I finally hit level 50.
It took me awhile. Borderlands 2 came out four months ago (a lengthy stint, in this now-obsessed industry) and I have apparently played it for 86 hours, which – depressingly – may well be more time than I’ve spent savouring chocolate in my entire life.
That’s not how long it took for me to hit level 50, mind you; I wandered into Sir Hammerlock’s Big Game Hunt at the arse-end of level 49, and I’ve doubtless spent hours pissing about with friends or leaving the game running while doing something away from the computer or playing another character. But still. 86 hours. Level 50. And now, having finished theBig Game Hunt, I’m wishing my first level 50 expansion was a better one.
I’m also a little unsure as to whether I maybe went in a bit early or a bit late. See, it might be because of the level at which I started or it might be because I lack any real skill, but Big Game Hunt is hard. Really hard. “Died to the first group of enemies” hard. Should I have gone in sooner, when things were a bit lighter? Should I have waited until I already had some juicy level 50 weapons? Is it actually just skull-fuckingly hard? No idea!
Some of it, certainly, is down to the enemy design. Big Game Hunt is centred around you and Sir Hammerlock going off on a hunting trip to a new continent called Aegrus, which appears to be composed entirely of swamp. It’s pretty much a Victorian-era interpretation of the dark heart of Africa, featuring huge, fearsome beasts and… uh… black, spear-throwing “Savages”. Which is a little bit uncomfortable.
One of these Savages is an all-new enemy type. It’s called a Witch Doctor. Witch Doctors take ungodly amounts of punishment to put down. Witch Doctors can reflect bullets. Witch Doctors can break Phaselock almost instantly. Witch Doctors can heal themselves and everyone around them. Witch Doctors can level up everyone around them, turning regular mobs into Badasses and beyond. They particularly like to do that last one when you’re downed and trying to kill something to get back up, incidentally; just as you get something down to a sliver of health, it’s “evolved” into a Badass with a full health bar. Fun, in a Dwarf Fortress sense of the word.
In short: fuck Witch Doctors.
Most of the enemies take a hell of a lot of punishment, actually. An early encounter with the game’s ubiquitous Bullymongs took far more ammunition than expected. The large, floating, elemental spore sacs that drift above the landscape take a lot more damage than you’d expect from something that looks like a balloon with stubby wings. The giant spider beasts that dredge themselves out of the marsh will take a few clips from a large gun to put down. Most of the crit locations for these enemies are small, fairly well hidden, or both; in short, keep lots of ammo on hand.
While insane amounts of mob health isn’t likely to bother the people who farm Terramorphous solo, it does take a bit of sparkle out of the combat. Seeing a pack of mobs no longer means a series of quick headshots, followed by a bit of blind panic and wild firing as you cut them down one by one and try not to die. Here, it signifies a lengthy, drawn-out battle against a pack of total bastards who suck up bullets like they’re Terminators made out of kevlar, and these slogs are a bit of a pace-killer.
In fact, just about everything in this expansion is a bit of a step back. The areas are all wide-open spaces – which is fine – but the rather sporadic placement of everything from quest givers to vending machines means that selling loot or handing in quests is a chore. There are a very small number of quest givers, a small number of quests, and the campaign’s storyline is a grand total of three chapters long. These untamed wilds feel open and dangerous, certainly, but they also feel a bit empty and repetitive, and some lack the visual spectacle and the sense of place that locations possessed in both Borderlands 2 and the previous DLC packs. And as for Hammerlock himself… well, he’s likeable enough, but he’s a bit too weak and characterless to carry the brunt of the dialogue. If you’re hoping for an entire campaign that’s as funny as the mission The Name Game, you’ll be a bit disappointed.
But perhaps only a bit, because the dialogue has its high points. There are some genuine laughs throughout, particularly whenever the piece’s villain – Professor Nakayama – turns up. Professor Nakayama is… not very good at being a villain, but he’s excited by the prospect of it. Up until he discovers you haven’t actually gone there to stop him and are actually just on a hunting trip, anyway, at which point he’s so disappointed he begs you into trying to foil his plot. Once you do start foiling it, he has a bit of an about-face on this decision. In terms of character and writing he could turn up as a guest on Venture Bros. and I wouldn’t bat an eyelid, and that’s rather high praise.
While Big Game Hunt is never really bad, it’s easily the weakest of the DLC campaigns so far, and this disappointment is made much more blatant as this arrives on the heels of Mr. Torgue’s Campaign of Carnage and all of the over-the-top highs that contained. There are new weapons, new areas, new enemies, new quests, and a new vehicle, but none of them are really that impressive or special. Dialogue aside, the highlights here are just in the general compulsion to shoot more guys and get more loot, and – while that’s always fun – I honestly expect a lot more from Borderlands 2.