You ever get into one of those moods where all you want to play is one singular genre of game? For me these past few months it has been looter shooters.
The need to shoot, explode, loot and increment numbers has been all my brain can focus on, so I revisited some of the biggest names in the genre.
As most of these games pride themselves on countless updates and new additions it’s worth revisiting them from time to time and that’s what we’re doing in late 2021.
Borderlands 3 (The base game)
I played Borderlands 3 at launch and had a great time with it despite performance issues on PC and one of the most grating stories I’ve ever experienced in a videogame. My plan for a second playthrough was to also tackle all the post-launch content, but I didn’t.
The reasons for this boil down to money. Borderlands 3 has, incredulously, two season passes, something so greedy and dumb only Randy Pitchford and Co could have come up with. While I could have just sucked it up and bought this content, I’ve been spending my money on boring things like “food” and “petrol” and “medical bills” so I decided to just play the vanilla main game again, especially after my requests for a press code were ignored.
Those angered by this will be happy to know that my memory is so terrible that this game from less than two years ago will feel a bit new to me, so it has that going for it.
Borderlands 3 also has superbly tight gameplay going for it. Even from the first minute you take control of your character in the tutorial, Borderlands 3 is just satisfying to interact with.
Movement is snappy, shooting is a joy and the inventory management is as good as it can be for something many see as a chore.
As I played as Moze the first time around, the objectively best character because she has a mech, I went with Amara this time around to mix more melee into my shooting. Mirroring what most people have said since launch here because I had just as much fun.
A lot of difficult design work has gone into every nook and cranny of Borderlands 3 to make the cycle of combat and incremental upgrades fun, and I was *this* close to simply starting a new character after seeing the credits again.
PC performance has stabilised but I wouldn’t say it’s been optimised. It’s a much better experience compared to launch but I was expecting more after all this time.
Unfortunately what hasn’t changed a lick is the story and its characters. I honestly believe a masochist or someone with a hateful fetish designed antagonists the Calypso twins in this game. Every second with them is painful and for my next playthrough I honestly hope there’s a mod to remove them entirely.
See the aforementioned review for more on these characters, but they’re just a symptom of a boring, annoyingly spiky feeling to the whole experience. Borderlands 4 could simply be a 1:1 match of Borderlands 3, but with a better story around it and that would make for an almost perfect game.
Oh and they would need to optimise it too. Come on Gearbox you have that double season pass money in your pocket, make it happen.
The Division 2 (Plus Warlords of New York)
I tried out The Division 2 a few years back when it came as a free game with my graphics card. Back then I bailed on it when my character was around level 11 just because the game was routinely recycling content at that point and it felt like I was spinning my wheels repeating the same missions, killing the same enemies and getting the same loot only with numbers going up to match my higher playtime.
In late 2021 none of that has changed, but I’m glad I went back because The Division 2 does require some mindless repetition before you get to the good stuff.
The strange thing about The Division 2 is that it’s almost two games rolled into one. The difference between levels one to 29, and 30 and beyond, are so vastly different. After level 30, and after completing some pre-requisites, players get access to Specializations which grant unique weapons and entire new skill trees to pursue.
It’s actually a bit baffling that this is kept from the player for so long. Imagine if Borderlands didn’t unlock class special abilities until something like 80 percent into the game.
Also, as you get closer to level 30, loot drops start having special bonuses which weren’t possible before. This makes for a very lopsided experience where the endgame is vastly more enjoyable and varied compared to the many hours before it.
The third person shooting of The Division 2 is a great time and there’s so many options to change things up so you’re not just sitting behind chest-high walls for eons before popping up to headshot enemies.
Here’s how I played it: to start encounters I would snipe off weak enemies with a high power sniper rifle. When the remaining stronger enemies got closer I would switch to a machine gun and mow them down, all while my gun drone chipped away at their health bar.
When enemies finally got too close that’s when I broke it out – the shield which allowed me to endlessly put bullets down range with almost impunity. My one weak point, attacks from the side and back, thankfully guarded by my drone.
Once my Specialization was unlocked I could access a devastating flamethrower that, thankfully, could be used with a half shield to continue my favourite combo of killing from safety.
The shield and drone are two of eight abilities in the game, and the flamethrower is one of six unique weapons tied to Specializations. This can be combined with dozens of different weapons to really mix things up.
The Division 2 starts off as a rather mundane, grounded experience where you’re fighting over scraps in an apocalypse scenario, but if you put the required hefty investment of time into it, there’s a lot of third person shooting fun to be had.
Unfortunately by the time I got to the right level for the Warlords of New York expansion I was burnt out and had nothing left in the tank to go through it. I may return to this in the future but I honestly want to blame the aforementioned weird progression this game has. I truly believe Warlords of New York would have been welcomed with open arms if level 30 game sooner and the grind after it was lessened.
With all that in mind Division 2 comes with a recommendation but only if you have a stomach for grind and random loot drops for high tier loot in the endgame.
Destiny 2 (Beyond Light)
It would be a crime to talk about looter shooters without Destiny 2 on this list but I’ve never played more than a few hours of it. Part of this is, in my opinion, a poor new player experience, and part of it is my addictive personality.
Around the time that Archwings were added to Warframe I was hopelessly addicted to it and, playing the early hours of Destiny 2 I could see many of the same trappings.
Luckily we have a Destiny 2
addict expert on the team in the form of my colleague Brendyn, so he can tell me about what I’m missing.
Destiny 2 is all about the “endgame”. While the campaign can be enjoyable, the real fun comes from chasing loot and finding so-called “God-rolls” or weapons that have a specific set of perks you want or armour that has stat distributions you prefer. Sure it can be a grind but with the unique weapons and stunning skyboxes, the grind is part of the fun.
The core of Destiny 2 is bumping up your power level by participating in various activities in the game. There is the Crucible with varying levels of Competitiveness where players match other players. For those who prefer shooting NPCs, Strikes are simple missions that take less than 15 minutes to complete or you can rally two other players and test the far more challenging Nightfalls.
All of this, however, is always in pursuit of completing so-called Pinnacle Activities. These will reward players with the highest Power Level of gear available to them but the challenge can be monumental.
Most committed players are striving toward Pinnacle activities whether that be Raids – massive six-player arenas that demand coordination and quick thinking, or Trials of Osiris – Elimination PvP where unique gear and weapons unavailable anywhere else can be acquired.
There is also Gambit, a hybrid of PvP and PvE but the less said about Gambit the better.
As a live-service game, Destiny 2 is not without its faults but the dopamine hit that getting an Exotic you’ve been chasing or nailing the mechanics of a Raid is unlike any game I have ever played. It also doesn’t hurt that Bungie loves its community and listens to feedback.
With a new expansion in The Witch Queen arriving in February 2022, the best days of Destiny 2 are ahead of us.
Honourable mention: Borderlands: The Pre-Sequel (Plus all DLC)
I still don’t know why The Pre-Sequel is so hated. I didn’t understand it when I first played the game years ago, and I still don’t understand it with another playthrough in 2021.
The biggest problems with this game continue to be signs of a budget title: reused areas that have you backtracking and many elements pulled from a previous game (that being Borderlands 2).
The Pre-Sequel, however, manages to be its own beast with its clever setting – the moon of Pandora, Elpis – painted as a parody of Australia. I’ve seen this receive a lot of hate too which I can kind of understand as some of the cultural jokes aren’t universal, but since South Africa shares some of that culture (like cricket, which is lampooned here), I had a good time with it.
This game also has what is maybe the best single mechanic in the series: the Oz Kit. The Oz Kits in the game are explained to be how your character breathes in the vacuum of Elpis, but then it is also used as a faux jetpack and combat mechanic as you can use some of your precious breathing air to damage enemies with an air stomp.
There’s a joke in Borderlands 3 that the player mistakenly destroys all the grappling hooks, jetpacks and left handed guns, which is why we don’t get access to them.
It’s a decent gag, but makes Gearbox look a bit silly when The Pre-Sequel basically had a jetpack five years prior. The Oz Kits also create some great emergent gameplay where you need to balance using your oxygen to breath versus an extra damage source in fights.
Anyway this game is much rougher around the edges compared to Borderlands 3. Again, it is from five years before 3, but it can be a bit difficult to get into the groove here.
It’s just a matter of a person to person trait about tolerance for putting up with some outdated mechanics, the worst of which being the mindless walking to and from fast travel nodes unlike Borderlands 3 where you could simply teleport at a whim from almost anywhere.
The gunplay is still fun and, again, has something Borderlands 3 doesn’t have in a dedicated class of guns, the lasers. It also has Luneshine weapon modifiers and many other small unique elements which really make it worth revisiting in the modern year.
Before going in it is essential to use the free Ultra HD Texture Pack. The game is unforgivably ugly without it with The Pre-Sequel and everything in it a blurry mess otherwise.
There’s also a really irritating bug where the resolution resets every time you start the game, but these little niggles are worth putting up with.
The Pre-Sequel and all its DLC routinely goes on sale for next to no money and it’s included in The Handsome Collection. If you were one of the people who purposefully avoided it at launch you owe it to yourself to go back and try it.