There are a lot of things I enjoy about the Borderlands series. The huge number of guns. The crazy builds and classes. The extreme amounts of chaos and death and destruction. The Bandit Technical vehicle with explosive barrel launcher. But there is something that gets in the way of all of that. Borderlands 2’s intro levels.
The actual intro, which introduces you to the four non-DLC classes, is very nicely done. But then you get blown up and have to deal with the last surviving Claptrap unit. Thus begins a journey that can’t decide on how hard or easy to make things for you.
To be fair, it IS a tutorial area. But the difficulty is all over the place. The very, very first area where you pick up your first gun is understandably easy but then you have a boss battle with multiple enemies and all you have are very basic pistols. It’s piss easy though if you get the Gearbox weapons, which plonk two fitting weapons into your inventory right off the bat, rendering the My First Gun mission useless.
You move on from there though, towards the Southern Shelf, and difficulty spikes and ebbs like crazy. The welcoming fight between you, Bandits and Bullymongs can overwhelm you if you don’t expect it, but then you get a mission immediately afterwards to clear out some more Bullymongs and that’s a piece of cake. If you accept the basic tutorial side quest to get a better shield, you could find yourself fighting level 6 badass bullymongs before you’ve hit level 4.
Then, very quickly, you’re thrown into a boss fight with no real warning, no healing station and a massive gun pointed in your direction. The Boom Bewm fight isn’t hard, but it is a spike in difficulty with not even a decent ammo vendor nearby. The Captain Flynt fight is also pretty tricky and, weirdly, also doesn’t have a health station nearby. Sure, the Captain’s moves are all easy to see and react to, but the waves of enemies aren’t and there’s next to no real cover in that fight.
Once you’re out of the Southern Shelf though, it’s pretty much smooth sailing until you reach Sanctuary. In fact, the whole Sanctuary area feels insanely easy compared to the Southern Shelf, but that might be because you aren’t fighting bosses armed with cannons while all you have are pistols. Shotguns don’t seem to be a thing until you leave the Southern Shelf anyway, despite the fact that you can get grenade mods far before that.
But what throws you off more though are the weirdly very sporadic tips. Some things aren’t obvious. You have to go out of your way to discover customization machines and what those weird customization pickups are and the whole “enemies with skulls are too dangerous” is a loading screen tip. But it wasn’t until I got to the area before Sanctuary, retrieving the power core, that Claptrap explains that an objective might be in one of two different locations and that I’d have to search both. Why am I being told that when I’m 5 minutes away from Sanctuary? Why couldn’t I have been told that in the actual tutorial areas?
All the while, Claptrap is making your life a misery.
Of course, everything is made worse by Claptrap. Most of the game, you can ignore him, but most of the starting level consists of either you following Claptrap while he treats you like an idiot, or waiting for Claptrap to move his ass and do a thing, normally fail at opening a door. The character is intentionally annoying, which is fine in short bursts but really isn’t here. His screams though continue to echo as you play through the early story missions, and they don’t stop until you defeat Captain Flynt and make your way towards Sanctuary.
I suppose it can be amusing the first time you play the tutorial area. Or if you’re playing with someone else. But none of this is skippable. You have to go through this tutorial hell every time you start a new character but also every time you transfer into True and Ultimate Vault Hunter Mode. There are ways to speed things up, but you will still get messages about how to do basic things and you still have to wait for Claptrap to move his ass.
Really, compared to the rest of the game, the early levels are a massive slog. It can really drain a player. And it almost certainly will drain returning characters.