Thursday, September 12, 2013

Video Game Characters

When I first heard that Borderlands 2 was coming out, I was afraid that they would spoil the awesome legacy that is Borderlands. I bought the game anyway, and found that it was actually fairly true to Borderlands. There is a painful amount of hipster humor that is very very jarring in the context of the far off world of Pandora, but otherwise the game is pretty true to its origins.

The part that they did get wrong is the playable characters. Mordecai, Lilith, Roland, and Brick were great characters. Literally each one of them was a blast to play. This time around, we have Zero, Salvador, Somebody, and Somebody. In all the interviews and pre-release noise, everyone was saying that if you liked Mordecai, then you should play as Zero. If you liked Lilith, then you should play as what's her name. And so on.

They could not have been more wrong.

I started playing Zero and at first I loathed him. But I thought that maybe I was just missing Mordecai, so I continued through a few level-ups. Still hated him. Finally, two-thirds through the game, I realized that I hated Zero because he's nothing like Mordecai, and that was the playing experience I was really looking for. He might be tall and thin, but that's where the similarities end.

Mordecai's special attack was a long-range falcon who would fly out and tear opponents' eyes out of their sockets, leaving only loot behind. Zero's ability is to project an image of himself to distract his enemies for five seconds, during which Zero cannot actually fight or else he will give his location away. Um, yeah.

The siren characters are nothing alike, either. The new siren suspends enemies in a shield for a few seconds. Lilith? she phase walked, inflicting damage to everyone in her way.

The new abilities inflict no damage. That makes them pretty useless and not really much fun to use.

Now I'm playing as Salvador. So far, I am liking him a lot more than I'd have thought. I don't consider myself a gun nut, but as far as playability, he seems to be the best character.

This issue doesn't really limit itself to Borderlands. I think a lot of games suffer, through no fault of their own, from our own preconceptions of what character types there are. In Borderlands' case, we all had existing expectations of what the tall-thin character would play like,what the siren would play like, what the big-burly dude would do, and so on. But they tricked us, and made Salvador the Mordecai of B2, the soldier the soldier, and, well, they just screwed us over with Zero and Mira or whatever her name is.

I've heard this said before, though, and I am going to echo it here: games should use the Kingdoms of Amalor model, where you can change your mind at any point during the game! It's not like it costs the game programmers to let the players do this, so why not? I just started Dungeon Seige III, and as usual I was presented with a choice in characters. I chose the long-range character because it sounded like that was the gameplay style I enjoy. I start the game and realize that there's no WAY in DS3 to stay out of the fray. Long range fighting with pistols and rifles is ridiculous. You're in battle where people are beating you with swords and all you can do is rapid fire from your pistols, and it takes 8 hits to take someone down. So I switched to a fighter character and am having a lot more fun, but it meant that I had to start back at the beginning, and that's dumb.

Next Gen, PLEASE. Let us switch classes!

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