I would go as far to say that Borderlands was an addiction. I rolled Brick my first play through and Roland my 2nd. I was completely addicted to the game play and, of course, the loot. It was a good formula that worked and kept me playing for hours on end. With Borderlands 2, Gearbox has taken that formula, refined it a bit, and slapped it into a new game with a new story. Welcome back to Pandora.
The game takes place a few years after the first game ends. You play as four new vault hunters in search of treasure and loot. After the first vault was opened by the original cast, the Hyperion Corporation led by a smart aleck by the name of Handsome Jack takes the credit for opening the vault and essentially rules the planet of Pandora. A special alien element called Eridium was found in the vaults and is now showing up everywhere. It has some special powers that everyone seems to want. Now, the new vault hunters are teaming up with the resistance led by some very familiar faces from the first game to stop Handsome Jack before he opens up another vault.
The game holds the familiar formula in place. It is, at its core, a first-person shooter with heavy RPG elements. Yes, you still need to be a decent shot if you want to win, but with the elemental weapons and special abilities in place, even the shakiest gun in Pandora can hold their own.
There are some major similarities to the classes in the first game, but what Gearbox has done to the skill trees is what sets your character apart from others. While Axton the Commando feels like Roland the Solider with his own turret, you can place points into the three distinct skill trees to have Axton play completely different. It is more diverse than the first game. If you ever find yourself disliking the route you went with your character, you can easily respec at anytime for a small fee at customization stations. The other characters are Zer0 the Assassin, whose power is to deploy a decoy and go into a stealth mode that will allow for a more powerful next attack; Maya the Siren, who has the ability to suspend enemies with psychic powers; and Salvador the Gunzerker who, when using his ability, will allow him to dual wield guns for double the fun. With the skill trees in place, and the different classes, you may never have the same character twice.
They say that variety is the spice of life. Well, in Borderlands 2, the variety of guns has been ramped up from the first game. You will constantly find weapons, shields, class mods and other items to equip to make your character stronger. Now, I know there’s a ton of loot to get in this game. You will always find something to pick up, but that doesn’t necessarily mean you’re going to want to equip it. For a game that says it has a bazillion guns in it, you’ll find that most of those guns are worthless. After about three hours of playing the game, I found a weapon that I kept with me for the next four hours. I even began ignoring drops after a while just because I knew there was nothing that was going to help me out. It was actually really disappointing.
There are other things you can do to upgrade your characters as well. You will find Eridium shards that you can trade to a merchant for more carrying capacity and ammo packs. You can also complete challenges that give you “Badass” ranks that reward you with points that you can use to upgrade not only the character you’re using, but all of your future characters in your profile. These upgrades include better accuracy, more weapon damage, higher critical hit damage and many others. The upgrading is robust and keeps me invested.
You can now customize your character to a small extent. You may find as loot or get as a quest reward character customization pieces. These are mainly colors and different head pieces that you really never see because it’s a first-person game, but it’s always a nice feature for when you want to show off your character to other players online.
The writing and dialog in the game is top notch. There are multiple times where the characters you encounter will make you laugh, and that is a very difficult thing to do for me. Handsome Jack himself will go out of his way to be a complete douche bag to you over the radio, and it turns out to be hilarious at times.
I love the art direction of Borderlands. The first game was unique with its cel-shaded, almost hand-drawn art style. Borderlands 2 is continues the trend. The hard outlines combined with some rather colorful effects give the game an exaggerated and cartoony feel while still keeping the mature theme. I do have to mention, if you’re using an Nvidia GeForce GTX graphics card, The PhysX effects really make this game look amazing. Particles and water effects look really nice and the options for the PC version will let you tweak whatever you’d like for better performance. Higher end PCs will have no problem making this game look amazing.
I know the PC version of the first Borderlands was a bit of a let down when it came to co-op online. That was a shame because in Borderlands, co-op is king. Luckily, that love letter Gearbox gave to PC players kept its promise. The co-op uses Steamworks completely, and there are no hitches to the online play. When online with other players, you will have tougher enemies, but way better loot drops. Unfortunately, I would say play with some people you know because loot is shared with you partners. This means that if an awesome gun drops from an enemy you just pumped full of lead yourself, your co-op partners and grab the gun before you can and never give it back.
Playing co-op seems like a must in some parts of the game. Single player is a very viable mode, but some of the story missions will get downright frustrating at times, even when the game tells you it should be normal difficulty.
The game just feels very streamlined. The menus are re-worked to be navigated with ease, the fast travel is more abundant from the first game, the quest tracker shows exactly where you need to go now and the quests themselves are more action driven rather than just a text box listing what you need to do. Characters feel more fleshed out and way more interesting this time around as well. Even with all these improvements, I still can’t help but feel that this is more of the same. It’s an amazing game, and people who played the first will more than likely enjoy this iteration, but to me it feels like a huge expansion of Borderlands with some improvements overall.
There may be some pointless loot drops more times than not, there may be some difficulty issues with single player story missions, and there may be some graphical glitches and texture pop-ins, but none of that takes away from the fact that Borderlands 2 is a solid first-person shooter and a great RPG. The characters and writing are fantastic, and the style has a ton of charm. If you have a PC that can run it (and run it very well), this is the version to get without a doubt. There are plenty of options for the PC enthusiasts to tweak, and the PhysX effects look amazing. It may feel like the same game, but when you really look at it, the streamlining and updated customization options for your characters really set the game apart. The shooting is solid and the RPG elements will satisfy the stat tracking fans. This game is the epitome of “if it isn’t broke, don’t fix it.”
Review copy of game provided by publisher.