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The borderlands are a realm of conscious insanity. One of the few places where the only rule really is that there are no rules. A land where pistols sometimes act like shotguns, shotguns occasionally shoot rockets, and rocket launchers have been known to electrocute/burn/melt/vaporize five to six enemies with a single pull of the trigger. The desolate wasteland teems with umpteen different species, ready to take the face off an unsuspecting traveler at any moment. Some spit fire, others offer up one-liners, and a few tower above everything around them. It's hard to imagine that come October it will have been a full four years since the original Borderlands burst into the spotlight with its unique blend of first person shooting, Diablo style loot, and over-the-top wild west attitude.
For all its success, Borderlands got off to a shaky start. After first being announced on the cover of Game Informer in 2007, the original game got heavily reworked. Everything from art style to character models, most notably Lilith whose first model eventually became the late game antagonist Commandant Steele, saw an overhaul as the game sank into the ether where so many titles go to die. Quietly it crept back into the light of day, but never generated the same level of excitement as it was announced to. Come launch day the game didn't fare much better. Co-op, around which the game was built, shipped in a sorry state of disrepair. At the time there was a very real chance that playing with other people could result in some fairly significant bugs popping up, provided you could connect at all. The game sold well out of the gate, though that was tempered a bit by shortages at retail that were likely caused by low preorder numbers. Despite hanging tough with the likes of Uncharted 2 early on, Borderlands still barely scratched the surface of the staggering numbers that 2K's other franchises put up.
Rocky start aside, the game provided plenty for players to be excited about. Pandora came packed to the brim with insane weapon combinations and hordes of enemies to use them on. Elemental variants helped tear through enemies and Class Mods allowed players to alter the game's systems depending on which character they chose to play as. When the kinks finally got worked out Co-op became a wickedly fun way to wander the wastes, easily making Borderlands one of this generation's premier cooperative multiplayer experiences. Massive DLC expansion packs gave players new areas to explore and new enemies to fight while extending the game's life even further. It's not often that the first entry in a series finds itself in the midst of Game of the Year conversations, but Borderlands managed to do just that. Game of the Year or not though there is still plenty of room for Gearbox to improve. With Borderlands 2 launching in just a couple weeks I've got some pretty good ideas about what I'd like to see.
What Borderlands 2 Can Do Better
So how exactly does a developer top a genre bending success like Borderlands? I think Gearbox said it best themselves: make it bigger, better, and more bad-ass. But what parts of the original Borderlands need to be bigger, better, and more bad-ass? Luckily for us Gearbox has been pretty open about the sequel to one of their most successful titles. We've already seen what they're doing with class abilities, weapon/environment variation and menu streamlining along with a smattering of new enemy types and a dash of story sprinkled on top. If you've been following Borderlands 2 coverage, you might think that there's little else for them to improve upon. There is, however, room for tweaking in areas that can't be shown off in trailers or demos.
The original Borderlands had pacing issues that even the staunchest fans can't argue against. Having a half dozen miscellaneous quests active at the same time and spending an hour or more completing them was common. The result was a sparse story that often got lost as players jumped from quest to quest. Messing around with friends in Co-op usually helped displace the monotony that brought about but going through Borderlands alone wasn't always the most gripping experience. It probably didn't help that the story fell flat, choosing to become a bit too serious for its own good in the latter hours.
For every brilliantly written (and delivered) line of dialogue there was a conversely uninspiring narrative element. Randy Pitchford and company have insisted this is a place they're focusing more on, but at the same time there really is no way to tell whether or not they've succeeded in Borderlands 2 until after the game launches. If the first game's DLC is any sign then we've got nothing to worry about on the writing front. Pacing, on the other hand, was arguably worse in the expansions thanks to the lack of fast travel and some rather absurd collection quests. It's imperative that Borderlands 2 strikes a more level balance between story and gameplay, especially since not everyone will have someone to play it with.
As much as I think the story could have been better, I know that the biggest issue for the original Borderlands was glitches. If there's a list of them all then it's a long one, but some of my personal favorites are falling through the ground, horizontal teammates, and skags that randomly rocket hundreds of feet into the air. While waiting around for a Co-op partner to get online, I encountered a bug that caused uncompleted DLC quests to become completed after fighting Sledge for a second time. Most of the glitches and bugs were harmless, but the bigger issue is that they were completely random.
No matter how many times I tried to replicate the glitch involving Sledge I never once managed trigger it. In fact, there's almost no way to trigger any of them. Random, harmless bugs may not seem like a huge issue but they speak to the stability of the game. Again, this is something that all the press demos and trailers in the world will never be able to tell us about Borderlands 2. We're not going to see texture popping with the game running on absurd gaming rigs specially built by Gearbox and we won't know if there are game altering bugs in the multiplayer until we play it.
The good news is that even if Borderlands 2 has just as many odd, one-off glitches as the original game it's still going to be a lot of fun. Most of the challenges Gearbox faces are in one of the areas that should be easiest to fix. There's no complex math or insane programming needed to fix the series' pacing, just a bit of time - which they've had plenty of - to sit back and look at the game a little closer. Now, if you'll excuse me, I've got two weeks to get ahead on my reading assignments before Borderlands 2 launches on September 18th and a I descend into my den of gaming induced academic ineptitude.