Leave it to the developers at Gearbox to use a refined trope to announce their newest game in the Borderlands franchise. Aren't these typically called "prequels"? Whatever. One of the great things about the Borderlands series is Gearbox isn't afraid to chart entirely new paths.
Borderlands: The Pre-Sequel is set in the years prior to Handsome Jack's takeover of Pandora, and it will introduce new (but familiar) characters and classes, new weapons, and new elements to the franchise.
- Low-gravity/oxygen-powered jetpacks accompany the characters as they explore Pandora's Moon.
- New Cryo element
- New "Laser" weapon class
- Play as familiar characters/classes from Borderlands 1 & 2 including Wilhelm, Athena, Nisha (the Sheriff of Lynchwood), and Claptrap
Perhaps we'll get an inside look into Handsome Jack's motives and tactics during his takeover of Pandora. For sure, it'll be great to relive some of the great moments in Pandoran history that were only alluded to or told via EchoLog in Borderlands 2!
Since the release of the original Borderlands in 2009, and Borderlands 2 last year, one constant has encompassed the franchise like a Rakk circling a horde of bandits:
Loot. These games have TONS of loot.
So what’s so special about loot? I’ve been asking myself that question for a long time now, and with the Borderlands 2 Loot Hunt in full swing, I find myself asking again. After countless hours farming for Bee shields or multiple runs against raid-bosses like Pyro Pete and Terramorphus, the simplest explanation might just be the answer.
Hunting for loot is awesome.
LOW DROP RATES
A common complaint throughout the Borderlands community is that some of the best weapons/mods/shields have extremely low drop rates. One of the rarest weapons in the game, the Cobra, can only be dropped from a specific enemy type. Killing 100 Burners might net one or two sniper rifle drops, and of those one or two drops, there’s only a .88% chance that it will be a Cobra.
But whereas others might choose to complain about the low drops, I personally like them low. I still remember the first pearlescent weapon that fell from a wandering Goliath or that time I found an Infinity pistol in a red chest. These finds were made memorable because they happen so infrequently AND because they were good weapons.
In almost all games, an element of farming is present. Farming is the idea of repeatedly hunting/killed the same enemy or groups of enemies over and over until you net one of their rare prizes. When I was younger, we didn’t call it farming. We called it playing the game. In Final Fantasy IV for the SNES, my best friend and I spent hours killing Red Dragons at the end of the games in the hopes of finding Kain’s Dragoon Lance. We did this because we wanted to find the best the game had to offer.
In Borderlands, the best is always right around the corner. Even once you have a weapon or mod you’re happy with, another will usually come along. The best (if there is such as thing) is also interpretive. My level 72 Caustic SMG might not be the best weapon to another player. Such is the beauty of Borderlands. So many choices and play styles can come together.
THE LOOT HUNT
The Borderlands Loot Hunt is one of the most brilliant pieces of video game marketing that I’ve seen in a long time, if ever. Every day over the course of a month, a new target and challenges are released to anyone who has signed up for the hunt. Every time you kill the daily target, you’re entered into a drawing for $100,000 worth of prizes. After playing Borderlands 2 for so long, I’ll jump at a chance to make some money off my experience.
But the fun of hunting specific targets isn’t nearly as fun as the daily challenges. Every time you kill the daily target, a rare weapon will drop. The daily challenge requires you to take said weapon, and as a community, kill a mass amount of a specific enemy. If all the daily challenge requirements are completed to 100%, yet another rare piece of loot is made available.
The daily challenges breath new life into the game. I was starting to get a little bored mashing up Field Rats with my Unkempt Harold, but yesterday, I had to take my newly acquired Fire Veruc against the Field Rats instead. It was almost like playing a new game, plus, I found love for a weapon I’d found once before and discarded because I didn’t much care for the feel.
In the end, Borderlands is a getaway from the stresses of real life, but finding loot is the icing on the cake, making it all taste that much better.
When I was about 10 or 12 years old, I can't even remember for sure, my best friend and I used to spend hours creating things related to our favorite video games. Enamoured with Final Fantasy IV, we wrote a guide referencing various characters, places, and objects with their respective myths. When we were going through our Mega Man phase, we would use dot-matrix printer paper to create entirely new levels. One year, we teamed up with a few neighborhood kids and made a Super Mario movie (I kinda wish I still had that VHS...and a machine to play it on). Those days are well into my past, but they've stuck with me quite a bit over the years.
Why? Those days were filled with imagination, a trait that has dwindled during my shift to adulthood. Sure, we didn't always have the most original ideas, but what truly mattered in those days was we took a basic idea and then we ran with it, generating our own ideas, injecting our own imaginations, and letting our creativity run wild. This is why I love video games so much today. I'll usually find a basic idea that fascinates me, then my own ideas and creativity take the wheel. In a weird way, video games are a little like my muse.
Which brings me to the Borderlands games, most notably, Borderlands 2. Now, I'm a pretty big fan of this game, as evidenced by my time posting to the Borderlands subreddits and the few blog posts I've made. I've played through multiple times in the last few months, maxing out my levels, farming for cool weapons, and using the diverse variety of classes to give myself a unique take on the game. What I can't get over though is how utterly fascinated I am with this game. I can't remember the last time I played a game so religiously that didn't have a "Final" or "Fantasy" in the title. So what is it about this game that has touched not only me, but an entire community of Redditors?
AN EPIC STORY
Both Borderlands games take place on the planet of Pandora, a planet filled with horrific creatures and overrun by commercial greed. In the original game, the Vault Hunters are driven to hunt down "the Vault", which contains ancient alien technology. The story involves a long quest, but it intertwines with Pandora's history. Not only are you fighting against remnant psychos and bandits left behind by the Dahl Corporation, you also struggle against contenders for the Vault, an army by the name of the Crimson Lance. Dialogue might be sparse, and the story itself might be slow at times, but the action never really stops as you plunge through the story.
Borderlands 2 takes us into the future a little ways, bringing in a new clan of Vault Hunters while keeping the old familiar Vault Hunters as non-playable characters. You get to keep the previous stories, witness the repercussions from the first game, and then set out to find another Vault. Only this time, you have a clearly identified villain. Handsome Jack, president of the Hyperion Company, is a ruthless (though somehow hilarious) and calculating villain, hell-bent on destroying anyone living on Pandora.
The two games branch nicely, folding one into the other, creating a truly epic feel.
Brick, Mordecai, Roland, and Lilith. Salvador, Maya, Zer0, Axton, Krieg, and Gaige. All of them Vault Hunters, and all of them awesome in their own right. Sure, the story is the same at the end no matter who you choose, but the journey you take to get there might be totally different. Did you melee your way to the final boss? Did you fight like a soldier or a sniper? Did your enemies feel the sharp blade of your buzzsaw axe or the claws of your deathtrap? Did they succumb to the concussive blast of your phaselock or the elemental power of your phasewalk?
The story is there regardless, yes, but the characters, each with their own history and personas, really make the game. Not only do you get the epic feel of Pandora's past and present, but you become connected to the characters you take along for the ride. You learn their catchphrases and abilities, and every time you begin a new campaign with a different character, it truly feels like you're starting over again.
As I said in the beginning, it's the simple ideas that inspires us all to create. A story, a character, and before you know it, you're off on your own. I've been a member of the Reddit community for a while now, and a member of r/Borderlands and r/Borderlands2 since I first picked up the original Borderlands game. But it wasn't until just the other day that I noticed how much creativity was coming out of these subreddits.
Music videos, fanfiction, video shorts, comics, drawings, analytical theories, paintings, cosplay, and I know some of you hate it, but modding...yup, that's using some creativity genes, too.
These are all outlets for creativity, and they've all found inspiration from the legends of Pandora. An hour on Pandora can lighten me up as well, lending to me the inspiration I have to continue my editing or finish writing my own epic stories. It's a great feeling being a part of a game that inspires so many others. This passion is what leads to innovation. It might seem backwards, but I truly believe there is no such thing as an original idea. True innovation is taking an idea and spinning it completely upside down and inside out, leaving the passion there but the idea totally new.
Thanks for reading, Vault Hunters!
Borderlands 2: The Ultimate
The Finer Things: Pandoran Redux
Pardon me if I sound like I'm gushing about Borderlands 2 (this is the second post I've written about the game, after all). But to be honest, I haven't had a whole lot of time lately to explore my geeky side. Editing a novel is a lot of work, and lately, any free time I've had has been spent playing BL2 because let's face it...it's a great game. With the latest downloadable content release which raised the maximum level your character can achieve AND introduced new weapons AND a new playthrough mode...well, I don't see myself straying from this game for a while.
LEVEL CAP INCREASE
For anyone who doesn't know, a lot of games have a leveling system. For completing missions and defeating enemies, you'll earn experience points that accumulate until you gain a level, thereby increasing your stats. The highest level a player could reach was level 50...until last week when new downloadable content raised the level cap to 61. I've never been so excited about new content like I was last week (still am).
If you've never played a game with a leveling system, you might not understand why this is so important to the game. Prior to the increase, there was still a ton of gameplay value in BL2 even with a max level character. There were side missions to play, bosses to farm, and new weapons, shields, and mods to find, but with a max level character, I started to get bored because there was no progress. The level cap increase changed all that.
When I defeated the Warrior (final boss) on my second playthrough with my level 49 Mecromancer and received not just a level up to 50 but also experience gained towards my next level, I felt like I was playing a whole different game. Once again, I felt my character's progress move forward, and I couldn't wait to start a new game.
ULTIMATE VAULT HUNTER MODE
At the same time we all saw new downloadable content with the level cap increase, a free update opened up a third playthrough for the game: Ultimate Vault Hunter Mode. Borderlands and Borderlands 2 both had second playthroughs which allowed players to keep their current level and weapons. Enemies were harder. Weapons were stronger. And the fun...oh the fun.
But the latest free update introduced a third playthrough for Borderlands 2. Enemies now have 4x the health (which they also regenerate over time), but a game component called Slag received a 4x damage bonus, making it essential to gameplay. Suddenly, the game was no longer familiar. The weapons and shields that made me damn-near invincible in the second playthrough BARELY allowed me to survive in Ultimate Vault Hunter Mode.
And unlike in previous playthroughs where an enemy's level was determined by where you were at story-wise in the game, Ultimate Vault Hunter Mode automatically scaled enemy levels to the highest level of anyone on your team. So on my first co-op night, when my my teammate joined the game at level 58 and I was at a fresh level 51...well...I needed quite a bit of saves. But make no mistake, I had a blast. The challenge provided was astounding, frustrating, and so much fun.
Weapons have played a major role in Borderlands since the beginning. One of the first things I heard about the game was how many guns there were to find in the game, literally thousands, each one different from the next. But this was only part of the fun because there were different tiers of weapon rarity.
When Grandma Burps Patrick Obeys. This is a mnemonic device for the level of rarity in Borderlands. White, Green, Blue, Purple, and Orange. White weapons are the most common drops, while orange (or legendary) weapons are the highest level of rarity...or are they? Like in the original Borderlands, Pearlescent weapons make an appearance in BL2 with the latest downloadable content package. New weapons, new drop rates equals much more fun to be had.
The best part of Borderlands 2 (and its predecessor) is its maker...Gearbox. One of the best parts about playing this game has been the attention its designers have paid to the players. Gearbox listened to critiques from the players and provided updates to fix most of the problems the game had. Downloadable content could be a little longer (more bang for the buck), but overall, I feel like Gearbox holds great value in their players. We're not just a paycheck for them, and as a gamer, I appreciate that more than anything (especially considering how much of my time is devoted away from the console).
As a writer, video games can be a most unwelcome passenger in my life. They provide a distraction that often takes me away from my responsibilities for hours, maybe even days. But this is only half the story, for despite the distraction, video games have also helped my creative process. Believe what you want, but playing a video game is not equivalent to crapping out in front of the TV. Video games require strong hand-eye coordination, they force me to think quickly, challenging my abilities to think critically and problem solve on the fly, and most important, oftentimes, they inspire me to create.
Annnnd that brings me to my review of Borderlands 2, by GearBox.
Now, this isn't a typical video game review. Graphics and gameplay matter to me, but what I really care about is the story. In fact, I've played some terrible games in the past, but hung on until the end because I was riveted by the story. Borderlands 2 isn't one of these games...not yet anyway.
I've only logged about 14 hours on Pandora since the three weeks that I've owned this game (a relatively small amount of time when you think about how much time some people spend watching Football on a Sunday), so I haven't exactly "finished the book" yet. But what I have seen so far has definitely kept me playing.
Borderlands 2 takes place on the planet, Pandora, about 5 years after the events of the first Borderlands game, and let me tell you, things haven't changed all that much on the surface. There are still tribes of cannibalistic psychos camped out at every turn as well as fierce alien beasts set on murdering anything that crosses their path. The scope of the world of Pandora is huge. You start out in a frozen wasteland, move on to a desert/junkyard, and about halfway through, you end up in a highland landscape complete with military bunkers set over cascading waterfalls. When you throw in the history from the first game and this game's diabolical villain, you have a world that every fantasy writer wishes for...deep in detail, rich in history, and most important, intriguing.
As for the story itself, the game begins as the protagonists, the Vault Hunters, descend upon a Hyperion Corporation train on a mission to kill Handsome Jack, Hyperion's CEO (oh, and he's also the self-proclaimed Dictator of Pandora). You see, in order to "clean up" Pandora, Jack has pretty much vowed to wipe the living population off the face of the planet in order to rebuild from the ashes. As one of the four (now five!) Vault Hunters, your mission is to take out Jack and restore as much peace as Pandora will allow.
Predictably, the train hijacking is a setup, resulting in the Vault Hunters being stranded in the Arctic Wasteland, only to be rescued by the familiar and loveable "Claptrap", a dubsteppin' robot with dubious motive. The Guardian Angel is back in this game as well, returning again as the Vault Hunter's advisor, although this time, Angel isn't exactly the same as before. We also get to see a return of the original Vault Hunters from the first Borderlands. On Handsome Jack's Pandora, they have taken the roles of freedom fighters, and reuniting with them brings some of that history I spoke of earlier back to the surface.
Gripes? As characters, the new Vault Hunters are pretty simple cardboard cutouts. We only get snippets of dialogue from them, and their personalities are pretty much summarized by their snappy comebacks in the heat of battle. This was true of the original Vault Hunters as well. The cool thing is that in Borderlands 2, the original Vault Hunters are non-playable characters, meaning we get to talk to them and fight with them unlike anything we got to see in the first game. This time around, we get to know the originals much better, and that, to me, is a fantastic reward.
Bottom Line: If you liked the first game and enjoyed the story, you'll really get some enjoyment out of the second installment. Of course, there are some gameplay differences that may affect the enjoyability of the game overall, but screw it, I'm all about the story.
Video Games, Comics, Movies, and Books. I'll talk about it all, and I'll tell you why it's so awesome!