Borderlands 2 (Sleepless) ReviewGuest_Jim_* - October 4, 2012
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These next two issues are likely even less important than the last one, but since I'm writing this review, I can mention them if I want! (Insert editor's comment from Bosco saying, "Hello News Editor, I'm the Owner of the site! Take that and get back to work.") Both of these were present at the very beginning and just bother me. The first is something few of you will experience as you got the game on Steam or for a console, while I got a physical PC copy.
Borderlands 2 uses Steamworks, which means it has to be activated in Steam with a key. This key is printed on the back of the disk-booklet, at the bottom, but there is no identification of it. If you are new to Steam or game keys, you would have no idea what that is or that you need it. As many people also do not even look at the booklet, the issue grows. I do not believe this is a Gearbox problem though, but a 2K problem, as they published the game.
This second issue is probably more of a peeve and I know everyone has experienced it. I hate launchers! Seriously, I don't want a launcher when I click to play a game, I want the game. Integrate that news feed into the game menu and let us play! I hate being delayed before games so much that I even remove opening videos when I can. Those short ones like the Nvidia logo, 2K logo, and Gearbox logo I don't see, because those few seconds are seconds I could be using to headshot a bandit and pick up a new gun.
Yeah, they're both minor issues, but that's part of the point. They are so minor, why not fix them? Have a launch option to skip the launcher and label the necessary key in the booklet. Or maybe for the key just have it say on the window that asks for it, "If you are installing from a retail disc, the activation key can be found on the back of the included booklet." A single sentence to relieve that issue, and it was not there, or if it was it was too small for someone who was actually looking for it to notice.
After Sleep Update: I experienced this some in the first playthrough, but it seems to have become exacerbated during the second playthrough. There are several occasions when it greatly feels like the game has been balanced for multiplayer and not single player, so if you intend to do both playthroughs solo, expect several uphill battles.
Primarily these issues come out in the boss fights where you have a single enemy that has a massive health bar, and every time you die, it resets. It does not matter how close to death they are, you will have to do all of that damage again. Now, you may be thinking, 'that is how single player games are,' but there are two points I would like to make about how Borderlands 2 is different.
Personally I can only think of a few single player games where you respawn instead of reloading from a save point upon death. The difference between these may seem insignificant, but in a hard boss battle, the distinctions are quite noticeable. Reloading from a save means everything about you at the time of the save is reinstated, including money and all ammo. The Borderlands 2 respawn system however always takes money, and typically restores some ammo, but never grenades. (It is worth noting though that I have seen myself respawn with more ammo than I had when I first passed the respawn point.) This means that it is not as simple as another attempt at the boss. Things have changed, and in at least one way, always for the worst (you lose money). Of course money is not a big deal in this game, but it is still irritating to be penalized for failure against a boss beyond just its health resetting. After having to respawn multiple times, this irritation grows into frustration.
The second point I feel is the more interesting of the two. Borderlands 2 also features multi-player and this changes the mechanics of any fight greatly. For this particular commentary, the important change is that an enemy's health does not reset when you die. In theory it would require all players dying at roughly the same time, but as I have not witnessed that, I cannot be certain. I do know that when one member of a group dies and respawns, they are able to return to the fight and pick up the enemy at whatever health they left it.
Because it is the presence of the additional players that causes this change in fight mechanics, and not the activity of the additional players, I feel I have to bring up these balance issues. If you were to have an AFK second player, which should cause the difficulty of the game to increase for multi-player balance, because enemy health would not reset upon your death, the actual difficulty would be less than solo-play. The second player may cause more enemies to spawn, and with slightly higher health, but as the enemy-health penalty no longer occurs upon your death, the challenge will effectively drop. For normal creatures on Pandora, this is not as great an issue, but against a boss, this could drastically affect how much out-game time it takes to defeat the boss, and how many in-game resources are lost. A solo player can see themselves having to make a much greater investment into a fight than a solo+AFK player, and this, I feel, is an example of poor single-player balancing.
However, it is very important to note that while Borderlands 2 does not have perfect single-player balancing, in my opinion, it is still better than some other games I have played which offer both single and multiplayer campaign experiences. In part this is because of the excellent random loot you can acquire in game and relative ease of leveling, so you can increase your deadliness before a boss fight. Of course the randomness of the loot can also be a problem. I, for example, have for some reason not often found weapons with shield-shredding electrical damage of the same quality as those that ignite or corrode enemies. I'm not sure why this is, but when taking on a shielded boss, the lack of such weaponry is painfully apparent.
That being said, I would like to say what I feel would be an acceptable solution for this and similar games (meaning they have a campaign that supports both single-player and multiplayer and a respawn instead of save-reload system for death). Instead of having a boss's health reset upon a solo-player's death, give the boss health regeneration. Now when the player dies, they can return to the fight with the boss roughly as near to death as it was before they respawned. What the health regeneration does though, if it is high enough, is keep out under-leveled players. After all, you do not want a level one player killing the final boss of a game just because they invested enough time. With enough health regeneration to overcome, only players at the appropriate level may defeat any given boss. Those players at the appropriate level may have a longer battle, but, aside from the greater amount of damage potential, the battle dynamic itself will be the same for both single players and multiple players (assuming the health regeneration is present for both single and multi-player). Such parity should beget balance, especially with careful manipulation of the numbers involved (initial health and regeneration rate, for example).
Again, for the majority of Borderlands 2 there is no issue with single player balance, evidenced by the fact I was able to complete the entire first playthrough of the campaign without any help. The second playthrough is proving to be much more difficult though, but is still manageable after many money-draining respawns, some curses, and some prayers. I simply believe those conditions should not be unique to single player.