Friday, July 19, 2013

Hello Traveler: Ranking All the Borderlands DLC

I've written extensively about why the Borderlands series holds a dear place in my heart. It's safe to say that both the original and the sequel are my two favorite games to come out of this generation of consoles, especially when looked at from the amount of time that I've sunk into them. When it comes to vast, open-world games, I'm normally not the type to explore every nook and cranny, but when I'm on Pandora, I want to see everything. One thing the series is known for is it's plethora of downloadable content after the initial release. The main games are both incredible, but the eight (thus far) downloadable add-ons range anywhere from "That was awesome!" to "I spent money on that?" Luckily, there are more of the former than that latter, and I wanted to rank them personally from my least to most favorite, because everyone loves rankings!

No. 8: Mad Moxxi's Underdome Riot

It should come as no surprise to anyone why this is the worst addition to the series. While it does add 12 hours of gameplay--assuming you can play for 4 hours at a stretch, three different times--it's nothing more than an overly-long arena battle that wears out its welcome the first time you fail a wave and are sent back to the previous one. You don't gain experience, you fight 50 waves of increasingly tougher enemies, and you never leave the small area you're dumped into. There's also no way to save between waves, so you either finish it or you start over. Unless you have a minimum of three people playing, you more or less have no chance of completing all 50 waves, and if you're only playing for achievements/trophies, just do what I did and cheat the system, although you should be warned that it's very monotonous, and that time could be spent playing something worthwhile.

No. 7: Sir Hammerlock's Big Game Hunt

After the successful run of expansions in the original Borderlands, it was inevitable that the sequel would follow suit. With the exception of the previous entry, all of the add-on content for Borderlands felt significant. They felt like true expansions on the universe, and they felt complete. It felt like they took their time, fleshing out every detail and making sure it worked the way they wanted it to before releasing it. But because the "Season Pass" is such a moneymaker for certain games, the expansions sometimes feel rushed, which is the case with most DLC for Borderlands 2. Assault on Dragon Keep aside, all the downloadable content is extremely short, and can be finished on a single 3 hour session (and that encompasses every mission, not just main story quests).

It doesn't help that Sir Hammerlock is one of the more boring characters in the series, aside from his "Bonerfart" tangents, he adds little value. It's almost like he was created as a way of saying "We made a Teddy Roosevelt character because the Internet loves Teddy Roosevelt." You spend the majority of missions killing animal-based enemies, which is disappointing for me personally, as I find a lot of humor from the eccentricities of the human baddies. The monsters feel a bit uninspired as well, looking as if they were ripped straight out of a C-horror film.

No. 6: Captain Scarlett and Her Pirate's Booty

I know that thus far, I've had nothing good to say about Borderlands DLC, but this is where things start to get better. A total of 75% of Borderlands DLC is worth checking out and adds at least a few hours of gameplay, so the investment is worth it if you're a fan of the series. Captain Scarlett isn't amazing, but it's a nice little excursion away from the main game. DLC for Borderlands 2 was released much more quickly after launch compared to the original, and that worried me. Because it was released less than a month after the initial game launch, I was scared that this DLC would be unpolished, and while I did come across some minor annoyances--like getting stuck on flat ground--it turned out to be a pretty solid package. The town of Oasis was darkly hilarious, and it had some pretty good characters, like C3n50r807 (the "Censorbot"), Herbert the Hermit, my wife's personal favorite Shade, and of course, Captain Scarlett herself. Scarlett's constant reminding of how you should work together until she ultimately betrays you was a nice touch, and using the Rakk Hive as her giant pet was a neat throwback to the original Borderlands.

Far from being the best DLC campaign, but not bad either. It's not going to set your heart ablaze, but won't crush it either. You'll come across some bugs, but nothing game-breaking. Definitely worth a playthrough.

No. 5: Mr. Torgue's Campaign of Carnage

Mr. Torgue is "Macho Man" Randy Savage, there's no way to deny that. Given my professional wrestling background, most would assume that fact alone would shoot this add-on straight to the #1 spot on the list. Borderlands has so many great characters, but there are some that are a cut above--Claptrap, General Knoxx, Crazy Earl--and Mr. Torgue definitely lands in that upper echelon of characters. But the reason Mr. Torgue's Campaign of Carnage doesn't crack the top half of this list is because outside of Mr. Torgue himself, there's nothing spectacular about this campaign. It's a couple arena battles, a few time-limited skirmishes, a handful of boss fights, and that's it. The environments don't stand out, with the exception of the area called The Beatdown (which us suburban white folk refer to as "the bad part of town"). Every other area looks like something you had already seen in the main game.

If all you wanted was more Borderlands, then this is right up your alley. That's not a knock on it by any means, but at this point I've come to expect the add-ons to be where Gearbox goes off-the-wall, and this didn't feel like that. That being said, it's still fun and still worth a playthrough or two if for nothing else than to hear Mr. Torgue's insane ramblings.

No. 4: The Zombie Island of Dr. Ned

I, like most gamers, have grown a bit weary of zombie games. I remember when I first heard the title, I was a bit disappointed because it seemed like a cheap direction to go in. It was the first DLC to ever be released for the series, so I was just expecting new missions and new areas to coincide with the main game, which would have been more than sufficient. I didn't expect to love Zombie Island nearly as much as I did. Knowing zombies couldn't be the only enemies in the game, Gearbox included their versions of the classic horror villains: Were-skags, Tankensteins, Pumpkinheads, killer birds, and the titular Dr. Ned as the game's obligatory mad scientist.

The missions are basically what you would expect: go here, collect this, kill that guy, return. It's a working formula, so there was no need to change it. There were a couple references to the main game as a nice touch, like the undead T.K. Baha to receive missions from and the nightmarish version of Old Haven (now known as Dead Haven). I wish there was more to say about this one, but the title kind of says it all. If for whatever reason you never got around to playing it, you really should, as it's one of the more creative add-ons released for the series.

Tied No 2: The Secret Armory of General Knoxx

I debated on which of the next two entries I enjoyed more, but I really couldn't make up my mind, so I'm listing General Knoxx first because it was released first.

I only have one complaint about the General Knoxx DLC, and that's the fact that there is no fast-travel. This is the longest of the expansions for the original Borderlands, but that's artificial due to the fact that a lot of missions require you to drive from one end of the world to the other, and it takes forever. If you can get over the monotony of driving back and forth, it's a great piece of content. It's also the biggest of all the original DLC in terms of all the things they added. There are three new cars (although one is just a redesign from the original name), a new level of loot, an increased the level cap, new loot chests, new enemy types, and it also added on to the story arc of the main game.
General Knoxx himself is one of my favorite characters in the entire series. He's a stereotypical military type who absolutely hates his job, and delivers some of the best dialogue the series has ever had. In fact, there's a lot of great dialogue all-around (the Crimson Lance discussion about ice cream being my personal favorite). Even though the length is padded out by the exclusion of fast-travel stations, the missions are fun and the new areas are interesting enough to make up for it.

Tied No. 2: Claptrap's New Robot Revolution

Let me start by saying that I've played through all the DLC for the original Borderlands three times each (Underdome Riot excluded), and I did not like Claptrap's New Robot Revolution the first time I played it. I liked it on the second playthrough, and loved it the third time. Well, maybe it's not so much that I didn't like it the first time, and more the fact that I loved General Knoxx so much that this felt like a step back.

CNRR picks up where General Knoxx left off and brings the story arc full-circle, quite literally. They must have learned something from General Knoxx, as most areas are now quickly and easily accessible from a central area. The enemies are basically Claptrap-bandit hybrids, as well as introducing new types of Claptraps to face off against. Overall, this was a pretty good way to officially bring Borderlands to a close. It gave you something new, as well as some throwbacks to the main game. The final mission has you facing off with Dr. Ned and General Knoxx one more time before reaching the ultimate showdown with the Mega Interplanetary Ninja Assassin Claptrap, which is exactly what it sounds like. CNRR doesn't feel as large or expansive as General Knoxx did, but what it lacked in size it made up for in creativity.

No. 1: Tiny Tina's Assault on Dragon Keep

Perhaps Assault on Dragon Keep gets the top ranking because it's the most recent add-on and it's still fresh in my mind, but it shouldn't be overlooked just how creative it really is. Not to mention it was the only time that the series has caused me to feel genuine sadness, despite how annoying I found Tina to be in Borderlands 2 proper. Most of the notable characters from the main game make appearances, but everything else is completely new from a design perspective. New areas, new enemies, new loot chests, new everything. Also, there's a gun that shoots swords. I'll repeat that. There's a gun...that shoots...SWORDS! Actually, that gun isn't all that great, but on the other hand, it shoots swords. Sometimes you just have to take the good with the bad.

Anyway, the entire campaign is an homage to Dungeons & Dragons and other fantasy franchises, and it comes across wonderfully. There's references to all different types of nerd culture, one area in particular is pretty much ripped straight from The Elder Scrolls games. Tina narrates the entire campaign, but she's not nearly as annoying here as she was in the main game, although she definitely does has her annoying moments. This expansion was released recently enough to where I don't want to go into too much detail and spoil anything (did I mention there's a gun that shoots swords?), but if more detail is what you want, then go read Chris Carter's review. Just take it from me, as someone who is not a fan of Dungeons & Dragons or anything similar to it, that if there was one piece of DLC you needed for Borderlands 2, this is the one. Obviously, this is entirely subjective. I know some may disagree with which one goes where or may not agree with a point that I've made, but I just wanted an excuse to write about Borderlands again.

Thanks for reading.

Wednesday, July 10, 2013

Sega Channel Made Me The Coolest Kid In 5th Grade

For however many years it was that I owned a Sega Genesis while it was still a viable, current-gen system, I only owned three games for it: Sonic 2 (the obligatory pack-in game), Mortal Kombat, and Mortal Kombat II. That's it. To be perfectly honest, I didn't have a reason to own a lot of other games. I still borrowed games from friends occasionally, but the real reason that buying games became unnecessary was because I had the Sega Channel!

My parents were the ones that actually told my brother and I about it, which was weird because my parents are not into videogames (except for old-school PC adventure games that my dad had a brief fascination with), so the fact that this thing found a spot in our home was a small wonder. As a youngster I didn't follow gaming media or read gaming magazines outside of the occasional GamePro, all I knew was that I loved videogames and I wanted to play more of them. So when my parents told us that we were going to get a new channel that enabled us to play 50 Sega Genesis games every month, we lost our freaking minds. And yes, I literally thought that it was just a new channel being added to our television...I was 9, shut up.

For those of you who were either too young or not fortunate enough to have it offered in your area, you can read about how it worked here, but I just want to talk about my experiences with the device. Almost all of my favorite Genesis games were ones that I first discovered on Sega Channel: Earthworm Jim, General Chaos, Bonanza Bros., Streets of Rage 2, Comix Zone, etc. Even though SNES versions of some titles were and still are considered superior, I first played most of them on Genesis, so in my heart it just feels weird to play Beavis and Butt-Head or Zombies Ate My Neighbors on Super Nintendo. I never had an allegiance to one system or company, but Sega Channel definitely ensured over the course of time that I turned my Genesis on more than I did my SNES.

Since the Sega Channel operated as a subscription service, there was no risk involved in playing a game you had never heard of. Sure, not every game was a gem, but it didn't matter. I wasn't paying for it, so why wouldn't I give Ballz a shot? Now there's a sentence I never thought I would write. But at the same time, I discovered games I enjoyed that were typically in genres that I hated, like Shining Force II. Having 50 games at your disposal every month was a surefire way to keep a kid entertained for hours on end. I remember several weekends being spent staying up with friends until 4 a.m. stuffed full of pizza and Pepsi just trying out new games. Games were always grouped together by category, so if you were in the mood for a certain type of game, just go to that category and you have at least 5 different games that fit the bill.

I'm convinced that these adapters are just re-purposed 32Xs.

The games changed on the first of every month, although there were definitely some holdovers. A lot of games would appear multiple months in succession, but it never took away from the excitement of the new month, every new month was like Christmas morning. The only real downside was that you could only save one game at a time, which is understandable given the technology of the day, but it definitely caused a lot of fights between my brother and I. If he had been playing a season of NCAA Football, and then I saved a game of Theme Park, it would overwrite the NCAA Football save and I would get beat up because all older brothers are jerks.

Another reason the Sega Channel was great was because it offered demos (referred to as 'Test Drives'), unreleased games (Nightmare Circus), and Sega Channel exclusive titles (Pulseman, Alien Soldier). These things didn't happen a lot, but when they did, they stood out. Nightmare Circus never did get a release outside of South America, and even though it wasn't anything to write home about, I still feel somewhat privileged to have been able to play it.

Always pimpin'

The Sega Channel service was officially discontinued in July of 1998, and by that time I was already wearing out my PlayStation. Realistically, I only had the service for about a year, but what a year it was! It was $15 a month with an initial $25 activation fee, and these days, I would fight Mike Tyson for one of the three consoles to have this type of thing. I'm a recent PlayStation Plus subscriber, and it's already proven itself to be an incredible value (especially if you're both a PS3 and Vita owner), but if Sony was able to offer 50 games a month (or heck, even half of that) for a monthly subscription, I would gladly give them $15 every 30 days. The same goes for Microsoft and Nintendo. Sadly, that'll likely never happen, at least not until we officially reach the all-digital future, but a man can dream.

Seems like a fair trade-off.

Thanks for reading.