Borderlands 2 Ultimate Vault Hunter Mode Review

Originally, Borderlands 2 was not designed with a level cap raise in mind – everything in development was geared towards maxing out at 50. So when thousands of Borderlands 2 gamers had multiple level 50 character a few months (or weeks, in many cases) after release, Gearbox found themselves in a bit of a conundrum: stick to their guns, or go back in and tinker with the math to add more levels?

Last month’s announcement of the new Vault Hunter being added (a melee-based Psycho class, which season pass members will not get free access to) brought an answer; and on April 2nd, Gearbox dropped a big update adding Ultimate Vault Hunter mode to the game (along with some other tweaks and additions), providing players with a third play through, raising the level cap to 61 and reintroducing the Pearlescent weapons from Borderlands’s The Secret Army of General Knoxx DLC.

I finally had a chance to sit down and play some Ultimate Vault Hunter mode this weekend, and the experience can mostly be summed up with two words: bullet sponges. If you thought the enemies towards the end of the second play through (or in the most recent DLC, Sir Hammerlock’s Big Game Hunt) ate a lot of bullets, wait until arriving back in the Berg and making your way to Sanctuary the third time around: it’s definitely slow going, and will involve lots and lots of dying.

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Thanks to the tweaks to slag effects and the damage they do, walking around without a slag weapon in this mode is not a smart idea, even if you’ve got multiple legendary lvl 50 weapons at your disposal – the general increase in health for each enemy (about 4x of normal enemies, according to Gearbox’s press release), plus their new ability to regenerate health, guarantees that every encounter, no matter how minor, will be a drawn-out experience. Of course, co-op play helps this a bit, but if someone jumps into your public game on level 53+ while you’re on level 50, forget being able to do anything but minor damage to the smallest, easier to defeat enemies.

In other words, the third play through certainly will provide a lot of hours of gameplay, although in a way, the super high health and regen rates for enemies and bosses make it a much slower, repetitive experience than previous DLC’s – just think the frustrations of the Sir Hammerlock DLC all over again (which by the way, I haven’t attempted in UVHM Mode, and may just completely avoid, thanks to those damn all-powerful tribal witches that heal and level up other bad guys constantly). 

There are some goodies to find: the addition of “Ancient” e-tech relics and the return of pearlescent weapons does provide some value in playing through again, in addition to the 11 extra skill points that can be earned and the backpack/bank/ammo upgrades added to the Eridium shop allow for more supplies to carry around. However, the drop rates for pearlescent weapons are so minuscule, even when compared to the laughably low legendary loot drops, that finding pearlescent weapons promises to be a long, arduous journey of frustration.

Unfortunately, Ultimate Vault Hunter mode is so geared toward cooperative play, there’s almost no reason to ever play it alone – it becomes difficult in the worst kind of way, diminishing the presence of skill and relying a little too heavily on slag effects and long, drawn out gunfights to disperse of a few enemies. The enemies themselves don’t behave any differently than they did on True Vault Hunter mode – which means they’re just the same enemies with severely jacked-up health. It’s not a very creative way to extend gameplay – in a way, it feels like Gearbox stacked the deck against players to artificially extend the experience, which is a disappointing way to lengthen the entertaining campaign.

Raising the level cap to 61 was a necessary move for Borderlands 2 – with three big DLC’s being released in the time since most players hit level 50, there was an overwhelming desire for gamers who wanted a rewarding DLC experience, instead just of making their way through them for a couple disappointing weapons and nothing else. But the Ultimate Vault Hunter mode is often more trouble than its worth, lengthening its campaign in the worst way possible: by making everything impossible to defeat (and not in a fun, creative way: it’s basically slag and shoot, or die), and generally increasing the difficulty to the point of frustration, without enough rewarding moments to make it feel like a worthy third trip around the world of Pandora.

Grade: 6.5/10

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