There must be something about a game when you’ve been too busy playing it to remember finish writing up that review (I like playing games, sue me); and this is exactly the case as I’m still technically not finished with Borderlands 2. In fact I’m not entirely sure anyone can truly finish a Borderlands game; I dumped well over 100 hours across multiple characters (and platforms) in the first one. With that said I think it’s no wonder that developer Gearbox strikes again with the sequel. Simply put- if you loved the first, then you’ll love Borderlands 2.
The story is mostly presented with echo calls from Handsome Jack, evil CEO of weapons manufacturer Hyperion. Jack takes credit for finding and opening the Vault from the first game and is constantly bombarding Pandora mining more of the alien substance, Eridian, and looking for an even bigger vault. He’s ruthless and takes pleasure in smiting anyone that crosses him. It’s now up to you along with a few returning characters (who are leading a resistance) to overthrow Jack before he discovers the new Vault.
Much like the first game, the story seems to take a back seat to the gameplay outside of a few plot twists well into the last quarter. It’s serviceable but fails to feels like an epic journey. Gearbox did put a good deal of effort into the humor- which gets dated a little a times- but mostly gets a good chuckle with the occasional LOL . It’s also a little weird when you run into the original Vault Hunters who are now fully fleshed out with a short backstory and voice. It feels like the devs really wanted to give players an ’a-ha’ moment with each character reveal but it’s mostly off-putting just beacuse you don’t really have any connection to them from their voiceless, and mostly facless, persona from Borderlands.
The new characters keep the tradition of being a voiceless floating gun. You do get a little blurb at the beginning about what they’re look for but honestly it’s forgettable. Characterization aside, Gearbox did make some smart tweaks for each class’ abilities. I played as a commando this go around (yeah, I know, it’s a little straight forward) and the new paths were fun to try out. You can respec at any transportation hub so if you want to mess aorund it’s a only a small monetary setback. You’ll want to experiment around with each class because they have decent range of play style.
Thankfully, you have more options to play dress up for your character. Unlike the first, you can now earn or buy a bunch of new heads and skins to make your class a little more unique. Several of these require you to complete Badass challenges over the course of your career, like kill a hundreds of Skags, shoot tens of thousands of rounds. Some are obviously harder but if you’re looking to milk the most of the game they make a fun way of tracking your stats.
Again, the guns are the real stars and I feel like Gearbox really outdid themself this time. The first game certainly had more than a few firearms but overall the promise of a gazillion guns fell a little flat. Most weapons had a few unique modifiers but primarily felt the same. Borderlands 2 really knocks the idea of limitless variety out of the park. Each weapon feels special to the point that I was exclusively looking for specific manufacturers. The spectrum from gun to gun makes you want to try out everything at least once. Really, this is the main game- finding and sharing incredibly cool guns.
Graphically, you’ll be treated to some pretty great visuals. Colors pop with vibrant bursts of yellows oranges, purples and blues that are contrasted nicely against the hard graphic edge- making Borderlands 2 a living comic-book. Enemy and environmental designs are equally twisted and beautiful showing off the talent of Gearbox’s art department. Gunfire and bombs light up the sky and the attention to detail, like the subtle skull in the smoke plume of an exploded Contructor. Each major location has a unique look, from the grime of Sanctuary to the clean lines of an Hyperion base to the organic shapes of the desert.
Likewise, sounds report nice pops for each round shot and grenades detonate with a solid impact. Grunts and yells are clear, especially, from the delightlfully insane psyhcos who bring much of the physcial humor to the game. The soundtrack provided several driving beats to keep you pumped for the action. From the death throws of Rakk to the grinding robot noises of malfunctioning loader, the sound design pull its weight to keep you immersed.
Despite the fact about how much has stayed the same Gearbox did manage to improve upon the first in a few significant ways. First, the baddies have been upgraded in both smarts and animations. Veterans will remember the cycle of drawing aggro, running backwards, and pumping round after round into a Congo line of enemies chasing after you. Now, psychos and creatures will take cover more often and slowly limp or retreat after taking enough damage. The battlefield feels more alive, especially when coming up the titanic constructor robots which are able to create an army various loader bots to harass your vault hunter. The Hyperion oaders present some of the greater challenges in the game because you have to be aware of which kind you are fighting, especially when you have repair drones healing the mechanical menaces faster than you can destroy them. Another really interesting baddie is the Goliath- a massive dimwitted giant that you can rile up in a blood frenzy by whittling down its health. What’s really cool is that the Goliath will then start killing other psychos and leveling up making him more dangerous but can also help you out in a pinch. Afterwards, you get all the experience he gained while slaughtering his brethren if you manage to slay him.
The greater variety in foes is in contrast to the number of bosses. It might be from a bit of fan feedback as the bosses in Borderlands were pretty weak gameplay-wise. The DLC improved on them a little bit but when it comes down it, it was pretty much find a place you couldn’t get hit and take a few potshots to eventually win. This time you’ll have to dance around a bit and think about your next few moves but with a four player team it really help to just have one or run interference and have the heavy hitters max out damage. They’re a little more memorable beacuse there really aren’t that many bosses.
The gunplay has a nice meaty feel overall and the many, many rifles, rocket launchers, SMGs, and sniper rifles you’ll find all have a unique touch. It doesn’t take long to get used to each new weapon you find, and within a few minutes, you’ll be an expert markesman. The controls are pretty smooth though it sometimes feels little lethargic when turning. A quick jump in the controller options will fix that.
The combat doesn’t all shine, however. Vehicles return, mostly as a mean of transport, but more than often you’ll have a few Mad Max styled encounters that might leave you frustrated. Driving or riding shotgun isn’t terrible but if they wanted you to drive around so much it would have been nice to have more options or even special loot to upgrade your ride. Fortunately, you earn a four-seater early on so you can gather all your friends for a road trip.
Speaking of friends, the real meat of the game is the online component. Sure, it’s possible to play solo but you’ll miss out on lot of what makes Borderlands 2 special. Drop in and out worked smoothly enough on the Xbox and you’re able open up play to the greater public on the fly. I suffered a few hiccups here and there with syncing but that’s probably mostly because it was prelaunch. You’ll also get a bump in difficulty with the reward of better loot and experience with the added help, so if you’re looking for a challenge a group of four will max out the difficulty.
A lot can be said about sticking with a formula that works. Essentially Borderlands 2 is the same as the first- an addicting, loot-based, dungeon crawling, shooter concentrated on co-op play with a touch of humor. You could just say it’s exactly like the first but more and you’d have a pretty clear idea of what you’re getting. Gearbox’s second pass at the world of Pandora adds another level of polish to an already fun first game. If you like your games to be loud and colorful with a touch of humor, you’ll have an absolute blast with this one.
[Borderlands 2 copy provided by 2K, played on Xbox 360]