The steady stream of DLC flowing from Gearbox HQ to support Borderlands since last October has been noteworthy, and it appears their strategy is working so far. Nearly 6 months after release, the IP is still relevant and getting face time in many a disk tray. With their third installment, The Secret Armory of General Knoxx, they’re hoping to ensure that the game which Pachter claimed was “sent to die” becomes the game that can’t be killed.
Is Knoxx worth opening Pandora’s box for a third time? Hop in the gunner seat and catch-a-ride with Gamer Limit for the official verdict. As Scooter would say – “This is where the reviews live. Get you one!”.
It’s no secret that I wasn’t completely won over by the first two DLC installments for Borderlands. In the reviews for Zombie Island of Dr. Ned and Mad Moxxi’s Underdome Riot, I praised Gearbox’s commitment to support their title with fully fleshed out post-launch content and take creative risks with gameplay. However, there were certain elements missing from both of those packages that were core to the Borderlands experience I was so smitten with at launch.
In looking at the evolution of these 3 DLC offerings, it appeared that Gearbox wanted to throw a lot of stuff at the wall and see what stuck. Seeing the reactions to Zombie Island and Mad Moxxi has allowed them to create a much more focused and fan-targeted episode with their latest. Knoxx takes many of the successful elements from the previous two installments and combines them with many of the things that players have been clamoring for since the games release to create their most enjoyable post-release effort yet.
Secret Armory picks up the storyline from where the main game leaves off, with the Atlas Corporation (no relation to Fontaine Industries) as the big bad. They’re pretty miffed at the Vault Hunters for the damage done to the Crimson Lance and sundry other offenses; they’re looking to kill the players and fill in the power vacuum on Pandora.
Atlas is sending in a huge force to reclaim control on the planet, but they’re relying on a huge stockpile of advanced weaponry to achieve their goals. This is where the Vault Hunters come in. Teaming up with a disgruntled ex-lieutenant by the name of Athena, they set out to destroy the armory before Atlas can fortify their positions. . . after raiding it for juicy loot, of course.
Borderlands maintains its signature campy style with General Knoxx to great effect. I didn’t have a single session with this DLC that didn’t make me laugh in some way, and many old characters make their return in this installment. Scooter is back for more backwoods chicanery, Marcus returns, and the sultry Mad Moxxi sets up shop outside of the Underdome to provide you with more missions and gratuitous cleavage shots.
One of the highlights of the Zombie Island DLC was the dialogue with Dr. Ned who taunted you via the ECHO system at every turn. This element returns in a big way, as the writing for the game’s villains like General Knoxx and Mr. Shank was uniformly clever and humorously over-the-top. Gearbox has refined the art of not taking their games seriously.
Knoxx takes places in a series of sprawling zones connected by crumbling elevated highways, with T-Bone Junction as the hub. As such, vehicles take a much more prominent role – this is both positive and negative in the context of the gameplay.
Knoxx features new vehicles, all of which have their advantages and are generally fun to drive. The Lancer seats all 4 party members, and all 4 are able to contribute to vehicular combat by driving, manning the turret, laying mines, or operating a blast generator to repulse nearby enemies.
The stretches of road are sometimes difficult to navigate, which results in driving off the edge from time to time. While a minor inconvenience, I found this to actually be more entertaining than negative – driving off ledges is fun for the whole party!
The narrow confines of the roadways, however, proved to work against the vehicle designs. The majority of car-on-car action takes place against the Crimson Lance on the road, and the limited space available leaves little to no options for dodging or outmaneuvering the enemies to hit them properly.
As a result, the best policy is just to hit the afterburners and fly past enemies, which mostly defeats the purpose. Below the roads in the desert sections, the vehicles were much more enjoyable with room to evade and attack.
The other problem with the focus on vehicles is the decision that was made to not include a fast travel option. Early on, this wasn’t as much of a problem, as driving time was shorter and the novelty of the vehicles was high. Later on, having to drive through 2-3 zones just to make it back to T-Bone Junction to turn in a completed quest was a full-on nuisance.
Even a fast travel station at just the entrances to zones would have mitigated this frustration dramatically. I seriously doubt people are looking to escape from their day-to-day lives by engaging in a second virtual commute.
While the issues with the vehicle focus were a fairly large concern, they’re really the only major concerns that crop up in the DLC. Gearbox really went down the grocery list of complaints and made an effort to address each. Enemies, weapons, and raising the level cap were the most common concerns, and this new installment satisfies them all.
Knoxx includes a bevvy of new enemy types. Many of the older units are repurposed in interesting ways, such as the skag riding midgets, who gain a bonus to attack when you kill their pet mounts. Beware their tiny fury. Variations on Crimson Lance units provide additional depth – pyros, chemical soldiers, and even jet-pack wearing rocketeers add seasoning to the mix.
From an asset standpoint, while many of them are re-skins, there are also several entirely new units which provide different challenges. The tall, spider-like striders require caution in the desert sections due to the massive damage they deal, and the crimson assassins that Atlas sends to take you out may surprise you with their quickness.
Knoxx also raises the level cap from 50 to 61 – I loved the Spinal Tap reference in the achievement for hitting 61 (This One Goes To Eleven). While no new skills appear on the tree, the 11 available skill points allow players to drill into branches that they had to previously abandon, making them more efficient death dealers. Having XP from combat count towards level progress goes a long way towards motivating you to keep tangling with the Atlas troops throughout the mission.
Of great importance to many fans of Borderlands, who were initially drawn in by the Diablo-like loot system, is the both the variety and frequency of weapons dropped. This was one of the categories where both Dr. Ned and Mad Moxxi were woefully inadequate. Well, put your concerns to rest – this time General Knoxx brings the beef. (That came out all wrong.)
Enemy drops and and loot chests are plentiful in Atlas controlled areas, and class-specific loot chests add some additional suspense to equipment farming. Unique weapons are gained in certain missions, and a whole new class of rare weapons are introduced – pearlescent.
The final armory mission doesn’t disappoint in terms of loot opportunities, and the game even offers some end-game content. The Circle of Duty offers a Mad Moxxi style arena battle to be tackled in waves, which is only available after the armory has been destroyed. A bonus boss enemy appears after the armory raid which has the highest chance to drop the high-grade stuff.
This final boss, Crawmerax, offers a WoW-lite experience, as it can be farmed over and over. It is designed to be tackled by a full party of players; with the boss at level 64 and the player level capped at 61, you’re going to need some help to succeed in the end-game content.
All in all, The Secret Armory of General Knoxx is a vast improvement over its two older DLC siblings. It proves that Gearbox really is listening to its fanbase, and despite the annoyance of travel from zone to zone I was either laughing, looting, or blasting the whole way through. For fans of Borderlands who want more of what made the main game great plus a little something-something, pick up General Knoxx. . . and call your friends.
Gamer Limit gives The Secret Armory of General Knoxx an 8.5/10.