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Thursday, October 23, 2014

Borderlands, The Pre-Sequel! Review: Life on other planets.

I have been on board the Borderlands train since the light turned green in October 2009. The first was rough, but each DLC pack improved on itself. Each slowly refining it's sense of character and humor into something special. Something I could really appreciate. By no means a masterpiece, it was still a game I played into a bloody pulp.

Borderlands 2 was a massive step forward. Not just in graphics, but it also made the scant story elements of the previous game retroactively relevant. Borderlands 2 is a masterpiece. It didn't need a villain that compelling, but it had one. It didn't need to have so many great act breaking story moments, but it did. It didn't need to add four spectacular (well all right, Hammerlock's hunt was just ok) DLC packs making a 60 hour game exponentially longer. But they're there. It remains one of the best games I ever played, and as of now, steam says I played it for 499 hours over 2 years. Damn.

The Pre-Sequel had some big shoes to fill, even with tapered expectations. The guns all looked the same as 2, Gearbox wasn't even working on it, and all the trailers didn't make Elpis (Pandora's moon) look like a terribly interesting place to be, even after spending 499 hours staring at it. And honestly? It's not as good. Not even close.

But it's still very good, and in some subtle but important ways, better than either game before it. For one, the appallingly stingy vending machines of 2 have been reverted to BL1's standards of rarity. In 2; the loot in machines were almost always green, sometimes blue, hardly ever purple, and only once (once!) in 499 hours did I ever find something orange.

Not so, anymore. Blues and purples abound, making money actually useful again. Moonstones, the new eridium, is more bountiful allowing you to max out your backpack and a couple of ammo stock piles halfway through the campaign. But they can be thrown into the grinder too, which is the single best thing about this game, and something that needs to be front and center in BL3. You have a bunch of green grenades? Pop them in the grinder and it just might spit out a blue one. Same goes for blue to purple loot, but that's the limit. There is a way, and an achievement, for grinding up an orange piece of gear, but it's nowhere near as straight forward. I love the grinder and soon you will too.

But what about the actual game? I happened to enjoy a lot of that too. I found the "SCAVs" a wonderful upgrade from the bandits in 2 (and who were mostly cut and pasted from 1 except for the nomads). They have wider battle rolls, employ flanking tactics, and have delightful Australian accents. The moon gravity and new stomp attacks are a welcome switch up that I'll miss in subsequent, non moon related, Borderlands games.

The only area that leaves me cold is the story and about a third of the environments. They both just kinda tread water. I like the younger, more reasonable, and less villainous Handsome Jack. But the story plays out as if half the time it wants to keep the twists from 2 a secret and half the time it doesn't. I was hoping for a deeper look at Jack and Angel's relationship. I'd watch a whole movie about that. But she only shows up in a picture (an admittedly spectacular picture, but still, boo.) on Jack's desk, a couple audio logs... and that's it. That really, really, bummed me out. I bet money that's what the DLC will be about, and by gum, I'll let them take my money. But for god's sake 2k Australia, why didn't you even tease that aspect of Jack? His relationship with his daughter (two year old spoilerz!!!!) is the single most interesting thing about him.

But I digress. Yes, Jack's arc is mostly stagnant. Yes, the first third of the environments are repetitive and kinda dull. But once you get back on the giant H, you won't care. The game opens up after that. Sure, you can't use your butt stomp as much anymore, you'e on  normal gravity turff. But this is when you start to notice how much work went into all the character's skill trees. Everybody is going to love their level 18 character. Because every skill tree has some cool keystone halfway through that dramatically changes the way you play.

You get warned if you choose to play as Clappy. Because you should be.

Claptrap has automatic freezing with his butt stomps (and save clappy for your second character... trust me, he doesn't leave you with a good first impression) Nisha starts racking up faster reload speeds for every enemy she kills within a clip, and so on. The "Borderlands only has passive skills" complaints have been answered. While they aren't new action skills, each tree for each character is markedly different now. As a grizzled old vet, I say that's a first, aside from Krieg and Gaige.

So yeah, this is a "fans only" kind of a game. Newbies should start from 2 at bare minimum. Just wait til' Steam sells the GOTY for $10 again, it's a hell of a deal. But if you are a fan, you're gonna at least get your money's worth.The series' heart and humor is intact, and the new ideas are successful and delightful in equal measure. The only thing holding 2K Australia back I feel, was budget, not passion. The game is about 4/6ths the length of 2, but it ends on a mother of a high note that makes it worth it. If you missed the Eridians from 1, like I did, you'll appreciate what goes on in the end. Especially the very end. It's the best final fight in the series.

In summation, a cash-in budget holds the pre-sequl back from standing out on it's own. But just barely. It's charmed voice performances and canny callbacks to the first game, give it a reason to exist. If all cash-in games were 2/3rds as good as this, the industry would be much better off. Just look at what they put into a poster you can barely read without a sniper rifle scope:

I love you guys.

Monday, October 20, 2014

Beyond Earth's launch trailer is among the best I've ever seen.

There is no in game footage, there is no glitzy approximation of gameplay. There is only the human cost of being chosen to escape a rotten earth and save our species. I was on the fence before; but if they're willing to spend this kind of dough on a CGI trailer that has almost nothing to do with science fiction... for a game that's all about high sci-fi, I now know their heart is in the exact place I wanted it to be.

I dare you to watch it and feel nothing.

I pre-ordered on the spot.

Thursday, October 16, 2014

So I finished the Pre-sequel...

And I liked it. I liked it a hell of a lot. It's not AS good as 2 but I thought it in the realm of Arkham Origins. Just a hair above "good enough" with a big heapin' helping of fan service. And as a fan I say the service was excellent.

But I'll elaborate in a review very soon.

Monday, October 13, 2014

Borderlands The Pre-Sequel: Charmed to death by "Joy-Puke".

"Hellooooooooooooo, transient blog readers!"
At first I was going through the motions. No, I don't think I have the money for the PS. No I'm not terribly jazzed about a past generation place holding cash in on one of my favorite series. But after spending twenty minutes on Pandora's moon as everyone's favorite emotionally needy robot, I'm back in the pink.

I love Borderlands, and while this is simply "more borderlands" I feel like lately I've forgotten how much I love the story and lore the first time around. It's been 2 years since BL2, and the sting of that game's shockingly good story beats dulled in my memory.

This is still the best written, most intentionally funny, role playing game in the industry. And guess what? The Eridians are back! What? You didn't play Borderlands 1? Well you won't get the customer loyalty bonus either... tough noogies.

Oh, and apparently there's a machine on Elpis that can eat 3 green guns and spit out a blue one. That fixes the single biggest problem with 2. The stupidly stingy loot system! I am so on board now...

Sunday, October 12, 2014 breaks embargo, warms my heart.

There's a lot riding on video game releases. Tens of millions of dollars, people's jobs, and critical public first impressions. I can see why they'd want to embargo a review until the day of release with a new IP like Evil Within.

I can understand why obsessive PR spin can feel like a job well done from the publisher's prospective. But it's gotten out of control and the leash needs to be loosened for the good of the industry.

That's why I'm glad broke the review embargo and published their review two days early. They say it's because they weren't sent a copy and since they got theirs from a store, legally they aren't culpable. I'm sure Bethesda doesn't see it that way and this site is probably on an industry wide blacklist right now.

But they threw the first stone... and they won't be the last. I like where this ball is rolling.

Friday, October 10, 2014

Final Fantasy XIII on PC is a cruel joke.

Over-designed armor bikini feather exploooooosiiiiiiioooooon!!!!!!!!!!
Locked at 720p, wide spread reports of jerky framerate, and a 60 (goddamned) gigabyte download for a nearly 6 year old game.

No. Nuh-uh, Square.

We're happy you showed up to the party, but you gotta bring a cheap bottle of wine at least. And it would help if you looked like you wanted to be here, too.