Monday, April 15, 2013

Sir Hammerlock's Big Game Hunt is Kind of "Meh"

Sir Hammerlock's Big Game Hunt is the third DLC campaign for Borderlands 2, and as the title suggests, it didn't do much to impress me. This seems to be a continuing trend with the BL2 DLCSir Hammerlock's strongest (perhaps only) selling point is that it features some really interesting environments that provide a much-needed change of pace from the typical BL2 scenery, especially after Torgue's Campaign marked a return to drab desert wastelands. The maps are huge and promote a lot of fun, engaging exploration (even though, in typical BL2 fashion, it isn't always rewarded), which is almost enough to make this a passable DLC on its own.  

The big issues with this DLC lie with the quests. The main questline itself is way too short, easily finished in under two hours -- half that time if you just plow through it. The main quest is straightforward and devoid of any interesting twists or other such developments in the plot, and there's very little reason to care about the practically non-existent "conflict" between the Vault Hunters and the new antagonist, Professor Nakayama. The central conflict is even introduced as a nuisance that Sir Hammerlock has absolutely zero interest in, and he only reluctantly sends you off to deal with Nakayama so you can go about the hunting expedition further undisturbed. 

Nakayama himself is a fairly unique antagonist, though, in the sense that he's barely a villain at all. He's a bit of a mad scientist with a fanatical interest in Handsome Jack, so after Jack's demise Nakayama set about attempting to clone Jack. His ship crashlands in the Aegrus region, halting his plans and interrupting your hunting safari with Sir Hammerlock. He initially challenges you to satisfy his own ego, demanding your attention and feeling insulted that you and Hammerlock initially ignore him -- but, after killing one of his monsters, he quickly comes to regret challenging you and second-guesses himself. He's ultimately proven to be an insecure push-over, and the way with which he's finally dispatched is incredibly anti-climactic. 

Scenery that reminds me a little of Portal 2

I understand other gamers feel jilted and ripped-off by the anti-climactic ending, and by Nakayama's tepid screen presence, but I found both of these somewhat refreshing after the obnoxiously over-the-top presentation of nearly everything in Torgue's Campaign. It's just nice, for once, to have a villain who's unsure of himself and who actually acknowledges my character's badassitude. It does feel as though Gearbox may have felt they were being incredibly witty juxtaposing Nakayama and Jack, and the conclusion ultimately doesn't pay off in perhaps the way they intended it to, but I was alright with it. I actually smiled and was somewhat satisfied by the anti-climactic ending.

The side-quests, meanwhile, are pretty boring and straightforward too. The majority of side-quests are "big game hunts" (as per the title and initial premise of the DLC), where Hammerlock sends you to fight bigger, stronger versions of ordinary monsters. These fights are generally mundane because the enemies pose no great threat and, with minimal exceptions, are disposed of in the exact same manner as their common, smaller counterparts. Most of the time the objectives are just "go here, kill that, report back," with a few quests requiring you to follow tracks to find the target. These kinds of objectives are welcome in mixing things up and making you feel more like you're actually hunting, but their implementation feels perfunctory and inconsequential to the greater purpose of the quests. 

Other quests involve such rote, mundane tasks as collecting 23 eggs that are spread out all over the ginormous Hunter's Grotto, killing a half-dozen or more rare versions of five different enemies, breaking canisters of DNA samples spread out across a map, and flipping switches. There's one quest in particular where Claptrap attempts to make a switch-flipping objective fun and amusing, but even he ultimately gives up  and acknowledges that these objectives are boring as shit. So basically, none of the quests are particularly exciting -- I can't even remember most of them because they were so inconsequential. 

A witch doctor tornado in combat. 

Like the interesting new environments, Sir Hammerlock also introduces a number of fairly interesting enemies to fight. The common wasteland bandits have been replaced by "savages" (primitive tribesmen equipped with spears and handaxes), which basically serve the exact same function as the various bandit types, except for the inclusion of witch doctors. Witch doctors feature mechanically distinct behavior unlike any other enemy in the game -- they can heal themselves and other savages, they can resurrect fallen comrades, and they can even powerup their allies. Witch doctors are usually charged with some type of elemental attack, and they can even turn themselves into a twister that knocks you completely out of the battle for several seconds.

The effect of witch doctors is that combat is actually a little challenging for once, and not just because of over-inflated health/damage sliders. Going into a fight with witch doctors means you have to concentrate firepower on the witch doctors (who, admittedly, still suffer from over-inflated health/damage sliders, sometimes making them tediously annoying to take down) so that they don't make the fight harder than it already is. So that's kind of cool having enemies that actually behave different and which introduce new gameplay mechanics, rather than just being reskinned versions of existing enemies.

There are a few other new enemies to fight as well, which unfortunately don't introduce as many new gameplay mechanics as the witch doctors, but they're different enough from typical BL2 enemies to make the experience somewhat worthwhile. For starters, there are the drifters -- the giant stilt-legged striders from The Secret Armory of General Knoxx. Then you've got elemental spores that float in the air and send out exploding elemental missiles. And finally, there are the boroks, which basically function like shield-less stalkers and aren't all that interesting. 

A missed opportunity for an Ocarina of Time reference.

Otherwise, most of the dialogue is pretty lame and forgettable, below what you'd expect from the writers at Gearbox, without any noteworthy new characters. The new vehicle -- a fan boat with elemental gunnery -- serves very little purpose in the maps and wasn't very fun to use. Despite some of the maps being incredibly large, the vehicle was cumbersome to drive around all the rocks, cliffs, and narrow passages. Literally all of the unique weapons and items are only obtainable by farming, which some might find appealing, but I'm sick to death of wasting time farming enemies for a slim hope of getting something interesting, so I'm basically not getting any lasting impact on my character out of this DLC. Also, I found myself getting caught on seemingly smooth terrain way too frequently in this DLC, which was slightly annoying.

In the end, Sir Hammerlock's Big Game Hunt, like the other DLCs, is a mixed bag of lukewarm acceptability with occasional dashes of disappointment and glimmers of greatness. It's ultimately just more Borderlands 2, with a new premise to promote shooting and looting, and really, that's all you need. For fans addicted to the shoot n' loot rhythm of BL2, this DLC will satisfy that craving, but for anyone looking for something to really spice up what's becoming a bit stale and repetitive, Sir Hammerlock doesn't quite bring its A-game. The environments and enemies are all fresh and interesting, but the quests and story are drab and tedious. So it's kind of "meh." 

No comments:

Post a Comment