Author's Note: As to provide greater context to these impressions and value to its readers, I feel it's best to disclose some details of my gaming career with Borderlands as a whole. I have had the title since October, 2009, when it debuted. I have 3 lvl. 61 Characters (Siren, Brick, and Hunter) as well as a 50's Soldier. I own all of the DLC, but Mad Moxxie's. I love to level, I love to loot, I love to explore, and I love me some story and dialog!
After the Armory of General Knoxx, I honestly thought I had said all my goodbyes to fresh Borderlands content. It had served as a faithful palette cleanser for my gaming slumps when I felt like playing, but nothing in particular. So deep was my pleasure of it that it even kept toe with the likes of Modern Warfare 2 (as a, at least historically, Call of Duty nut that is no small feet.) So, you could only imagine my glee when I read a fateful tweet from Gearbox's own twitter account, simply stating, "New DLC announced…" Fast forward to today, an blind, instantaneous purchase of "Claptrap's New Robot Revolution", and two hours of solid game time, I'm ready to put forth my impressions of this seemingly, promising content pack. Go on for a point by point break down, followed by a final summary!
The World Seems.. Bland! – Let's just say it, when it comes to settings and environments Borderlands is probably the antithesis to, say, an Avatar (film) or Halo Reach. The fact is that the levels are often detail deficient and empty, considering the roaming space provided. Still, Borderlands over the DLC packs has succeeded in emphasizing the atmosphere and theme of their levels, be it the humorously oppressive B-grade horror of Ned's Zombie Island or the vast highways and Road Warrior vibe of the Armory of General Knoxx. Of all possible impressions one could pick up upon, this was immediately clear. Unlike the previously mentioned packs, your teleported onto a ridge of a bland, vanilla Borderlands styled canyon over looking what seems reminiscent to the Atlus oppressed T-Bone Junction, only with the Hyperion corporation's logo. While initially let down, I pressed on, knowing that this would only serve as a hub world that I'd only truly visit for mission payouts. Again, I was met with very bland, very vanilla levels. Included in these were a Dump and a Cave + Arena, both of which seemed greatly "inspired" by previous levels, in particular Crazy Earl's Scrapyard and The Lost Cave. Besides their familiarity, they also shared an annoying trait; they were awkwardly open and cluttered. The great thing about Borderlands level design is that it was open, but fairly linear giving a sense of exploration while never being confusing. If these levels were indicative of the rest of the DLC, I'm already in for some displeasure.
The Trap Enemies, Rewrapped and Regifted – Another impression that was quick to form was that of the DLC's "new" enemies. As advertised, the promise of "trap-ized" enemies has been delivered. Each enemy does look like what I'd imagine a "Claptrap (INSERT ENEMY TYPE)" would look like. What I didn't imagine was that the change to these enemies would be completely superficial. Unlike in previous packs, these enemies in no way behave or act any different then their previous, none-Trap counterparts. Even the Crimson Lance, a rather basic archetype of enemy, had more variety in their capabilities and powers. Now, this wouldn't have been such a big concern had the Trap enemies not been just re-named enemy types from the original Borderlands content. Honestly, I was a tad flabbergasted. I knew that enemies previously fought were going to re-appear in "Trap" form, including old bosses, I just thought that would of meant something beyond a simple coat of paint.
Claptraps as Generic Enemies – Something I was really curious to see was how the use of Claptraps as enemies was going to play out, besides the "Trap"-ing of previous foes. The idea of fighting these once lovable, witty, disturbing pieces of tin can personalities was something I genuinely thought was ripe for the picking. Besides some margin of genericness, Claptraps as a whole were greatly personality driven, even more so once you had gotten to the DLC packs. Alas, it seems that the task of making interesting foes out of these critters was too great. What were once interesting characters are now generic, grown by the dozen, killed by the dozen enemies. Besides the Claptrap that is leading the revolt, I have had yet to encounter a boss like level of uniqueness in any Claptrap foe.
The Narrative and Dialog, or Lack Thereof - Integral to the Borderlands DLC experience has been the inclusion of delicious dialog and one-off missions of intrigue. One could say it was the milk and honey to the general experience. Again, it seems that what once was a reason for playing has turned sour. So far all the dialog has been on a rather dull note, the looping rantings of the Claptrap leader being the high point in a one-story unit. Even the narrative, usually egging on the player to unravel the next turn of events has been greatly ignored. To make a simple, yet effective comparison, it's like having to eat through a box of cereal to reach the surprise inside that is no more a surprise as is when I will take my next breath. I can't remember the last time I've cared so little about what I was doing and why I was doing it.
It's Just More of the Exact Same Thing! - As much of a fan as I am of getting more of something I like, I do expect the "more" to follow the trend set by predecessors. In this case I was expecting something in the vain of Zombie Island or General Knoxx, a new part of Pandora and inhabitants, all of which are inspired by a central theme (i.e. B-Grade Horror). Instead what has, thus far, been given is derivative material taking from already established themes and content while doing little to expand or improve upon them. For the life of me I cannot understand why Gearbox would throw out something so seemingly mediocre.. unless..
Did Gearbox Outsource the Creation of Borderlands's Future DLC? – At the moment there is no way for me to present this assertion as complete fact, but if what was said in Destructoid's review of the DLC is to be believed, then there is little doubt. In fact, it would make perfect sense. We are no strangers to the concept of having our beloved IPs outsourced to other developers in the hopes of reaching optimal cash-in capabilities. Though, what seems to come hand in hand with this style of crank-out is the loss or dilution of what once made something great. In this case it seems that, fearing to take their own liberties, the new creators felt it necessary to play it safe, quiet and quick. I only wish they wouldn't have.
There is great disappointment and disdain to be had. What I was once falling over myself to play has turned into a chore, a chore that I am not certain I can complete. While I will say that it is completely unfair of me to make any sort of review of this content without having finished it, I will say that other reports I've heard bear me little solace in continuing my journey. Now, is that to say this is a bust for any and all? No. I'm sure that once the patch that is to bring the rise in level cap comes this content will find itself with a bit of a greater purpose. I also know, as evidence by forums, there are many ways and reasons why people enjoy Borderlands. If you enjoy the combat immensely, the idea of different (looking) enemies, and in general just more Borderlands then I encourage you to continue your research into this pack, but ask that you keep my impressions as a barometer of basic concerns. As for me, I think this will be my last foray or hoo-rah for Borderlands content. If only it could have been on a better note. Though, I do still need to cap out my Soldier…
(Borderlands: Claptrap's New Robot Revolution Add-on for Xbox 360, PS3, and PC. $9.99, 800 MSP. Released 9/28/10)
GamesBeat 2014 — VentureBeat’s sixth annual event on disruption in the video game market — is coming up on Sept 15-16 in San Francisco. Purchase one of the first 50 tickets and save $400!