After two underwhelming DLC extensions, Borderlands returns to the formula that made it a breakout hit last year - guns, loot, and a crack-cocaine addiction to leveling up - with The Secret Armory of General Knoxx.
It's billed as an appropriate challenge for players who have beaten the main game once already. But for higher level characters, does General Knoxx provide enough of a fix? Or have we built up so much tolerance that, no matter how high we get, it'll never feel as good as the first time?
Back Into the Borderlands: Now this is why I bought Borderlands. The Secret Armory of General Knoxx is a rich set of core- and side-missions that more conforms to what you experienced in the main game than in its first two downloadable packages. You're reintroduced to Pandora and its inhabitants, some friendly, most hostile, some familiar, many brand new. Though it demands a lot of driving and has no fast-travel stations to get you around in it, the setting is beautifully conceived and quickly became my favorite of the entire game. You'll split your time between long stretches of bombed-out freeway overpass and the wastelands beneath, which is also what I had in mind when I originally bought Borderlands. For those who have beaten the game and want more of what they enjoyed in it, The Secret Armory of General Knoxx absolutely delivers.
Something New: For everything it does in reincorporating what I loved about Borderlands (including the delightfully foul-mouthed Scooter), this extension does a high quality job in offering new foes and experiences. The drifter, a giant daddy-longlegs spider, is added to the bestiary and even when you're well past its level, should you get shot out of your vehicle on the wastelands, you're likely in for a hell of a fight. The Crimson Lance have a stronger presence in this game and throw new troop types at you - jet pack fighters, medics that heal their comrades, and they're sometimes accompanied by the Devastator, a large suit of powered armor. For the freak show, the midgets are updated as skag riders and rustlers. And you'll be delighted to find them sometimes hiding in lockers, where you can pick up some unique items. The Truxican Wrestler class mod didn't do much for me at the time, but I hung on to it as a trophy. Let's not forget the three new vehicles: The Monster packs heat-seeking missiles and a rocket boost with extra staying power, so I hung with it the most. But the APC allows an entire crew of four to travel at once, with a gunner and a minelayer, and piling in for the first time, you'll feel like one of your old G.I. Joe action figures riding around in a cool new toy.
Imbalance: Unfortunately, my one gripe with The Secret Armory of General Knoxx is a biggie. While some will appreciate the challenge you face playing this on a second playthrough - where you are Level 50, max, and all your foes are at least a level above that - second playthrough was, simply too hard for me. I completed it on first playthrough difficulty (which begins at Level 34) and, while you're not immortal, you can rip through it rather easily. The Lance Assassins - sword-swinging Charlie's Angels who arrive in a crashed space capsule on a mission to kick your ass into tomorrow - were ungodly tough on me, and they are literally the first foes you face. The Lance regenerate armor and health too fast for my comparatively underpowered weapons (level 47 sniper, 19 proficiency. I mean seriously, come on). Elemental varieties didn't seem to work at all on the medic, who is unarmored, even. Taking them on with a level 47 teammate just ramped up the difficulty. Again, some will like this kind of crushing difficulty. Maybe I could deal with it if this was a tactical shooter, but it is not. Borderlands is a game about firepower, rate of fire, and then elemental advantage, in that order, and the damage you deal (and are dealt) is tied to the disparity in levels between you and your foe. First playthrough is so easy and returns so little experience I leveled up just once through the core mission set and, since the weapons top out at Level 40, didn't pick up anything useful for the second playthrough. Second playthrough is so goddamned hard on me I'll run out of money at the New-U Station (well, that's literally impossible, but you get the idea) before I ever get ahead of the opposition, much less make Level 61. Gearbox should have started the second playthrough foes out at level 47 or something. That would have provided enough challenge while still including everyone.
I'm very conflicted about The Secret Armory of General Knoxx. Mostly I'm disappointed that being Level 50, or even above level 41, is about the worst starting point you can be in this game, and given the amount of work I put into that character, it's upsetting to feel so excluded. You're too tough to make the first playthrough anything but a cakewalk. Second playthrough is nothing short of a taunting, bullying experience. And oh, everyone who wants to swing their $#@!s about headshots, sorry, it's not that viable a tactic when you get bumrushed by the Pussycat Dolls from Outer Space, on meth.
At least with the level cap now raised I suppose can go back and grind in the main world, and come back with a fighting chance as a 54 - which, incidentally, I would have been had the XP I continued to accumulate past level 50 been carried over. (It wasn't; you're reset to the Level 50 XP value.) But then, I got this DLC to play it now, not when I grow up to be a big boy.
Borderlands: The Secret Armory of General Knoxx was developed and published by Gearbox for the Xbox 360, PlayStation 3 and PC on Feb. 23. Retails for $9.99 USD/800 Microsoft Points. A copy of the game was given to us by the publisher for reviewing purposes. Completed the core mission set on first playthrough difficulty in both single and multiplayer play. Attempted on second playthrough difficulty and died a bunch. Repeatedly. Lots. Serious.
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