Publisher:2K Games Platform:PC, Xbox 360, PS3 Release Date: September 18, 2012
Borderlands 2 will be quite an interesting critical challenge for me when it's released in mid-September later this year. As someone who's after meaningful game experience which respect my investment as a player I'll have to admit that Borderlands 2, in inheriting the conventions of the ARPG genre, doesn't.
But, at the same time, I won't honestly be able to say that it's an unexciting or uninteresting game. Gearbox has dialled up the irreverence and cartoon-anarchic feel that made the original Borderlands such a delight - and in doing so Borderlands is feels just witty enough to engage even despite constant shortcomings.
The level which Gearbox demoed recently in London acts as an almost perfect showcase of this, managing to combine all the worst sorts of quest design with all the best sorts of profanity and animated violence. Recounting the experience could be done in two very different ways.
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I could, for example, say that the quest was given to me by a thirteen year old girl who, having grown up homeless on a harsh alien world, was a half-crazed survivalist. Prone to lapsing into gang-speak and expletives, Tiny Tina is a bizarre blend of innocent little girl and prodigious bomb maker. She asks that you collect her favourite toys - including "that most fine-ass of womens, Miss Fluffybutt" - for a tea party she is planning.
If I'm doing any justice whatsoever to Tina's character then the premise for that quest should sound at least a little amusing, because...well, it is. Watching Tina hop madly around as you press her for details about Fluffybutt - "she has insaaane badonka-donks" says Tina - illustrates the direction that Borderlands 2 is going. It's explicit, crude and in-your-face in a way that few games other than Bulletstorm have been lately.
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At the same time though, Tiny Tina's quest could also be accurately described as the most facile of fetch quests and it's to Borderlands' detriment that Gearbox can't hide that fact. Originally sent out to collect just one guest for Tina's tea party, you pick it up only to be told to collect a second guest before the mission ends in an incredibly tame wave-defence session.
(There is admittedly a short section when you have to lure an enemy to Tina's lair without killing him, but this takes about ten seconds to complete so it hardly counts for much.)
Nor is this level of compartmentalisation and dependency on old, tired structures limited to just this one mission either. The previous quest, for example, introduces you to Tina by having you work with her to make a bomb. Visiting Tina in her cave, she's very clear on what your role as her assistant is - she needs you to go collect some things...