Opinion

Borderlands 2 turns five

Dan reminisces about his favourite game, Borderlands 2, released September 20th 2012 here in the U.K. This is the tale of the long road to max level and the lasting appeal of this five year old Gearbox Software title.

Borderlands was a love which began with the first game of the series, after getting bored with Call of Duty and Left 4 Dead games, as well as waiting for Valve to release another installment of Half-Life. I don’t recall where or how it came to my attention, but four of us ended up playing through the campaign when the game released in 2009. Three of us later started on the first DLC and didn’t finish it.

This was a pretty different game for me, although I’d always been into FPS games, Borderlands introduced me to something I’d never experienced much of previously, RPG elements. The developer, Gearbox Software, married the FPS and RPG perfectly, so without realising it, I got a taste of something new.

Borderlands 2 came out some 3 years later, in 2012, so the usual suspects gathered and played, reaching a whopping level 13 before everyone else got bored.

This time I knew it was at least playable solo, although not ideal, so I finished it on my own. Every side mission, many hours of inventory management (which there was never time for in coop), all the DLC as it released. I reached the maximum level of 50 (at the time) and a sense of satisfaction that I’d really played the game, finally. It was fun, but it still wasn’t coop, which is where the real amusement begins.

Gearbox released two expansions, both raising the level cap by 11 each, making the maximum level 72, but also introduced an arena; completing this allowed you to obtain level 80 gear, as well as fight level 80 enemies (above that in some cases) throughout the game.

borderlands2-72unlock
This is as far as you can level up your characters, but the equipment and enemies go to 80, so we’re not done yet!

This was the real deal, how the game should be played, but when I tried to go solo in “Ultimate Vault Hunter Mode” between level 50-72, it was just insanely difficult for me. I was a few hundred hours in, but I was now resigned to the fact I would never achieve these lofty heights. After a hiatus, during which I revisited the original Borderlands and all of it’s DLC, two crazy things happened.

The first was persuading Jon to start going through Borderlands 1 with me, from the very beginning, with the view to taking our sweet time, getting as far as we could, but just 2-3 hours a week on a Sunday morning, no pressure. We finished the first game, then all the DLC, having a blast along the way. Then we moved on to Borderlands 2 to do the same.

The second was persuading my brother-in-law, who had tried Borderlands 2 previously, to try it again. Secretly I was trying to recruit more players. When I asked him what class he’d tried, although I can’t remember what his answer was, my reply was “That does not suit what I imagine your play style to be, try the Commando instead.” He did, then he was hooked. Really hooked.

Playing Borderlands 2 exclusively all week every week, before long, he caught up with our little Sunday morning play through – at around level 60 by that point – then overtook us! He completely left us in the rear view mirror.

The whole “no pressure” thing, at this point, kind of went out of the window. The brother-in-law made it to the arena where you fight through the overpower level challenges, intended for up to 4 players, then started to solo them while he waited for us.

By this time, I was hungry for it, the sweet victory of reaching maximum level, that shiny gear… there was no way I could do this without friends, but would I have any friends left at the end of this?

Brother-in-law made it to an impressive overpower level 7 of 8 without us, he just kept farming new gear and trying over and over for days until he’d get through. Eventually, we caught up with him through those short Sunday morning sessions. I admit, I think we played during the week too by this point…

We thrashed through the Overpower levels together, for the most part, until we were all on the final stage. This is where the nightmare began, we just couldn’t get through the final stage together as three. One particular section about half way through – where four challenging enemies spawn simultaneously – kept besting us every single time.

It seems when I started my play through with Jon, I’d picked the wrong character myself! I visited his house one weekend, he told me to “try the Siren” he was playing for his own solo run, around level 34 by that point.

Now I was properly hooked too. As it turns out, part of the joy of this game is trying characters and play styles you wouldn’t usually gravitate towards. I’ve always gone for the Commando class, but now I’ve had fun playing almost all of them, except the Psycho. I leave that one to Jon.

While we kept trying to beat OP8, I started a new Siren character and took it to level 72 solo, with full time dedication; this was some of the most fun I’d ever had playing the game solo, it was incredibly satisfying. Brother-in-law helped me get through OP1-7 without so much as a blip.

One evening, armed to the teeth and now sporting an Overpower Level 7 Siren, with oodles of confidence between us, the brother-in-law and I tried “one more time” to complete the arena and unlock Overpower Level 8. By now, I was several hundred hours into this game and what had once seemed so far off had been tantalisingly close for so long.

It was the sweetest of victories, finally we reached these lofty heights, I think on that first attempt, but honestly it’s all a blur now.

borderlands2-op8unlocked
After what felt like forever, we made it.

The farming for OP8 equipment began, then we ran through the final stage with Jon as three again, so he could join us!

What followed was another couple hundred hours taking on raid bosses never attempted before, taking more characters through to the max level, lots of gear farming and just a sense of relief that we’d broken this barrier holding us back.

Honestly, it completely sucked the fun out of the game for so long, being beaten over and over again at the same point. It became a hideous grind rather than what I believe most of us would say video games are supposed to be, which is fun! Borderlands 2 is so much fun, despite the horrible experience we had getting through to the max level, the enjoyment quickly returned.

About fifty hours shy of a thousand hours play (personally), we kind of all stopped playing. The Division was released and we lost my brother-in-law, he’s still playing that almost exclusively to this day. Jon is notoriously a “finger buffet gamer” in that he likes to play lots of different stuff, so he most definitely moved on too, scarred for life from the arena.

borderlands2-shooteverything
Shooting things features very heavily, guns are randomly generated

I couldn’t let that remaining 50 hours taunt me, so I jumped into random public Steam groups and open matchmaking. I spent about 100 hours at various levels, helping people new get through their first play through, others trying to get through the final Overpower Level and struggling, as we had. I took on some raid bosses at max level I’d never attempted before, or repeated old challenges as a team of four, as there’d only been three of us at most previously.

When writing this article, I started playing again after a few months hiatus; I can tell you, it is the best video game I’ve ever played, so far. In my opinion, it’s definitely the best of the three Borderlands games.

During the journey to max level, I said I’d “never start another character” or “run through from the start” ever again. Turns out that’s complete nonsense, I’m just happy to play the game, whatever the level, particularly with others.

Since you can reset your campaign progress completely, you can start the game at max level (with all your gear) at any time. Couple this with the amount of content on offer, I’m still enjoying Borderlands 2 after all this time, I can imagine another 5 years (but probably not another thousand hours) is easily on the cards!

If this title is on your list, perhaps gathering dust on your virtual shelf, give it a shot. During Steam sales, the whole thing (with all DLC) can often be picked up for about £10, it’s a freaking bargain. It’s some of the finest DLC ever made for any game. The first game is often £5 for everything during sales too, although the main campaign is a little disappointing, the DLC once again makes up for it.

So, Happy Birthday Borderlands 2, bring on the next full game!

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