Written by: Big Ross, CC2K Staff Writer
There's a whole lot to love (and a little to be annoyed by) in the latest Borderlands DLC.
Gearbox has released three separate installments of DLC (downloadable content) for their hit shooter Borderlands. You may have enjoyed the turn for the macabre the developer took in The Zombie Island of Dr. Ned, and maybe you had a blast in Mad Moxxi's Underdome Riot, but if you were wanting to experience more traditional, but completely new Borderlands gameplay, The Secret Armory of General Knoxx may be just the thing to satisfy your murderous, loot-hunting cravings and serve as a surprisingly effective outlet for your road rage. Read on for my full review.
TSAOGK (I don't want to type the entire name every time!) starts as the other two DLC packs have, by adding a new location to the fast-travel system. This time it's a place called t-bone Junction. Upon arriving you learn of Athena, a Crimson Lance assassin who's recognized the sinister intentions of her corporate military employer and gone rogue, leading a one-woman fight to drive the Crimson Lance from Pandora for good. Her latest target is a secret Crimson Lance armory run by a General Knoxx (umm, duh and or hello), and she's going to need your help to make it go BOOM.
There's plenty to love in this expansion, not the least of which is the inclusion of a level cap raise from 50 to 61. It's appropriate because TSAOGK is definitely designed for higher-level characters. I first traveled to t-bone Junction at level 47, and I promptly, swiftly, and repeatedly had my ass handed to me. I imagine that a group of 2 or 3 lower-level characters could handle themselves, but I played this solo. Not that I'm complaining about the difficulty. I started TSAOGK during my second playthrough of Borderlands, and the new challenges and heightened sense of danger was a welcome change to the relative cakewalk that was (and is) the main game.
Speaking of changes, something else that is new to TSAOGK is the emphasis on vehicular travel and combat. 3 new vehicles are available, the Racer (basically a high performance version of the Outrunner), the Monster (you can probably figure that one out, right?), and the Lancer. Given its armor and weapons I spent most of my time tooling around in the Monster, though there are times when the sheer speed of the Racer comes in handy. And while this emphasis on driving is fine in that the controls are mostly great and the levels are just so damn big you wouldn't want to try to get around on foot, there are a couple of problems that I have with it. First of all, the vehicles have some odd, frustrating tendencies. Such as if you barely clip a flimsy looking barricade with your front right fender, it will bring you to an immediate and complete stop. I'm driving the freakin' Monster around. This thing looks like it has 2-3 feet of clearance minimum; why can't I just go all monster truck on that shit? And far more often than they should vehicles get stuck on stuff. Boulders, piles of junk, ramps that I didn't hit at the proper angle, the culprit changed but the effect was the same: spinning tires but zero movement.
Secondly, you have no choice in how you get around in TSAOGK. There's one fast travel station to take you from anywhere in the main game to t-bone Junction, but no fast travel between locations within the expansion. You simply have to use a vehicle. And the two "levels" where most of the action takes place (Deep Fathoms & Sunken Sea) are separated from each other and t-bone Junction by long, linear highway levels, as depicted in this rather simplistic drawing I made.
Like I said, most of the action takes place in the destinations of Sunken Sea and Deep Fathoms (and points beyond). Aside from your first time driving through these levels, you're going to be hitting the afterburner as often as possible to traverse these levels as quickly as you can. The problem is that each contain multiple re-spawn points for enemies, such that even after you've beaten each highway level there are the same (and just as many) enemies waiting for you on your repeat trip. And get this, while you can drive virtually unimpeded northbound to Sunken Sea ignoring all enemies along the way, on your return trip to t-bone Junction the road is blocked and you have to disembark from your vehicle and travel for awhile on foot. This was interesting the first time it happened, by by the fourth or fifth repetition it was just really annoying.
Before I get back to the good stuff, allow me to complain about just one more thing. There seems to be a problem with the enemy AI proximity/threat sensors. For example, there are these new creatures called Drifters (think the tri-pods from War of the Worlds mashed with a giant Daddy Long-legs) that stalk the larger levels. You can lock onto and fire upon them from a considerable distance with the Monster's homing missiles (did I mention it has those? Very nice.) They'll just sit there and stomp there legs and thrash about until you kill them. They won't advance and attack, won't attempt to retreat to safety, just sit there and take it. Many of the Crimson Lance enemy types are like this too. I'm really sort of conflicted about this, because while it can make it easier to take down some of these tougher enemies, it cheapens the gameplay experience pretty significantly. It sort of feels like a cheat that I don't quite deserve.
Getting back to the praising, the good really does outweigh the bad. Even if you subtract out the meaningless transit time getting from one quest objective to the next, there is still a significant chunk of new gameplay here. New enemy types, new twists on some old favorites (4 words: skag riding psycho midgets(!)), and plenty of new loot. And in addition to all of that goodness, TSAOGK possesses an attention to story that the main quest of Borderlands sorely lacked (I know I said it didn't really matter in my review; it does). But I think the thing I've been enjoying most about TSAOGK (aside from all that glorious, glorious loot) is the humor. Borderlands had its moments, and The Zombie Island of Dr. Ned took things to the next level, but TSAOGK outdoes both of them. I haven't laughed so much playing a video game since Brutal Legend, and I daresay TSAOGK is funnier. To wit:
Perhaps the best thing about The Secret Armory of General Knoxx is that it's available for a mere $10 or so on Xbox Live. For the amount of quality content Gearbox is including, you'd be crazy to pass this up.