Monday, October 08, 2012

The Borderlands 2 Gun Discarders Club

This is basically a review of, and a pros/cons rant about, Borderlands 2. If you're not into it, just don't read it! I'll write about stuff you like some other time. Maybe.


I'm not the kind of person to say "I told you so." Noooo. Never. Well, never, unless, of course, I get to say it loudly, within hearing of a biggish stadium full of people. Which I can.

So here goes: I told you so. Toldya toldya toldya.

My predictions from my previous post, "The Borderlands Gun Collectors Club", all came completely 100% true, with Hyperionesque accuracy, Jakobsian impact, Maliwaney inflammatoryness, Tedioric blasting and surprisingly, even Vladofish speed. I made out like a Bandit.

I predicted, as you may recall, that (A) it'd be a great game ("duh"), (B) they'd screw up the token economy because they only partly understand it, and (C) as a direct result of B, players would gradually head back to Borderlands.

Three weeks after the release, I had my dreaded first "I really don't want to throw this gun away, but I have NO GODDAMN ROOM FOR IT, THANK YOU RANDY PITCHFORK" gun-discarding experience. And my reaction was, predictably, to think seriously about either creating a mule character or going back to play BL1.

I mean, I knew I'd have this reaction, but I failed to predict how amazingly fast it would happen. A week playing the game, another week on playthrough 2, a final week finishing all the optional side quests, and then boom -- the farming is fundamentally broken, so let's go play something else. But I don't waaaaant to! Why did they have to get this wrong? Why did I have to be so predictively correct? Argh!

Let me make this really simple and clear. You remember that famous exchange in Dr. Strangelove or: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb:

Dr. Strangelove: Of course, the whole point of a Doomsday Machine is LOST if you keep it a SECRET! Why didn't you tell the world, EH?
Ambassador de Sadesky: It was to be announced at the Party Congress on Monday. As you know, the Premier loves surprises.

Well, if Dr. Strangelove were alive to play BL2 today, he'd have said:

Dr. Strangelove: Of course, the whole point of 87 Bazillion Guns is LOST, if you don't let people keep them! Why didn't you add more bank slots, EH?

I mean, at least Ambassador de Sadesky had a somewhat plausible excuse. But Gearbox has been thinking over this whole endgame-farming thing for, oh, probably eight years or more. How the hell did they arrive at the conclusion that "We should have 87 bazillion guns, and you personally should be able to keep, like, twelve of them!"

There's only one possible answer: they are clueless. I mean, don't get me wrong: they're also lovable, brilliant, passionate, technically astounding, and outright visionary. But they're also and bumbling and clueless. They're the neighborhood kid who catches a lizard and thinks it's really cool, and it *is* cool, except he puts it in a box and it dies.

I'll do this as a Good, Bad and Ugly post, just so you know it's, like, balanced. If I were just gushing a bunch of fanboy praise, you know as well as I do that it wouldn't be as credible. You have to hear the bad with the good.

But ugh, they were so close. So close! The game is so amazing!

Maybe they'll cut my second prediction in half, and release a DLC or patch within 6 months that gets the folks who drifted back to Borderlands to start collecting in BL2 again.

That, or maybe I'll contribute to the BL2 player-file-editor project. Modding is stupid, stupid, stupid; it's 12 year olds advertising that they are, in fact, mentally and emotionally really twelve years old. The mindset there is so juvenile that it pains me to admit that sometime in my distant past, decades ago, I probably would have thought that way myself. (That is to say: "Hey, I'm going to mod, because it's not allowed so it must be cool, and even though a fugging gorilla could figure out how to do it, and it takes any hint of challenge out of the game and makes me look like I was severely shaken as a baby, but I'm going to go ahead and show off my modded guns as if I'm some sort of super-gorilla." Yeah, that mindset.)

But modding will, to a very limited extent, help work around Gearbox's cluelessness by letting legit endgame farmers have a place to put all their fugging produce.

Very, limited, mind you. I'll tell you how it *should* be in the Ugly section. I'll talk about how to fix this situation, and, well, if Gearbox doesn't understand the fix, you can be sure some other upstart game company _will_ understand it, and it'll all be the upstart's limelight soon enough. A few more years of screwing this up, and as far as Gearbox goes we'll be, like, "hey, remember Diablo?"

Let's hope they get the message. Randy, guys, please -- get the message!

The Good -- no, wait -- The GREAT

Actually we should do Great first, then Good/Bad/Ugly. Because BL2 is a capital-G Great game. Best game ever? Well, no. Nobody's gonna top RDR for a while. But dayum, BL2 is a great game. It's actually a great test of whether you're an idiot, because if you don't like it or it doesn't appeal to you... well, you might not be an idiot per se; there's bound to be some explanation... I guess. In theory. There could be some other reason than you being an idiot, however improbable.

Anyhoo, let's get The Big Question out of the way: Is Borderlands II better than Borderlands I? Well, the answer depends on whether you think The Empire Strikes Back was a better movie than Star Wars. It's also the answer to "Should I play BL2 if I haven't played BL1?" If you think watching The Empire Strikes Back after Star Wars yields an acceptably awesome cinematic experience -- which it probably does -- then yeah, play BL2 first. Go for it!

The Lucasian comparison runs pretty deep. Borderlands is dry and dusty, has dome-like dwellings, introduces cute talking robots, features fully armored imperial bad guys with bad aim, and has a slow (but interesting) story arc up to a really dramatic finish in the last act. Whereas Borderlands 2 is lush and fast-paced and story-thick and incest-ridden and stuff, just like Ep. V. Let's just hope they don't carry the metaphor to the third installment, unless of course they want to have Patricia Tannis dressed like Princess Leia as the kept-plaything of some huge talking Thresher, in which case they have my blessing.

BTW, as an aside, and my wife agrees 100% -- all this chatter about Lilith vs. Maya vs. Moxxi is just outright silly. The answer is: Tannis. Followed, we think, by Helena Pierce, eye or no eye.

Anyway, where were we. Oh yeah, The GREAT. Where to begin?

The story is awesome. Burch was amazing. Tiny Tina is incredibly awesome. Other Burch, also amazing. Handsome Jack is so awesome that I found myself rooting for him most of the time. Threshers are way more awesome than they looked in the previews. The AIs are uniformly great, even when they occasionally make the mobs cower in the corner as if you're the Blair Witch. I don't mind. And the guns, oh the guns, they are beautiful and fascinating and a joy to behold.

The voice acting is awesome, with one noteworthy exception: Axton was mis-cast. He looks like Captain America (or Thor, or whoever, take your pick), and he possesses the competent, modest, sexily reserved flawed-hero look of Captain America (or Thor, or whoever, take your pick). But his voice and dialogue are pure Jack Black at his cheesiest. Oops. Oh well. But the rest of them are cool. Can't say much without giving the plot away, but everyone's voice acting was great, and Tiny Tina stole the show. Well her, and the Goliaths.

The game balance is exquisite. THEre have BEEn some missteps, naturally, and people are now vying to slay the much-vaunted raid boss Terramorphous in the fewest number of milliseconds with 100% legit gear. But on the whole the balance is superb.

My only cause for complaint is that the game balance feels far less serendipity-prone than Borderlands often was. They made BL2 so balanced that most of the time the stuff you find is really pretty boring. No one manufacturer shines above all the others, nor is one worse than the others (though I wasn't much of a fan of Jakobs or Pangolin, by and large). All the weapon types are about equally good. It feels as if they tightened the loot-rarity bell curve so they could keep the difficulty progression smooth. The game always felt challenging, albeit without ever descending into Survival Horror territory -- there is always enough ammo around to encourage exploration.

And when you do find the occasional legendary item -- I found only four of them during my first two complete playthroughs -- it will last you a good ten levels. Oranges are the new Pearls. They got this right, I think, and only in the difficult-to-balance endgame did they encounter any issues. In short, the game is challenging in a good way.

They kept the cel shading. Yay. Cel shading helps them avoid the Uncanny Valley where most other games reside today -- they look more and more realistic without actually looking, you know, realistic. The Borderands franchise embraces the graphic-novel look, and it's always stylish and fresh. Plus they don't cel-shade a lot of stuff: water, ice, atmospheric effects, weapon effects, and so on, which makes for some eye-popping moments. And just in case the poetic beauty of their rendering approach is lost on you, they also include some actual eye pops.

They kept the humor. Oh, did they ever. I'd find myself giggling at 3am until I was snorting and wheezing. The humor runs the whole gamut, from the coarse and obvious to the surprisingly subtle. I love the Dr. Zed vending machines (and the voice acting, and Zed's character in general -- he may be my favorite.) And I almost lost consciousness from laughing when I realized, after my second weapon swap, exactly what The Bane's curse was. Oh man, that one almost killed me. That whole mission was extraordinarily well-designed. And of course Claptrap is funny as always. Crazy Earl, too.

Not to mention the talking weapons and armor. I love my Hyperion auditing sniper -- haven't discarded it even though I can't really justify a precious inventory slot for it. There's a lot of genuinely funny stuff in this game.

But I think the Best Humor award has to go to the bad guys. Handsome Jack has his moments, but it's really the bandits that steal the show. Just when you think you've heard them say everything, they'll surprise you. Crazed psycho bandits running at you screaming that Pluto is still a planet, or complaining about how goddamn cold it is outside, or reciting Hamlet... it just never gets old. Bandit humor has quickly become one of the legendary defining hallmarks of the Borderlands experience.

No question about it: this game has it all. It's a huge, sprawling open-world game with an engaging story, superb balance, exciting game mechanics, outstanding writing, and absolutely unparalleled replay value.

The greatness of the game pretty much dwarfs everything else I say here. It's a worthy successor to Borderlands, and at this point it's already become one of the most important franchises in gaming history.

I know the folks at Gearbox love this game and they want to keep refining it, though, so I'll weigh in my $0.02 on how it could be even more awesome next time around -- hopefully as soon as the next DLC.

The Good

The game has some aspects that I feel bordered on greatness without actually achieving it.

The biggest issue I have with the overall world design is that it's a theme park. No other word for it. It's a cool theme park, and I do love me my theme parks -- I'm a Disney Vacation Club member and we go to theme parks several times a year, rain or shine. But there was some sort of dynamic going on, maybe an overreaction to the misguided criticism of the dry dustiness of BL1 (which is about as valid a criticism as saying "Star Wars had too much sand!"), that maybe made them overcompensate a little with the paint gun.

So even though the game is often beautiful, the colors are often too saturated. When they get it right, it's nothing short of stunning. The Southern Shelf and Sawtooth Cauldron are standout examples. Both juxtapose bandit shantytowns with a rugged natural beauty -- but it's a beauty with a relatively subdued palette, dominated by just one or two colors.

Some of the man-made places are gorgeous too -- Opportunity City comes to mind, and the Friendship Gulag. But they, too, have dominant primary colors or motifs that shape and define the visual experience into something unique and refined.

In several other locations they went a little overboard. I'm not sure if it's the cel-shading adding visual clutter (as seemed to be the case in Fink's Slaughterhouse and in Sanctuary), or if it was actual clutter (Thousand Cuts comes to mind), or if they just went a little overboard with the fully-saturated paint gun (Wildlife Preserve, maybe, or Tundra Express). Whatever the reason, the game winds up looking a tad overdone in places. Still awesome, yes, but with colors that clash rather than harmonizing. They need to follow the basic color-matching advice from, say, Vogue or Cosmopolitan: Any three colors go together, and any more than that looks like a peacock shitting rainbows. I'm pretty sure it was Cosmopolitan who said that.

The theme-park quality goes beyond the color scheme. A lot of the areas feel bowl-shaped and directly connected to other equally bowl-shaped areas with completely different styling. So it feels a bit like you're walking from Adventureland to Tomorrowland to Fantasyland.

And there's a lot of... homage, let's say... to other games. It felt almost like they had other-game and/or other-movie envy, even though Borderlands is a game to be envied all on its own. So there's a dash of Skyrim (The Highlands), some Red Dead Redemption (Lynchwood), some Jurassic Park (Wildlife Preserve), and other maybe-unnecessary tributes. And Sanctuary reminds me way too much, ironically, of the towns in Rage.

So the overall world design lacked a certain cohesiveness of vision that was present in Borderlands I. It feels on the one hand like they were trying to elicit a Tolkeinesque or Homeresque journey from humble beginnings, increasing in scope, and ultimately walking into the heart of Mordor. There's a teeny bit of that going on. But it also feels like whoever had that vision was crushed by the weight of game directors all clamoring for unrelated themed areas to show off their... their what, I don't know. Just to show off.

On the whole, though -- coming from a guy who likes theme parks -- they did a really bang-up job of creating a theme park. The individual areas all have their own distinct personality. Some of them even have world-class atmosphere. The Fridge, the Bloodshot Stronghold and Ramparts, Overlook and the Highlands, and several other areas are really memorable. And the Arid Nexus Badlands were... well, that's my favorite area of the game overall, for reasons I can't go into, but wow.

My vote for Overall Best Area Design, though, goes to the Caustic Caverns. This area stood head and shoulders above the rest of the game, in the sense of being new -- who the hell has ever seen anything like that before? -- and creepy. I can only remember one or two times in my 35-year gaming history where I felt the sinking "I am on the WRONG side of the train tracks" feeling that I had upon entering the Nether Hive. The whole area gave me a new-found respect for -- and dread of -- the Dahl Corporation, whom I hope will be the villains of some upcoming installment. Oh, and the, uh, mission I can't give spoilers about, but it takes you to the top floor in the Caverns -- that was hands-down the best side quest of the game.

My third favorite location, after the Badlands and the Caustic Caverns, was Lynchwood. I'm a sucker for that sort of thing. It didn't make any sense AT ALL -- it was a gratuitous anachronism in a game that thrives on anachronisms. But I loved it. Robbing the bank and getting out of town before the posse came: that was straight-up inspired writing. I loved the Lynchwood mini-boss and that whole plot line; I loved the Marshall's announcements; I loved the whole thing. Lynchwood may not have made much sense in the larger story, but it was unquestionably awesome.

Anyway, let's face it: the game is a theme park. Not that this is bad! It's Good. But I'd argue that it's not Great. I think true greatness necessitates a uniformity of vision that admits no room for tongues planted too firmly acheek. BL3 is going to have to make some hard choices about whether to be good or great.

Good is OK, though. Nothing wrong with Good.

The Bad

I'll try to keep this short. Mostly this is stuff that could be addressed in a straightforward way in a patch or DLC.

There was no explanation as to why NPCs don't get to use the New-U stations. Just sayin'. They'd better retcon that in next time.

No in-game explanation of the Golden Key chest in Sanctuary, so I (like half the rest of the civilized world) used both my golden keys right away without realizing what they were. In retrospect I don't think it matters, since having awesome weapons is probably more useful early in the game than later on. But it should have been a conscious choice, and I, like half the rest of the civilized world, was pretty pissed off to find that I'd squandered my keys without so much as a warning dialog.

They changed it so you can't open the menu if you're not on the ground -- that is, when you're jumping, or falling, or climbing a ladder, or being flung through the air by external forces (e.g. geyser, grenade), or stuck atop an enemy you had the misfortune to land on. This is hugely screwed up, so I can only imagine they did it as a last-ditch workaround for a no-holds-barred showstopper Christmas-won't-happen bug, and it'll get fixed in an upcoming release. That, or they hate their customers and think they're scum. Time will tell.

This change did help me understand that one of the habits I'd truly come to enjoy in BL1 was jumping and then opening the menu while in mid-air. Seriously. It was fun. I did it on purpose, all the time. I can't really articulate why, but it was exhilarating. It's as if they took away my childhood with that one simple dick move. I sure hope it was a last-resort thing that they plan to fix.

Inventory management has taken a turn for the worse overall. Yeah, it looks slick, but when has Gearbox ever been about "looks slick" over playability? I mean, no cutscenes, right? (Or at least no cheesy prerendered ones -- they do all their cuts right there in-game, and you can usually walk away from them.)

In BL2 they put a ton of work into the look-and-feel of inventory management, but they failed to nail the usability. In an RPG, even a quasi-RPG like Borderlands, inventory management is all-important. So maybe it's their shooter background at work here. I dunno. But there are a lot of serious wtfs going on. Examples:

* When you want to compare item A to other items, and you eventually navigate to item B, then close the let's-compare transaction, it leaves the selection on item B. Last I checked, this is not the way rational thought worked in any product designed by human beings with good intentions.

* You can mark items as "favorites", and then... nothing. You can't sort on them or do anything useful with them. But, alas, you CAN sell them, without any warnings or indicators that you just sold an item you'd marked as a favorite. So I have accidentally sold some really, really important shit, and only realized a few areas later, when it was too late to go back and buy them back. This has happened at least four or five times in my so-far 2.5 playthroughs of the game. That's too many for an experienced gamer. It means they have a UI problem.

* You can mark stuff as "trash", and sell it all at once. Except that's stupid. Everything should be trash by default. Most of the items you pick up ARE trash -- that is a natural outcome of the tightness of their rarity bell curve. If they had done the whole favorite/trash thing correctly, you'd only need to think about it at all when you picked up a blue-or-better weapon, at which point you could mark it as a favorite to prevent accidental sale. This, friends at Gearbox, would be less error prone AND less effort. Argh.

* There's still no way to "buy all" for ammo. Also, like in BL1, there are two concurrent views of your ammunition while you're shopping: the store's selection and your inventory levels. And, like in BL1, the two have unaccountably different sort orders. So as you move the selection cursor down the store's selection, the inventory cursor jumps around unpredictably. I can't believe they did this two games in a row.

* Unlike in BL1 (I think), when you're buying ammo by mashing buttons (because there's no bulk-buy function), you can very easily scroll past the grenades and start buying shit you didn't want while you're mashing the buttons. Again, no warnings, no "are you sure?", so it's really easy not to notice until a few load levels later.

* Like in BL1, they don't sort insta-health at the top of Zed's vending machines, which means if you run up to a machine to buy health in a firefight -- which is much more commmon now that they've eliminated portable health vials -- or if you're just not paying very close attention because your dog just knocked over your glass of water, then you stand a good chance of buying some expensive class mods and maybe not noticing. I've done this too. In all seriousness, sorting insta-health at the top is OBVIOUS, so only gross negligence can explain how it was done wrong two games in a row.

To be sure, they got a few inventory-management things right that were messed up in BL1. You can now compare items while shopping -- w00t! And the weapon cards show all the data rather than truncating. The item sorting makes a little more sense. The "examine this item" is REALLY cool, and I love just zooming and panning on my items to marvel at the intricate designs. But on the whole it was a step backwards, and it makes me very sad.

Other bad stuff... let's see. They still only let you quick-wield 4 weapons even though modern games all give you 8 slots on a wheel. In a game like BL, with elemental resistances and radically different opponent AIs, 4 slots just isn't enough. You need to be able to carry at least two different "weapon builds" with you. I don't care if we have to purchase them or work our way up, but we need more than 4 equipped-weapon slots. As things stand, swapping out weapons interrupts the otherwise smooth game flow and makes it sort of a drag. Especially when they don't let you open the menu mid-air. Jesus. How can the graphics be so beautiful, and the story so awesome, and the combat so smooth, but the inventory management is so screwed up? Is it different teams? What's going on here?

Let's see, what else, what else... oh yeah. On the PS3 version, every time you set your controller down it triggers a nuclear explosion. No, really. Well, it does if you're playing Axton with the middle skill tree. It's a side-effect of having switched the ability/grenade buttons with the zoom/fire buttons. I haven't made up my mind on this one; overall I think they probably made the right choice, but it reminds me of the Fable II days when you'd try to buy something from a blacksmith, hit the wrong button, destroy his house and send everyone screaming from the village for hours. It's not really ha-ha funny, at least not at the time.

Their bulk-vacuum function still sucks, so to speak. Actually the "interact with stuff" button hasn't changed behaviorally since BL1 in any significant ways. It still has all the old problems, and maybe some new ones.

For starters, they still have the horrible misfeature that holding the "pick up" button, which is used about 87 bazillion times per game session for bulk vacuuming, has different behavior if you do it on a weapon. What it does in that case is grab it and wield it, even though 9999 times out of ten thousand, the weapon in question is a piece of loot-crap that destined for a vending machine. Way to optimize for that 1 in 10,000 case, Gearbox. Moreover, way to keep it around for game 2.

The vacuum button still does a piss-poor job of actually vacuuming. And they've added "auto-vacuum", which does an equally piss-poor job of auto-vacuuming. I can't tell you how many times I've been standing there with 4 hit points, examining the item-card for a health vial on the ground, obscured only by the "pick up" text because it's within reach, thinking "um, why am I able to read this?"

They really need to fix it so that every replenishing item in a ten-foot radius from your character automatically zooms to you no matter what. Otherwise it devolves into a guessing-game as to whether their algorithm will be smart enough, and of course when the gameplay is fast and furious, you have to guess conservatively -- which defeats the entire purpose of having the feature. Picking stuff up -- heck, being near anything, degenerates into a button-mashfest.

And unless it's just my imagination, it feels like the pick-up button is less responsive than it was in BL1. When you open a chest, there is a nontrivial window during which the items appear to be grabbable, but pressing the button has no effect. You have to jab at it for up to half a second, maybe a second before the game says "aw fuck, that's right, I told them 'Pick Up' and they're pressing the button, so maybe they're actually trying to, you know, pick that shit up."

Is it really that hard to detect that the button is already down, once the items are actually grabbable?

And of course the whole cycle gets repeated twice per container, because the game is just as likely to ignore your button-press to open the container.

The last "Bad" line-item I'll whinge about is that although the game seems really generous about accuracy, they're real bitches about who died first, when you and the last nearby enemy expire at the same time. To illustrate how forgiving they are overall: you can be using a sniper from a thousand yards away, and pull the trigger when the cursor's kinda pretty far away from the mob's head, and it'll explode way more often than probability would dictate that it should. Very gratifying! No complaints here! And they're also really nice when it comes to landing jumps that you didn't quite hit, unlike in many other games. In general the game is pretty forgiving about controller accuracy.

But if you die "at the same time" as an enemy (i.e. it happens within ~100-200 ms before or after), you go into a fight-for-your-life bleedout. Sometimes it seems very, very clear that the enemy died second, but the game didn't actually realize it, and penalizes you. It seems unfair. To avoid any suspicions of stupidity on the part of the detection algorithm, it would be nice if they'd give you a half-second window AFTER the last enemy dies before your own death results in a bleedout. Hell, even 300ms would be nice. There are already plenty of legitimate situations for aggravating bleedouts -- the classic one being when the enemy shoots you and then walks around the corner. So I don't think it'll cause a balance problem to add the short grace period I'm proposing.

I know for a fact that there are some issues with the code that detects whether an enemy is dead. Several of the missions have resulted in me sitting around for a long, long time (several minutes) after the mission was obviously over, except the game couldn't figure out that it was over. Examples include the last round of the Natural Selection Annex, where I just wandered around the arena hoping the game would finally notice I'd won, and the plant-the-flag Sawtooth mission, where twice the last enemy disappeared minutes before the Slab King noticed I was victorious.

So I suspect there's a race condition here, in which you can legitimately die before the last opponent, but the game doesn't notice, and you bleed out while shaking your first at the unfairness of it all. Why go there? Just put in a short grace period, and make sure it's really really clear that you died after the opponent -- often from a long-fused grenade, I've noticed. Then there's no cause for questioning the game code itself, which undermines player confidence in the fairness and quality of the engine.

That's about it for the Bad. Inventory management woes, no menu while jumping, bulk-vacuum issues, and bleedout race conditions. That's pretty good, all things considered. Why not just fix them all in a patch, and make it perfect?

The Ugly

There's only one Ugly in BL2, and it's a big one. The Ugly is that for no reason whatsoever -- negative reason in fact; it's flat-out anti-reason -- they don't give you enough bank slots to make farming fun for more than a few days.

They put an astounding amount of effort into the endgame mechanic, folks. This was not some casual design thing for them. They put in hooks for new raid bosses, tons of one-off unique legendary weapons with custom artwork and code, and a plethora of design decisions to prevent any one raid avenue from dominating the endgame. They made it so that every one of the dozens of bosses and mini-bosses has its own legendary that it can drop, so that farming is distributed across most of the locations in the game, which breaks up the monotony. They even added formal item-twinking across characters, amazingly enough.

But for all that, it's fundamentally broken. And what's more, they have this huge, gaping problem with a substance called Eridium (I'm sure they're sick of hearing about this by now), which lets you buy a limited number of carrying-capacity upgrades, including bank slots. So players are already simultaneously crying out for an Eridium-sink and more bank capacity. I mean, they should have seen this coming months ahead of their code freeze. It would have taken maybe 3 days of engineering and testing effort to make it so that Earl could sell you increased bank capacity at usury rates, even a geometric progression. And it would have been fine. Everyone would have been satisfied.

Here's the thing, though. It's not just about capacity. If Gearbox wants to do this Right, by which I mean pull their heads out and do something that nobody in the game industry has ever done before, what they really need to do is give players a database.

That's what we want, really. You make 87 bazillion guns, and let us collect them? Well then we're going to want hundreds and hundreds, maybe thousands of guns in our collections. Not twenty, or whatever stupidly low number you've given us. That just spawns modding and mule characters and leaving the game altogether -- any outlet from the collection pressure; players will use them all.

What BL1 needed was a way for you to effectively manage a collection of a thousand guns. What if you want to look at all your Mashers? Or all your weapons by type, or by elemental damage, or by manufacturer? I'm not asking for a data warehouse here, or for some fancy text-based console-query UI. I mean, *I* would use it, but obviously we want to keep this mainstream.

If you start by formulating the basic problem as: "How do I manage a collection of a thousand guns," then your UX guys should be able to come up with something acceptable. No — you know what? Fuck acceptable. They should be able to come up with something awesome, something in keeping with the innovation and forward-looking badassery that we've all come to associate with Gearbox and Borderlands.

Ironically, BL1 was better at this -- a LOT better. Of all the inventory "improvements" introduced in BL2, the only one that improves gun collecting as a hobby is the "examine this gun in 3D" feature.

I imagine I'm going to do exactly what I (and everyone else) did in BL1, which is to figure out how to modify the bank-slots and inventory-slots counters in the player save files, and hope like hell that you guys can actually scale up to something reasonable without crashing or locking us out or triggering some other godawful poison-pill.

But just having a lot of slots is only a tiny part of the picture. Gearbox has created a gun-collector's game, but they haven't given us a way to collect guns. How messed up is that?

I think it's pretty messed up.

All this talk about BL1 has given me a major case of nostalgia. I love BL2, but I think I need to kill some Drifters to pull me out of this funk. I remember when I finally reached the point with Brick where I could walk around the sand dunes and mow down drifters -- on foot -- and live to tell the tale. BL2 doesn't have any moments like that, not yet. Nothing you had to work for like that, anyway. It took months of gun collecting before I was that badass in BL1.

And I remember looking through that sepia-tinted window on entering T-Bone Junction, that window filled with promise of adventure, seeing those rowboats suspended over a forty-foot drop to the salt sand, with the scorching wind blowing the makeshift wind socks tied to the Lucasian architecture. I remember hearing Knoxx give his reports to Admiral Mikey, Mr. Shank asking if I thought I was being stealthy, Athena barking her ludicrous military-speak to me -- a merc -- and Thirsty the Midget asking if I could turn the power back on in the Brandywine.

I remember. And I think it's time to head back. I knew this would happen. I knew Gearbox would screw us on the gun collecting, and I knew sooner or later it'd be back to Knoxx and the Armory and Crawmerax.

I just didn't realize it'd happen so fast.



Blogger Unknown said...

Makes me want to stop playing BF3 and get going with Borderlands. Heading over to the official site to get serious. Thanks for the reading material.

9:44 PM, October 08, 2012  
Blogger Gate said...

Spot on. I agree on all of this, especially the repeatedly mentioned part about the Inventory UI. I still remember the Claptrap loveletter about a PC-adapted UI. They didn't deliver on this one.

1:07 AM, October 11, 2012  
Blogger W1LL14M said...

I stopped reading when you said that Tiny Tina was awesome. The writing in BL2 is fucking terrible. It's the worst writing I've seen in years.

4:18 PM, October 12, 2012  
Blogger Zidders Roofurry said...

This comment has been removed by the author.

7:31 PM, October 22, 2012  
Blogger Zidders Roofurry said...

This comment has been removed by the author.

7:32 PM, October 22, 2012  
Blogger Zidders Roofurry said...

..ONLY THREE COMMENTS? This is seriously the best review of the game I've read so far and it's like you took everything i've been thinking and feeling about the game and put it into words.

I love the game but it hurts so much that they clearly lost sight of more than a few things and did some annoyingly stupid things to boot. I think what it all comes down to is that they got overeager early on and then started worrying later on that they'd have to compete with stuff like Diablo III.

Yeah I know, D3 isn't an FPS but besides Borderlands being an fps, it's an arpg at heart, or at least the first one was. If anything, I'd compare the first Borderlands to the first fact, a lot of my issues with Torchlight II mirror my issues with Borderlands II.

Great write up, i'll be sharing the link to this and watching your blog.

7:33 PM, October 22, 2012  
Blogger Zidders Roofurry said...

This comment has been removed by the author.

7:33 PM, October 22, 2012  
Blogger Zidders Roofurry said...

This comment has been removed by the author.

7:34 PM, October 22, 2012  

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