Returning to the Borderlands

Borderlands is one of my favorite game series, second to only the Legend of Zelda series. There’s guns, gnarly explosions, the ability to instantly reduce someone to a red mist and chunks if you do enough damage, stupidly high numbers, an incredible cast of hilarious characters, guns with ridiculous effects, weird missions, plenty of jokes, and some incredibly stirring moments. These games, and the second one in particular, have been responsible for some of the strongest emotions I’ve ever felt as a result of a video game, and they did it all by creating an over-the-top and crazy world with an equally over-the-top and crazy cast that are still entirely real and believable. And they say you can’t really tell an interesting story in a first-person shooter.

Since the second one, Borderlands 2, is my favorite, I’m going to focus on that one. When you start a game these days, you can pick one of six playable characters, each with their own unique back stories, class abilities, and role. Since the game has cooperative play for up to four players, each character tends to fall into one of the roles you find in a typical RPG. Axton, the commando, is the party tank. Maya, the siren, is the party cleric. Zero, the number (assassin), is the rogue. Salvador, the Gunzerker, is the blasty mage. Krieg, the psycho, is the barbarian. Gage, the mechromancer, is the off-tank. Each of the characters has three skill trees that allows you to focus them toward one part of their role over another. Axton, my personal favorite, can focus on hit points, regeneration, and not dying; putting out tons of damage, staying mobile, and tactical damage; or creating a turret that is going to be a huge threat to all of your enemies, thereby diverting their attention away from you.

No matter which character you pick, the story stays pretty much the same, aside from a slight variety in the way the NPCs interact with you and what background information you’re given for your character. Handsome Jack, the owner of mega-corporation Hyperion, wants to dig up a vault and unleash the creature within it upon the planet, removing the bandits and people who live on it in order to turn it into what he considers a more peaceful, happy planet. He’s willing to kill anyone he has to in order to do what he thinks is best, constantly blames the player for forcing his hand, and seems to delight in the violence he gets to personally inflict on the people who defy his tyranny. Your character survives a train wreck and is then recruited by the anti-Hyperion resistance in order to strike back against Handsome Jack in an attempt to gain control of the creature inside the hidden vault first, so you can unleash it upon Hyperion instead.

Needless to say, a lot of crazy stuff happens that severely complicates everything. All the while, as you try to sort out the plot and turn in as many side-quests as you can, you’re collecting guns with crazy effects like shooting in bursts of thirteen that, when shot into a wall, create a low-quality rendition of the oldest cave paintings in the world. Or guns that never run out of ammo, guns that generate their own ammo, guns that explode when you attempt to reload them so that you never have to bother with replacing ammo clips, grenades named after classic D&D spells, and automatic sniper rifles that get more accurate the longer you hold the trigger down. Half the fun of the game is seeing what crazy guns you get and what their crazy effects do and, since the guns are all entirely randomized aside from a few important ones, it is incredibly unlucky that you’ll encounter the same gun twice.

As you move through the missions, gaining levels and collecting loot, you get to unlock new powers and abilities, turning your character into a one-person murder machine whose only weakness is one-shot kill attacks like some of the incredibly powerful enemies have and the fact that you sometimes just run out of bullets. The reason Axton is my favorite is because he not only just gets straight boosts to his damage, he also gets incredible health regeneration. He is my ideal character for a solo game because I don’t need to worry about dying as much and can take my time to line up the head-shots that’ll make each fight a breeze. It is incredibly rewarding to watch the huge numbers pop up as I shoot a bandit or bizarre creature in its weak point. There are ways to get higher numbers with other characters, but that’s contingent on luck and the right combination of guns and abilities.

While some missions can be difficult because of the requirements or that the way the game is designed to accommodate both solo play and cooperative play with your friends, the game is also forgiving. Hit boxes for most enemies and weak points are rather larger than they look and there are ways to bypass any amount of aiming deficiency. Shotguns, for one. Grenades, combat abilities, melee attacks, and stubborn refusal to do anything but work on improving your aim until you can nail a head-shot from across the map also work really well. Your best bet, and the most fun way to experience the game in my opinion, is to play with at least one other friend. The cooperative experience only adds to the game, since it makes it a lot easier to just plow through whatever enemies are blocking your way forward, to a degree. There are usually more enemies as a result of extra players by your side, but a friend can help you get back on your feet if you’ve gone down far more easily than if you need to rely on killing an enemy.

If you don’t mind a little gore on occasion and enjoy first-person shooters, I cannot recommend Borderlands 2 (and the rest of the family) strongly enough. It is incredibly fun and, though the pacing can slow to a crawl at times of heavy side-questing, is never boring. Check it out for the PC (my recommendation) or the re-release put out on PlayStation 4 or Xbox One. You can’t go wrong, no matter how you choose to enjoy it.

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