My favorite holiday is almost upon us. Not Halloween, the one after that. Thanksgiving.
I have always loved Thanksgiving, even when I was young and I thought the idea of giving thanks was hokey. Now that I am older, I appreciate the idea of feeling grateful for what I have. Whitewashed version of American history it may be, the message of Thanksgiving I was raised with is one I feel we could all keep in mind a little more often.
And then there’s the food.
Turkey, mashed potatoes, gravy, stuffing, pie – I love it all. It is my singular favorite meal of the year. If I were on Death Row, Thanksgiving dinner would be my last meal.
Of course, the reality of the meal isn’t quite like the image of my head. Sure, those first few bites of juicy turkey and plump stuffing are delicious, but after a while it honestly all starts to taste the same. The neat piles of meat, potatoes, veggies, and sides swirl together in a brown, gravy-coated mass. It starts to look ugly, but it still tastes good. Just perhaps not as good as it initially did.
Which brings me to Borderlands 2. In the month leading up to the game’s launch, I was anticipating it almost as hungrily as I do Thanksgiving. I remembered clearly how much I had enjoyed my last visit to the fictional world of Pandora, how delicious the ingenious stew of role-playing lootfest simmered with first-person shooter spices tasted. I thought back to how I invested dozens of hours in the single-player world of Borderlands and how it took on a whole new life when I spent hours questing with friends spread out across the country. I wanted to taste it again.
Last year, my wife and I bought an organic turkey for Thanksgiving, which we were convinced would taste better than the conventionally-grown turkeys my family has always purchased. We were right. It tasted better, and elevated my favorite meal.
Borderlands 2 tastes better than the first. The original game had all the right ingredients but needed a little more finesse to perfect the recipe. Borderlands 2 is not quite there, but the chefs at Gearbox Software have made major strides.
The first bites are glorious. Borderlands 2, in its opening hours, is addictive, compelling, funny, profane, beautiful and immersive.
But like Thanksgiving dinner, after a while it all starts to taste a little bit the same.
It’s fair to say that the sequel is “more of the same.” You pick up quests, explore Pandora, find better and better guns, improve your character’s skills, repeat. Oh, and naturally you kill boatloads of enemies, both human and animal. Borderlands 2 doesn’t change much in the way of the core experience. The small touches, the spices if you will, are what has changed. The visuals are crisper, the character menu (in which you spend a lot of time) is cleaner. “Badass ranks” reward with minor stat boosts for completing challenges of every sort (killing enemies, firing guns, looting boxes, completing sidequests, avoiding damage and much, much more). Dropping into a co-op game is easier than ever before thanks to a streamlined menu experience, and several tweaks encourage you to experiment with all four of the game’s classes – Badass rank rewards are shared between all your characters, and items left in a central safe are always accessible no matter which character you use.
Character choice, as well as number of players, has a profound affect on gameplay. I am playing as Zero, the sneaky assassin who can specialize in sniping, melee or a combination of both. Playing alone as a sniper is slow and methodical, as I approach each group of enemies at maximum distance, lining up headshots carefully. Such careful play is harder to achieve with four players, as the number of enemies scales up with the number of players, and chaos builds accordingly. Sure, you can hang back and let the dual-wielding Gunzerker charge forward, but those carefully-composed headshots are out of the question.
Of course, you could play through Borderlands 2 with a carefully composed team of the same four players from beginning to end, carefully discussing strategy before every encounter. But it won’t be the case for most people. Most will play some solo and some with friends. As a consequence, you’ll probably play some missions more than once, if for example you’ve completed it and your friends haven’t. A second helping if you will. That’s not inherently a bad thing, but most of Borderlands 2′s quests are basically the same. Go here, kill these enemies, get this thing, return to the person who gave you the quest. Clever character dialogue and funny situations help keep things as fresh as possible, but the sense that it all tastes the same ultimately sets in regardless. The somewhat limited stock of enemy types doesn’t help. You’ll kill literally thousands of the same bandit over the course of the game.
There is a certain point in each Thanksgiving dinner when I know I should stop eating. Logic tells me that I have had enough. But my tastebuds tell me otherwise, and I keep eating. Logic is telling me that after 20 or so hours of Borderlands 2, I have seen all it really has to offer. I could stop now, because it’s all starting to taste the same.
But I won’t. I know myself well enough to say that I’ll keep eating.
Borderlands 2 is a notable title within its genre
This review is based on an Xbox 360 copy of the game provided by the publisher.
About the Author:
Jeremy Zoss has written for Game Informer, Wizard Magazine, Village Voice Media and more. He has several published works of fiction, but his dogs are not impressed with any of that.
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