Copyright Adam Schlosser
Contact:
aschloss@gmail.com


Copyright 2005 Adam Schlosser


Posted by Pip

F5- Grace Is Not A Sin Or Virtue

The plot thickens and the Sins encounter dastardly enemy number two: tubes. Cliffs may be on notice due to the impractically of waging war on them, but the tubes will rue this day. They're probably transporting pure jerk too to double up on how much those tubes suck.


Quick Critique: Borderlands 2

I absolutely hated Borderlands 1. I look back on it and remember it being one of the most tedious, not-fun shooters I've played in recent years. However after starting up Borderlands 2 and trying a new character, I think some of that may have been the class I played, because I found a few things here and there that I liked now. Granted, it still totally was not a great game, but I could at least see the promise in it. For me, a lot of that promise was playing as the Mechromancer and bonding with a robot sidekick that would murder everything in sight so I didn't have to. Every 60 seconds, I could call in my death making robot buddy and we would find the silver linings in all the clouds of the game's failings. However, about a third of the way through the game, I fell into the exact same position I had on Borderlands 1. The game is incredibly tedious, mediocre gunplay but with stats isn't fun, and I was tired of shooting the same waves and waves of enemies only to see them respawn the next time I had to backtrack through the same area. I would kill off a wave, stand around waiting for my robot to disappear, then stand around for another 60 seconds so I could call him back at full power for the next waves of enemies that would surely appear ten seconds down the path. It's even worse because there aren't any significant differences between Borderlands 1 and 2 once you look past the new classes. It feels more like a giant, bloated expansion pack than a new game so all the stuff that bored me about the first game was even quicker to wear on me this time around. The main problem is that there's no gameplay beyond the shooting (and a few horrific vehicle segments). I'm not saying they're good games, but Battlefield and Call of Duty understand that you keep a FPS's campaign short if you don't have different ways to break up the missions. Shooting the same enemies for thirty hours isn't fun, especially if the main differences between the enemies at the start of the game and at the end are just how much health they have and how strong their shields are. You can stick different skins on them, but the enemies you're shooting at the end of the game are just the same few classes you were shooting at the start of the game. For as large as the world is, everything you do in it is either scrounge for items or shoot enemies. By the time you've killed several hundred enemies, it's all rote so you just go from point A to point B shooting things. Headshots aren't even instant kills, reducing the reward for skill and putting the focus on the tedious loot grind. Even leveling up isn't satisfying because quests scale to your level. I took a break from story missions and started plowing through side quests and was dangerously close to actually enjoying the game again. I was a lot stronger than the enemies so they were going down in two or three headshots, my shield could take more than one hit, and I was getting through fights quickly. After finishing those quests, I started the story missions again and everything was matching my level so fights were back to dragging on. For the final story missions, my character was largely irrelevant as I only existed to spawn my robot. I would spawn the robot then run away and hide behind a wall while it slaughtered everything because enemies would kill me in two shots even though I was several levels higher than the mission was. A single explosive blast was enough to completely destroy my shield and get me under half health. My guns were just pea shooters so I could rarely ever recover from the down but not out state unless my robot was the one that killed the enemy. I got to a certain point where I just stopped finding normal guns with good stats so I was using weapons ten levels lower than my character. Every time I found a gun with better stats, it would have some massive drawback like really slow projectiles or small clips with long reload times, so whatever stat gains they'd bring were outweighed by the fact that weapons just didn't work well.
Loot seems to be the main draw to these games, but it severely hurts what little fun there is to be had in the gameplay. Sorting through gun loot isn't fun and there are rarely meaningful differences between the junk you find. Scrounging through the thousands of boxes and crates littered in the landscape devalues the game more and more as almost everything you find is weaker than what you're equipped with or has big enough drawbacks that it's not worth using (like a rifle that fires slow projectiles that bounce off of enemies). There has to be a better system for this. If you were to get rid of the boxes and crates in the environment, have grunt enemies just drop ammo and money, and have guns come from the big chests and bosses, and add modifier items that drop from larger enemies, I think I would love this game. With the current system, I'd typically find a gun I liked and wanted to keep but the stats on it quickly became too low, so I'd hunt through the all the junk loot just trying to find that gun again with better stats. Having a system where the base gun is meaningful and a big change between types of guns (both shotgun vs rifle and the kind of manufacturer differences it has) and the large enemies drop the modifiers that add stat effects or changes in how the gun fires/zooms/etc, would make the loot fun and meaningful. I could find the base gun that acted how I liked and easily sort through the modifiers to find the stats I want. THAT would be fun and meaningful. Sorting through piles of useless items for maybe one out of a dozen weapons to be even usable and one out of a hundred actually be good isn't remotely enjoyable. I want to spend my time in a game playing it, not micromanaging my inventory and comparing items. To further compound just how awful the loot system is, your inventory is super tiny and you can't just ship back unneeded junk or instantly sell off bad items so you waste a lot of time sorting your inventory and running back and forth between vending machines to sell items just to free up the space.
The “Bad Ass Tokens” seem like meaningful changes to your characters and a great system when you're introduced to them. They let you spec yourself in an enjoyable way as you can decide what stats you apply them to, but they quickly become less useful and you're getting .5% increases to stats. I won't turn down a stat increase but that's hardly a reward for completing a challenge and if you can find a gun with a few extra damage points, that's far more useful than the character upgrade. By the end of the game, all my adventures and missions only added up to 6% differences in stats thanks to the tokens. What could have been the game's way to forge a truly unique Vault Hunter of your own, is fairly useless. There are some cosmetic customization items that seem super pointless in a first-person game where you only see yourself on a menu and when you die, so you don't really have a way to make a character your own.
A decent set of characters and story could save a game with tedious combat but... no. Borderlands gets a big fat “no” here. I'm okay with Claptrap being a cheap knockoff of Gir from Invader Zim, but everything else is annoying and meme-y over that. If that had been confined to Claptrap, it could be funny, but as the terrible writing stands, Scooter is the only remotely likable character and he's a huge dirtbag, but he embraces his stupidity and annoying habits so he's fairly tolerable. The villain is neither interesting nor much of a threat. As part of the intro video, he blows up the train you're on, but you don't know who he is, his motivation for looking for the Vault is only briefly mentioned until the end of the game, and you don't interact with him in any way other than him doing some shamefully bad trash talking over the radio. He may as well not even exist until the last quarter of the game because that's the first time he actually does something other than talk. The writing comes comes to a head with Tiny Tina, a bad character poorly acted and horribly written, who gets vastly more screen time than the character could remotely be worthy of. The people you meet in the game aren't characters, they're caricatures. So when the game tries to get an undeserved emotional moment and they get hurt or die, who cares? It's even worse because the game doesn't keep a consistent narrative flow. Towards the end, there's a mission where you strike back and hurt Jack in a big way, so he switches from being goofy to threatening to kill you (not that he hasn't been doing that in his poorly written smarmy way for half the game) but completing that mission unlocks a side quest where Jack is all goofy and messing with you again. It totally undercuts what little drama his transition from “dick” to “threat” could have had.
For as lacking in substance as Borderlands 2 is, it isn't even well made. It's not just the frequent hitches in framerate, it's also the general level of bugginess. Aside from all the normal bad open world game bugs with enemies spawning in odd places where you can't kill them (even if the mission requires you to kill every enemy), items floating in mid-air, you keep getting caught on tiny objects, not being able to jump if you're standing close to an object, falling through parts of the world, there are some mission-blocking bugs too. One mission has you kill a boss and he drops a key, only when he dropped it, it fell through the world and I couldn't complete the mission. I had to kill myself, warp to another area, and that failed the stuck mission but let me warp back and start it all over again. Another mission has you pick a side in a fight and I had one side I was set on helping so I opened fire on the bad side, but then the game put me on the bad side's team, forcing me to quit the game and relaunch it. Even the final battle was bugged for me. After killing the final boss, you have to interact with an item but the game wouldn't let me. A character was clipped through and I don't think that was intentional since nobody acted like it was there in the cutscene afterwards. I was more willing to spend ten minutes hunting for the one angle where I could squat and twist to interact with the item instead of slogging through the last boss fight again.
Borderlands is neither fun nor funny. It lacks compelling gameplay and the characters or story to want you to put up with its many, many flaws. Mixing an RPG with an FPS sounds pretty cool on paper, but a worthwhile execution of that mash-up is going to have to come from a far more competent developer than Gearbox (the fine people that unleashed Aliens: Colonial Marines and Duke Nukem Forever on the world). The game also has an obscene amount of DLC, but some of it comes with the game now. Yes, only “some”. “Game of the Year” editions of games that I've played typically have the decency to include most of the DLC.
Captain Scarlett- Some potentially amusing characters and dialogue, but the whole mission pack is made up of fetch quests and backtracking. They keep playing up how Scarlett is going to betray you so I was expecting them to subvert that but they play it straight and it winds up being super boring. The final boss is godawful. It keeps moving so it's hard to hit the small weak spots, it burns through your shield in a single hit, it seems to infinitely spawn enemies, and there isn't a way to refill your ammo after each death so the boss goes back to full health and you have no ammo unless you backtrack through the arena to a vending machine and then back to the entrance of the fight after each death. The one time I did destroy all of the boss's weakpoints and it looked like the battle should have ended, the boss just started twitching and nothing happened, so I guess the game just bugged out. Quality! I wound up finishing the final boss mission all the way up to the boss, left to finish the rest of the game, and then came back when I was vastly overpowered to speed up the boss fight. Wasn't worth coming back.
Torgue- It's combat, walking down a corridor, more combat, then a combat arena. Torgue could have been a funny character but I was so worn down by all the shooting that no fun was to be had.
Tiny Tina- It looked like it had potential with moving the theme from sci-fi to fantasy, but the first few missions were just the same enemies I'd been fighting for hours reskinned to be fantasy creatures. Also, it's Tiny Tina-focused. I quit a few missions in.
Hammerlock- I was so sick of the game by now that I didn't even play these missions.



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