereas with Torchlight 2, when you get a quest, you get a wall of unspoken text before being told to go to this place, and kill these dudes. In Diablo 3, all the different areas and zones in each act are contextualised well, so you know where you're going, and why. Not so much in TL2. Everything just feels disconnected and disjointed. And that's how I felt about the first Borderlands game. It just didn't do a good job of presenting it's narrative alongside the game, and that severely hampered my enjoyment of the game. Of course, this is something that might not matter to some people. Those people might not give a single fuck about why they're where they are and why they're shooting the dudes they are. I'm not one of those people, however. I need story and context, even if the actual story isn't that great (looking at you, Diablo 3). It's paramount to my enjoyment of a game.
As for the game's plot? It's alright. It's nothing amazing, but it's perfectly functional. The humour of the game tends to be a little bit polarizing. I, for one, LOVE Tiny Tina, whereas a lot of other folk seem to feel the exact opposite about her. And that's fine, that's to be expected, the game's humour isn't going to appeal to everyone. I enjoy more.. sophisticated humour as much as the next person, but there's something to be said about a game like Borderlands that comes along not often enough in the way it doesn't take itself too seriously most of the time. I don't quite like the over-abundance of references to Internet memes in the game's writing, but it's not to the point where it hampers my enjoyment of the game at all. That said, even with all the lack of self-seriousness the game has, I feel the game still does a great job during the parts where it does take itself that much more seriously (namely, the last few story missions) and feel the game could've maybe been improved somewhat if it did that a little more often. The story missions throughout the game are for the most part more self-serious than the rest of the game, but the sheer amount of side quests the game has, which is where most of the absurdity lies, can make it a little hard to swallow down sometimes.
All that said, time to dig into Borderlands 2's mechanical parts, because gameplay-wise, the game is not without fault. My biggest complaint with the game is Fight For Your Life. It was present in the first game, but what I've played of Borderlands 1 was a long time ago, so quite what they've changed since then I'm not quite sure. FFYL however, is undoubtedly the thing that infuriates me the most about the game. It's the game's "down, but not out mode". When your shields and health are completely completed, you go into this mode, something akin to Call of Duty's last stand. You're on your back, you can only crawl around very slowly, and you have only a limited amount of time until you are able to be revived, either by killing an enemy, upon which you'll get "second wind" and be instantly revived, or manually by a teammate if you're playing co-op. It's not so much of a problem in co-op; you seem to have much more time before dying when playing with other people, and obviously you have them to fall back on if you can't score a kill. It's during solo play where it starts to frustrate. For one, your entire view turns to greyscale and there's a blur filter over everything, meaning you can't see shit. The game also decides now is a great idea to fuck with your aim, constantly making it sway everywhere making it much more difficult, especially with semi-auto guns, to shoot the dudes you so desperately need to shoot. Oh yeah, and you can't ADS either. Only hipfire. UNLESS, you were already aiming down sights the moment you went into FFYL mode, in which case you can ONLY aim down sight. I still can't decide if this is some sort of glitch or if it's fully intentional, but the one thing I'm sure of is that it's the single most fucking annoying thing about the entire game. For some, that honour goes to Tiny Tina. For me, it's Fight For Your Life mode. When you couple that with enemies that, starting towards the end of your first playthrough, have a tendency to deplete your entire shield and health capacity in one or two hits, makes this all the more annoying, especially since you'll be haemorrhaging money for the privilege of respawning. And don't even get me starting on the amount of times I've falling into FFYL after all the enemies have already been defeated. Sweet Jesus, that's annoying. Nothing quite like getting killed by the last enemy's projectile, mere milliseconds after killing it.
Oh yeah, I almost forgot. When playing alone, all enemies revert back to 100% health and shields when you respawn. So you can't even brute force your way through the more challenging (read: frustrating) combat scenarios.
From a gameplay perspective, that's my only real gripe. The lack of decent weapon spawns is another, making the latter parts of the game a little challenging if you haven't found good weapons to combat each type of enemy (woe betide you if you haven't found any decent corrosive weapons during your playthrough). My other gripe is that the interface doesn't work too well with a mouse and keyboard. It was clearly designed for use on a gamepad, and obviously works as intended with that. With a mouse and keyboard however, it can be a little annoying to navigate and organise your gear, even going so far as to just bug out sometimes where the item I'm trying to select isn't what actually get's selected. It's also a case where they haven't made any effort to take advantage of the higher resolutions that people are going to be using when playing on PC, so the interface just doesn't really make good use of the screen real estate, with too many unnecessary sliders that lead into sub-menus, when you could easily just display it all at once. It's not a huge issue, but it's an issue you wouldn't expect to be present after Gearbox's whole "love letter to PC gamer" prior to release.
But as a whole, the game is very, very enjoyable. If you like loot-driven games or first person shooters, you owe it to yourself to play some Borderlands. The game is LONG, but doesn't really feel like there's much in the way of unnecessary padding, so you definitely get enough bang for your buck.