Platforms: PC | PS3 | Xbox 360 (reviewed)
Developer: Gearbox Software
Publisher: 2K Games
Borderlands 2 season pass holders have had a pretty good time of it thus far. Scarlet offered us adventure and plenty of buckles to be swashed. Mr. Torgue revelled in EXPLOSIONS AND SHOUTING, while paradoxically delivering the best writing of the series in BLOCK CAPITALS. Critically, there was something for everyone, and we've been looking forward to the third instalment with high expectations.
Sir Hammerlock's Big Game Hunt is slightly different, however, in that it seems to be designed for a particular kind of Borderlands 2 player. Specifically: level 50, Bee Shield-toting, raid boss farming, cooperative hardcore Vault Hunters craving a stern new challenge to break up the grindy 'item hunt.' Gearbox have given game complete players some meaty end-game content to get stuck into, especially with a few friends along for the ride. Some truly intimidating bosses await the intrepid adventurers who dare enter the savage continent of Aegrus, while the powerful new Witch Doctor enemy is good and ready to work you over.
Which, of course, means that solo players who boot up Borderlands 2 to unwind after a stressful day are in for a world of pain.
A relaxing hunting trip in the company of the genteel Sir Hammerlock turns into a ferocious showdown with the evil (and slightly apathetic) Professor Nakayama and his army of Handsome Jack-worshipping savages. Though stuffed with potential, the story questline ends up being the most disappointing aspect of the experience, on merit of its surprisingly short three-mission length, tame writing that fails to make the most of its stereotypical colonial setting and a limp antagonist who rarely makes more than a halfhearted effort to stand out in Pandora's rogue's gallery. With the exception of some suitably pithy lines from Sir Hammerlock and an excellent gag near the climax of the third mission, Big Game Hunt is sorely lacking in character and memorable moments throughout its brief storyline.
Now for the good news. Big Game Hunt isn't really about providing players with another mini-campaign, rather, the real joy of the expansion is to be found in exploring its beautifully designed levels in search of big game. To hunt. Hence the name. The savage continent of Aegrus is stuffed full of optional subquests, most of which revolve around tracking down and dispatching some enormous bosses who require a little brainpower and forward-planning to defeat rather than just brute force (though one objective does involve cleaning up puddles of urine, admittedly). You'll need to bring your A game - and preferably three friends - but some powerful loot and hectic battles make it worth your while.
The level design is arguably worth the price of admission by itself, and deserves special mention. Big Game Hunt's sprawling environments shine from both an artistic and technical standpoint, offering dense and moody jungle vistas that resemble nothing we've seen in the franchise to date and geometry that strikes a perfect balance between raw size and tight focus. With the addition of an Everglades-inspired propeller boat and Endor-esque treehouse villages to explore, Aegrus really does feel like a whole new continent and a breath of fresh air.
It's time to tackle the main draw of Big Game Hunt head-on: it's intended to be an incredibly stiff challenge for veteran vault hunters. Disgustingly alien new foes such as the towering Borok and menacing Scaylion will put game-complete players through their paces (and instantly decimate anyone under level thirty), but one of the major hurdles comes in the form of the outrageously tough Witch Doctor savage. Protected from critical hits by his tribal mask and sporting an enormous amount of health, this exotic enemy delights in healing every enemy in an enormous radius and periodically powering his fellows up into increasingly more powerful badass forms. You'll run into them on a regular basis, and when you do, you'd better be prepared for one hell of a fight.
Teamwork and communication have never been more important. Maya and Zero will have their work cut out in locking down the Witch Doctors and bosses before they can negate your damage, while Commandos and Gunzerkers will have their hands full dealing with desperate crowd control. Level 50 players will frequently find themselves pushed to the limit in the face of the increasingly ferocious odds, and end up at the New U machine more often than they'd perhaps like to admit. In this respect, Big Game Hunt succeeds in its remit of providing a new setting for the item hunt and a perfect way of putting your newly-farmed gear to good use.
The new raid boss, Dexidous the Invincible, will also punish your party beyond all reason (note that you won't even be able to find it unless you're accompanied by three other skilled players and have a massive stock of leftover Eridium).
Unfortunately, Gearbox' decision to focus on difficulty and cooperative challenge makes Big Game Hunt incredibly gruelling for solo players, or those who enjoy Borderlands 2 as a way to relax and unwind. Even the regular witch doctor battles can become obnoxiously tough for a single Vault Hunter to deal with, and when you factor in the tough bosses, many will find the experience to be a brutal and unrelenting chore. Personally, I can't help but that the level curve is perhaps a little steep in Playthrough 2 when playing alone, and I daresay that numerous season pass holders will emerge from the short campaign feeling brutalised and short-changed.
By now, you should know if Big Game Hunt is right for you.
Finally, it's worth noting that the need for a level cap increase has never been more evident. Big Game Hunt is stuffed with opportunities to earn experience (not limited to cultivating and farming the Witch Doctor's evolving Badass allies for boosted XP), but it's wasted on the the maximum-level target audience. Gearbox promise that the level cap will be increased before the end of March, which will make this third expansion much more worthwhile.
- Sprawling jungle environments impress from an artistic and level design standpoint
- Plenty of subquests, bosses and optional objectives
- Delivers a tough endgame challenge and loot for experienced cooperative players
- Short questline, weaker characters and writing than we're used to
- Gruelling and frustrating for solo players
- Feels a little flaccid without a level cap increase
The Short Version: Sir Hammerlock's Big Game Hunt succeeds in its primary quest of giving veteran Vault Hunters a satisfying end-game challenge to cut their teeth on, but outrageously difficult new encounters and a seriously short campaign limits its appeal. Exploring the beautifully-realised jungle will make much more sense once Gearbox increases the level cap.