Unfinished is a series where I take a look back at the story-based games I’ve played but never finished. Why would I spend dozens of hours playing a game just to abandon it halfway through? Did I lose interest because of something specific to the game, like gameplay mechanics or story development? Today I’ll take a look back at Borderlands 2, Gearbox Software’s first person co-op loot and shoot.
I got the original Borderlands (the game of the year edition) from a Steam sale but it didn’t quite hold my interest. The art style was cool but the interface was clunky and I found the first person shooting mechanics a bit floaty. I took another shot at the franchise when I picked up Borderlands 2 and had a much better reaction. The interface was much improved and the feel of combat was a lot better, much tighter. I started with a Gunzerker but soon switched to an Assassin, as I preferred long-range sniping. My initial experience as a Gunzerker is indicative of one of the reasons I’d eventually lose interest in Borderlands 2: constant back-tracking and having to clear the same zones over and over.
I think I tried the first mission (rescuing Claptrap) three times with a Gunzerker before finally beating it with an Assassin. I’d get halfway through the zone leading to the mission and then die at the mini-boss, respawning at the beginning of the zone. I’d try again, get a little farther, and then die again. This is the nature of video games but I found it more frustrating than usual with Borderlands 2. I found my preferred playstyle after switching to the Assassin and then got deeper into the game.
And I had a lot of fun. Borderlands 2 looks amazing, with great cartoony cel-shaded animation and clever over-the-top character introductions. There’s a great sense of black humour in the game, especially with the characters of Handsome Jack and Tiny Tina. The characterisation of the player is pretty generic, as you’re basically the engine that drives the story forward, but the secondary characters are really interesting and diverse. The same can’t be said for the gameplay, however.
The core mechanics of Borderlands 2 gameplay are loot and shoot. There are dozens of containers spread across the different areas, filled with money, ammo, and weapons. When playing I think I spent half my time looting containers before and after clearing the area of enemies. Initially I took my time to sift through the weapons but the upgrades you find are so incremental that after awhile I just started selling everything I found, what I could fit in my inventory at least. I’d say looting was secondary to the combat if it weren’t for the constant enemies you have to fight when moving between zones.
Granted, Borderlands 2 is an open-world game and as such there’s no one through-path. However, even with fast travel and vehicles moving around Pandora gets tedious really fast. Progress is saved at the beginning of zones, so if you have to stop playing halfway through you’ll have to start at the beginning again. This makes for a lot of back-tracking and killing the same enemies over and over. And boy do you kill the same enemies. Bigger versions, different colours, stronger attacks. In this footage I got so bored with killing bugs I had to stop playing.
Although there are RPG elements in Borderlands 2 like skill trees and Bad Ass points, there’s no real sense of character creation or development. All the main classes feel the same, with only occasional voiceover moments and special moves to differentiate them. I never felt any character investment or ownership and never felt drawn into the world.
The story wasn’t interesting enough for me to keep playing through the tedious loot and shoot grind. I got about 60 hours worth of gametime from Borderlands 2, and that’s an great amount of time. I just bogged down in the repetitive combat and endless looting and stopped having fun. Maybe if I’d concentrated on the core missions instead of branching out to the side quests or maybe if I’d tried some of the DLC I’d find more fun to be had, but at the moment I’ve decided to leave Pandora for brighter shores.Colin Le Sueur