Borderlands 2 – First impressions

Guess what? It’s time for me to do first impressions of a game that is not old. Or retro, even.

I generally don’t buy new games. I’ve only pre-ordered a game once before in my life, and that was Rock Band, because I thought my friends were as excited about that game as I was. Several months and several solo playthroughs later, I discovered they weren’t. But that’s a story for another time. Right now, I’m going to talk about the second game I’ve pre-ordered in my life so far, and that is Borderlands 2.

My dad and I like to play games together split-screen, and we had hundreds of hours of fun with Borderlands, so we decided to pre-order Borderlands 2. I was devastated to find that the PC version of the game would not have split-screen, and we didn’t have two computers powerful enough to do LAN, so we decided to go with the PS3 version, as our 360 is on its last legs.

After spending around 10 hours with the game, I can safely say that Gearbox has fixed many of the problems with the first game, and the game is now much more satisfying to play. I choose “satisfying”, because – well – it’s hard to explain. Everything about the game feels much smoother and more cohesive than the first one. Every action I do, from using my Action Skill to firing one of the game’s bazillionty guns feels more satisfying to do. I don’t know, maybe some would say it’s all in my head, but others whose reviews and impressions I’ve read seem to be having a similar experience. It’s one of those things you have to experience to believe. Borderlands 2 is Borderlands, just… Borderlandser.

In essence, there’s more stuff!

-More guns – A bazillion of them, so they say. I say they weren’t lying.
-More locations – Populated cities are much more lively than in the first game, with more people to talk to and interact with. Also, there’s a wider variety of locales, from snowy landscapes to desert wastelands, all with better level design than the first game.
-More enemies – New locations bring new homes for new nasties. Like the bullymongs, which will tear you a new one in the beginning of the game unless you bring friends.
-More loot – I think Randy Pitchford said something about 5-6 times more loot.
-More music – The game has a larger variety of music, and it has some cool dynamic music that plays during bigger battles.
-More animations – There are not only more animations, but better ones, as I don’t see the same death animation every time someone dies like I did in the first game.
-More of the same – but better. Not the same ol’ Pandora from 3 years ago.

I think it’s also worth mentioning that the humor is substantially better and more mature than the first game. It’s still silly, but I’m finding it easier to relate to the jokes and random stuff than in the first game. I thought the dialogue writing, especially for the Claptraps, in Borderlands was really poor. So, on top of getting better at level design, they’re also getting better at writing. Or they hired new people.

So far, I’ve had few complaints. But there is one big issue that really irks me, and that is frame rate. The game is probably supposed to run at 30 fps on PS3 (maybe 60, I occasionally have trouble telling the difference), but it usually runs around 20 or lower in most areas due to long draw distance. In firefights with many enemies, it would hit 15-20, maybe 12 or lower. When one player is on the fancy new inventory screen and the other is in a firefight, forget even trying to play, because sub-10 fps is going to hit you like a conveniently placed explosive barrel to the face.

That said, the frame rate isn’t always bad, and it usually recovers quickly. Plus, I’ve only played split-screen; I’m sure single player is much smoother.

I did get a chance to check out the PC version as well, and as I discovered with Mass Effect (also on Unreal), it is obvious to me that the PC version is far superior to consoles in this case. Borderlands 2 has a few tricks that Mass Effect didn’t have, though, like Ambient Occlusion, FXAA, and best of all – Nvidia PhysX.

Oh. My. God.

Never before has a game had such a clear, definitive difference between the console and PC versions (although others, like Batman: Arkham Asylum and Mirror’s Edge have had PhysX). I’m convinced PhysX is the key to the universe and potentially what will cure cancer. Even on my ATI card, I was able to achieve with decent frame rate the godliness you see in the video above, which really surprised me. I never thought being able to shoot hanging rags and watch chunks of earth come out of the ground could be so cool, so necessary to make a game more incredible than it was previously.

That said, those were my initial impressions. I ultimately discovered two things – First, PhysX, at least in Borderlands 2, is actually CPU-based, so of course it works on an ATI card. Second, I had to turn it off because when I got to the first boss, my fps dropped to unplayable levels. PhysX seems to keep particles in the world for a long time, which results in buildup and reduced frame rate over time. It’s unfortunate, because it’s really quite cool and to me is the biggest thing that separates PC from the consoles for Borderlands 2.

I told myself that when Borderlands 2 came out, I would play nothing else for a long time. That may or may not be the case, but I do have more Retro Gamerness coming soon, including a video and a couple of analytical articles. Stay tuned!

P.S. (totally just put a postscript in a blog post) Here’s a random video I recorded from the PC version of Borderlands 2 to show off PhysX and a silly bug (feature?).

P.P.S. If you’re curious, here’s a discussion I had with a tech writer about PhysX. Among the most interesting information that came out of this is that PhysX was not developed by Nvidia. You learn something new every day.


~ by The Retro Gamer on October 1, 2012.

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