It’s no secret: I really enjoyed Borderlands. The game really took me by surprise. It was not on my radar at all until I heard more and more gamers talking about how much they were enjoying it. I got it, started playing with Yuoma from the site, and in no time I was hooked. The coop in the game was the best I had played up to that point, and over the next year and a half, I logged more time in that game than any other I have played. A couple of friends of mine at work and I would log in almost every Friday night and spend at least four hours taking on the denizens of Pandora.
When the DLC was announced, many of us were interested in seeing what Gearbox would add to the game. The Zombie Island of Dr Ned was great, adding new enemies and a rather fun storyline. Then came Mad Moxxi’s Underdome Riot, a rather odd arena combat DLC that just did not live up to the standards Gearbox had set. The developers stated they had heard the complaints of the players, and they promised the next DLC would be more of the Borderlands gameplay players loved.
With The Secret Armory of General Knoxx, Gearbox more than delivered on that promise.
More Like an expansion Pack
The Secret Armory of General Knoxx follows the story of Athena, a former assassin with the Crimson Lance who is now trying to take them down. She enlists the help of the vault hunters, who are now wanted criminals in the eyes of the Lance, to destroy a hidden and heavily guarded armory of weapons the Lance intend to use to subjugate Pandora. Standing between you and this goal is General Knoxx, a bored with life veteran of the Lance who, though he absolutely cannot stand his superiors, is too much the “good soldier” to just allow the vault hunters to waltz in and destroy what he has been instructed to protect. As you progress to the eventual showdown with Knoxx, you will have to face ninja assassins, closeted warriors and soldiers immune to one of the various elemental attacks your weapons can wield. You also get a level cap increase with the DLC, allowing you to now level your characters up to 61 (Gearbox later raised the cap to 69 for free).
One of the first things players will notice when entering Secret Armory is the trademark Borderlands humor is back. Throughout the DLC, you will be laughing as you discover who Scooter’s mom is, listen to updates from Athena that she has cleverly disguised within advertisements for “male enhancement” and marvel at how anyone could be suckered into paying to see the “World’s Largest Bullet” (there is an achievement for doing that, by the way). It is clear that the writers for Gearbox had fun with the story for Secret Armory, and as a result, so does the player.
Longtime listeners to the show will be familiar with the rant both Chris Maeurer and I like to make about how we miss the expansion packs back in the day. They were more like sequels than DLC, adding a ton of new content to the game. The Secret Armory of General Knoxx feels more like an expansion pack than any DLC I have ever played before. The amount of content in the game is enormous, and if you do all the side quests, you could easily spend upwards of 20 hours playing through it. The game also brought some very difficult challenges with it, the two most notable being the Circle of Duty arena challenge and taking down Crawmerax the Invincible. Crawmerax is easily the hardest fight in the game, but if you can beat it, you get some truly amazing loot.
So Secret Armory was a “return to form” for Gearbox, feeling much more connected with the original game than Underdome Riot. It’s not all good news, however.
Chinks in the Armory
As you can probably guess based on my comments on how large Secret Armory is, the maps for the DLC are huge. Unfortunately, it also suffers from the same issue every other piece of Borderlands DLC does: no fast travel. You can use the fast travel to get to T-Bone Junction, the town where you start the DLC, but that is it. Everywhere else you go you have to reach on foot or by vehicle. Fortunately, Secret Armory gives you a few new vehicle options, including a Racer which will help you cover ground much more quickly than you could before. Unfortunately, there are several areas you cannot take a vehicle through, and many of them are placed between you and where you need to go. Add to that how the missions seem to bounce back and forth from one end of the maps to another, and you have a lot of time spent traveling to your destination as opposed to actually trying to beat the mission.
The other major problem with Secret Armory is also shared by the other DLC: inconsistent difficulty. If you wait to go to T-Bone Junction after beating the game and Zombie Island, you will more than likely be so highly leveled on first playthrough that the missions will seem like a cake walk. If you enter it on second playthrough, on the other hand, the first several missions will be nightmarishly hard, especially if you start out entering it at level 50. Many of the enemies will be that level or a couple higher, and it will take more than a few regens before you gain enough experience to really take them on. As well as the enemies scale to your level in much of the rest of the game, they do not seem to do that in Secret Armory, and this can make it very difficult to determine which playthrough you want to use. The positive thing is once you do get leveled up, the DLC does a much better job of scaling the enemies to your level, providing just enough challenge even for your level 69 characters.
DLC Done Right
As much as Chris and I like to rag on DLC, we will admit when a game developer does right by it. Gearbox has done just that here, making a DLC campaign that is rich, varied and absolutely huge. The $10 price tag is a bargain for everything that is included with Secret Armory, and it alone makes the Game of the Year version of Borderlands worth picking up. For setting the standard for what DLC can be, The Secret Armory of General Knoxx gets a 9 out of 10.