Boy, do I love the videogame hype machine! Don’t you? It gets us not-game journos to write a lot very quickly, and sometimes scramble to pick and choose what we should write on. Anyway! My unrequited love for caffeine and big bursts of work is not the focus of this article: Borderlands 2 sucks big butts. I can not lie. Those other grinders can’t deny. Yes, I felt like making a snarky joke that’s mostly a reference because that’s what I feel the game deserves. I understand it’s aimed at young teenagers, but god dammit, the writing makes me cringe harder than a boot to the stomach.
Everyone in the game quips. Non-stop. But surprisingly, the idea the whole game’s trying to transmit to us is that Pandora really sucks and it’s a place where torture and pillage go rampant and unchecked. The last standing city is ruled by some teenage angsty rejects, and everyone does their makeup with a shotgun.
But possibly the most annoying thing about it is how it constantly praises itself Non-stop. Just all the damn time. THIS IS AWESOME! SHOOTING THINGS IS FUN! Characters spout, out of nowhere, when I activate my skill simply to heal. “I am such a badass!”, they declare. One bit of writing advice I was once given was to try to create a situation for my readers, instead of forcing it down their throats. This roughly translates to: ‘It’s not your damn place to tell me how badass you are, character. I will decide that.’
The player should decide whether they are having fun, but seeing how Borderlands 2 has withstood the test of time for seven years, I might just be disconnected from what the masses like nowadays. Pacing is best described, generously, as glacial. Therefore you should expect a million years of grind. The use of “grinder” as an insult by Bandits is apropos, but oddly specific. Are they maybe not powerful enough to beat you because they don’t grind enough? They simply want to have fun? Is it a twenty levels deep metaphor for video games? Are we the little grindy ant, while they are the merry idling grasshopper?
Doesn’t help matters much, these assholes can snipe you across a moon’s surface with a pistol, and I could swear I’ve seen their bullets curve at times. Difficulty’s kind of schizophrenic, with mobs standing no chance against you and bosses immediately oneshotting you through top gear. What really gets me, however, is that the game HAS the potential to be fun with good gear… but it’s acquisition is completely random. Easily fixed with mods, granted, but this is borderline-cheating. Why a game would wiggle its fun guns (no euphemism intended) in front of your face and withhold them until you’ve learned the value of grinding for two whole weeks is completely beyond me.
There are a lot of choices in the game that bemuse me. They do avoid having only three or four faces on characters by slapping masks on every enemy. Which is smart design, but with how cluttered the game is visually, it does it no favours. At one point I had a run in with a bandit hiding behind a chest high wall that had a bag of heads on it. I legitimately had trouble telling apart which heads were alive and which weren’t. The rest is cel-shaded graphics that look fairly pretty, and age well. It’s a very impressive, very large scale world. So all the better to benefit snipers to no end, and to waste the player’s time trudging from one place to the next.
Every map & DLC has the following: Insanely huge levels, sometimes with added verticality with little to no cover, and very precise enemies sitting on the far end of them. Walking across them requires two square meals and a big jar of patience juice. This game pretty much requires your full attention. There is no ‘playing Borderlands 2 casually’. The new free DLC isn’t all that good, but it gives you the tools you need to complete it from the start. It might just be a better experience than playing from the start of the vanilla game.
In consequence, asking for a big time commitment from the start makes the game tough to stick to. What if the other characters were better? What if I just picked wrong, and someone else would suck a lot less? Am I bad, is my gear bad, or is my build wrong? Luckily a million guides have been written on all these subjects, and I really hope Gearbox at least gives shoutouts to these guys, because they are a big part of how Borderlands 2 still has a community. Still, it doesn’t do much to alleviate the Bored-erlands main gameplay loop of walk around a place, shoot a million lads and open a million lootboxes that will inevitably contain vendor trash at best.
For how much praise the story got back in the day, it’s fairly generic and dull. I suppose the overtly assholish nature of Handsome Jack deserves a gold star, but everything else comes straight from that notebook where you used to write as a teenager. Yes, the one you hoped had falled prety to entropy already. Life sucks, but luckily for everyone our special team of special heroes is here to save the day! Some of them are dating. Or have been. Fun.
There’s also surprisingly little of it. Most of the playtime goes into trundling along to the next map marker, with the characters not having so much as a conversation between them. There’s cutscenes, usually employed to present a boss or supporting character with their own backdrop and everything. It’s all flash, no substance. The playable characters also seem to be mostly tagalongs that do everything, almost like silent protagonists. I suppose this could be for you to strike up your own conversations with your friends. Which presents us with a hilarious scenario: four friends playing a game about shooting people in a hostile planet, defer to talking about the weather and football results as a way to kill boredom and pass the time.
For as many times as I have tried to play this, I’ve never managed to finish it solo. My Ultimate Vault Hunter Mode playthrough is many years in the past, and while I have tried pretty hard to like Borderlands, I can’t find it in myself to do it. If a grindalicious, slow, randomized rewards system sounds good to you, it might be your cup of tea. You can probably pick up the games on a Steam sale for cheap if you time it right. For me, I’d rather engage my friends in casual conversation over the internet or in a pub. Don’t really need the shoot n’ loot background noise. Or maybe I’d just play Left 4 Dead instead, where I won’t need to grind the same gun over and over because the random generator keeps giving me the wrong barrel.