Borderlands 2: First Impressions from a Platypus
By Thomas vonWolffradt (Platy), OnRPG Guest Writer
Darren Henderson (DizzyPW), OnRPG Editor-in-Chief
Back in the day Platy and I were not your typical FPS gamers. In fact I think the last fps we had played together at the time was Goldeneye for the N64 to give you an idea of how much we stay away from the genre. Yet the original Borderlands brought something new to the market: RPG Elements, humor, high production value and a unique art style that instantly grabs all the intentions in the room. Most people thought straying so far from the standard FPS was commercial suicide and so it seemed that way for the first 3 dismal months after launch. Thankfully word of mouth caught on and now in September of 2012 Platy and I find ourselves happily plugging away at its incredibly well made sequel Borderlands 2, with advertisements coinciding the launch of Pandaria on NFL matches. Innovation isn’t dead in gaming and Borderlands 2 continues to pave the way!
So immediately jumping into the game and especially if you play solo, you’re going to notice the difficulty of Borderlands 2 is far beyond the original title. And considering the mechanics haven’t changed much this means a lot coming from veterans of the original game. The enemies are tankier, smarter, and have a wider array of weapons at their disposal to ensure those trying to camp get a grenade up their ass and those trying to Rambo style will be dead before they get the first knife stuck into their target.
Even giant monsters prefer sniping with random objects they pick up over melee combat
I know I know… this sounds like a lot of marketing hyperbole. Let’s break it down with some examples. If you are hurting and try to climb a ladder to escape a massive firefight on the ground, your enemies will actually back up until they have a line of sight. If you crouch down (a very useful feature for making yourself a smaller target and reducing gun recoil on heavier weapons) to ensure there is no direct line of sight, they will begin lobbing a mass of grenades at your perch until you either blow up or are forced to run into their line of fire. I can say with certainty that I’ve played against humans in Blacklight Retribution that aren’t as skilled as the AI in Borderlands 2.
Interestingly enough, while melee tended to be the weapon of choice in the original, these new tankier smarter AI opponents have actually made sniping the weapon of choice, at least in the early game. Most of the opponents you face are specialized in a single type of weapon and if your weapon has greater accuracy and enough power to stop them before they can get into range, then you become invincible regardless of your class. If you’re going solo and you don’t pick up a strong reliable ranged weapon early on, you’re going to be as toast as a Pyscho in a Slag Factory.
A strong reliable accurate pistol trumps a diamond pony any day. And no I'm not just saying that cause I'm jealous.
But just as the AI has changed drastically, so to have the characters. While at first glance Axton, Salvador, and Maya look like rehashes of Roland, Brick, and Lilith, the only real similarity is their theme and a couple shared mechanics. Zero interestingly enough ends up being the most similar to a past character (Lilith), while taking Mordecai’s poor man’s assassin look to a very Japanese level.
Maya is a Siren, females born with innate elemental control that allows them to be the witches of the gunslinger outer-worlds. Though a certain man named Handsome Jack that we’ll talk about later is making a sport of removing their kind from existence. Playing Maya was quite a twist from her older counterpart, Lilith. No longer can you simply run through a group of bandits invincible doing passive lightning damage to dish a powerful final strike on the weakened badasses. Maya’s ability, phaselocking, adds an interesting dynamic to combat since one can either use it to temporarily disable the strongest opponent on the field or target trash to receive on-kill bonuses. Both approaches can be extremely effective, though your skill tree will dictate which is more ideal.
Sirens, keeping Nvidia Graphics Cards in demand since 2009
Maya isn’t entirely different from the Siren players are used to. Much like her fellow Siren, Maya has a gun damage/elemental skill tree, Cataclysm, which enables her to deal massive elemental damage. This is especially effective on her helpless phaselocked targets by increasing damage, fire rate and elemental chance. Although the cataclysm tree provides some of the biggest damage boosting potential, I find it hard to pass up the utility phaselock gains from the other trees: motion and harmony.
Personally, I’m playing a hybrid build between the motion and harmony trees with the intention of increasing my frequency of phaselock with skills like Suspension and Quicken, and its utility from Sweet Release and Elated.
Overall, Maya is a fun character to play so long as you treat her as the fragile ‘Mage’ she is and don’t pull a Brick right out of the starting gate.
When I first started up the original Borderlands I was really excited to try Mordecai. I decided to make a hybrid gun slinger/Rogue build since I loved being a crack-shot with the pistol and wanted function from my action. Eventually I couldn’t keep myself away from Lilith as her phasewalk and elemental focus simply drew me in. Zero seems to be illegitimate child between Mordecai and Lilith with some aspects of Brick.
Zero has an entire skill tree dedicated to sniping, a number of abilities to increase fire rate/damage, and abilities that buff his melee damage. This all comes together to fit a nice kit when you consider his action skill, Decepti0n, that functions not entirely differently from Lilith’s phasewalk. Decepti0n differs from phasewalk in a couple ways: five second active time (base) and no invincibility. By its own merit, decepti0n can be quite powerful as it does more damage the longer Zero is invisible. Naturally, you’ll want to get off a melee strike before the invisibility fade for the 650% (base) damage bonus but the skill creates flexibility in a hairy situation. Instead of going for an ultimate melee strike, one can use the time to reposition or momentarily recover shield/health (if spec’d that way).
Zero is versatile character being able to specialize in all areas of combat from long range to close range. Although it wouldn’t surprise me if someone creates a hybrid build between the sniping and bloodshed tree, I would tend to lean towards only mixing sniping with cunning or cunning with bloodshed. Currently, I’m intending to hybrid between cunning and bloodshed. I’m going with cunning for the increased effectiveness of guns and bloodshed for increased effectiveness of melee combat.
While Platy was always about Mordecai and Lilith (he can’t resist those ginger girls) in the original, I took pride in my extreme knowledge of how to get the most from Roland and his deployable turrets. Of course when I saw Axton’s diverse turret capabilities at PAX Prime this year I was sold and went with him first. He really is a jack of all trades class so you hardly need to worry about specializing in any particular weapon. Though my rule of thumb so far has been to go with assault rifles and shotguns with one long range pistol on the side for sticky situations when you need to get out and recover.
Those ginger girls...
This really is a co-op class if I’ve ever seen one. He acts as a sort of tank, with plenty of masteries to soak up damage and recover prior to the next battle, or hell even in mid-battle through kills. When you’ve taken all the damage you can, just throw your turret at your feet while running and let it cover for you while your teammates unleash unholy hell on the hapless foes scattering for cover from the turret.
I’m finding the survival tree offers the early game strength needed to survive the tougher enemies in this game, and will eventually dabble into the guerilla tree to gain further turret improvements once I obtain the survival tree’s Gemini ability to deploy 2 turrets at once. However this is mainly to make my character a distraction tank while Platy rocks out in melee range on Zero with near immunity.
Out of ammo? Your turret has plenty to spare!
Had I played solo I find the gunpowder tree is ideal for balancing your offensive and defensive capabilities to allow you to hold your own against multiple opponents. With a bit of dabbling in the guerilla tree you can really create a formidable combat commando that will live as long as there are enemies to continue killing.
Now when I first heard about Salvador I was instantly a bit put off. He doesn’t punch people for his ultimate? What nonsense is that?! Turns out his ability to duel wield weapons is a much more valuable tool in Borderlands 2 as, like we stated earlier, you’re going to get shot down in a barrage of bullets if you run in swinging your fists in a bandits’ hideout. So if melee is better left to Zero, what role does Salvador bring?
Brick goes where he pleases. Salvador takes a bit more finesse.
Well it all depends on his trees, which so far seem to have the most immediately noticeable impact on his performance. Those seeking to go it alone will likely find solace in the Brawn tree, offering massive defensive steroids, regeneration, and just all around synergy to let you walk into mid-range at a gun-fight and outlast any foes that take you on. However I feel this tree lacks some serious damage compared to some of the other options and isn’t ideal if you plan to play with friends.
The choice between gunlust and rampage really comes down to who your partner is, and how much faith you have in knowing when to pull out of a gun fight. If you know what you’re doing and your partner has your back, I highly suggest the rampage tree. You basically just point your weapon and hold the trigger and watch the bodies pile up (ideally with you not in the pile). This is the full offensive tree and offers very little in survivability though so use rampage with caution.
The gunlust tree on the other hand turns Salvador into the surgeon of the battlefield. Just be aware that like most people living on Pandora, he isn’t actually a licensed doctor. Though the damage output is comparable to rampage, it takes a lot more skill and precision to accomplish. Though you can accomplish said damage output in shorter bursts, resulting in far fewer bullets to pull out of your torso between battles. If you have a melee Zero or tanky Axton by your side to keep the pressure off, this tree is definitely worth testing out. And if you don’t like it remember you can always reset your skills in town. Variety is the spice of life!
So we’ve downed a few hundred psychos, but we don’t feel experienced enough yet to offer our complete review of the game. Check back at OnRPG at a later date for part 2 of our Borderlands 2 coverage with a deeper focus on gameplay, story, and overall perception of the game!