It’s no secret that Gearbox struck gold with the original Borderlands game. Combining their solid shooting mechanics with a loot-based RPG system was pure genius at work. The “one more quest” mentality is what drove players to sink countless hours collecting the enormous number of guns, shields and mods. Of course, four-player co-op didn’t hurt matters. With the sequel, Gearbox definitely plays it safe by keeping things familiar. This is the definition of ‘if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it’, but that doesn’t stop it from being yet another solid title.
The story in Borderlands 2 picks up relatively soon after the end of the first game. You once again get to choose from four distinct vault hunters. It feels familiar, but like everything else in the game, more refined. The characters have more depth to them this time around, creating a much more compelling narrative. You end up caring more about some NPCs and even run into several familiar faces. It is also worth noting that Borderlands 2 continues the trend set by the first game of actually being funny. The dialogue is well-constructed and delivered, resulting in numerous laugh out loud moments.
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As I mentioned, you are back on Pandora searching for yet another vault. However, after opening the first one in the original game, things have changed. The Hyperion Corporation now runs the show led by an evil, and somewhat cocky, Handsome Jack. Like any other game, you get roped into a ‘save the world’ mentality, but the likeable characters and involving plot lines help set it above the original game, and many games like it.
At it’s core, Borderlands 2 feels entirely like the first game. It is an FPS with plenty of loot to collect and an RPG leveling system complete with multi-tiered skill tree. There are four classes within the game, which mimic the characters from the original. The Commando class is basically the soldier class. He focuses on turrets and ammo. The Gunzerker is kind of the tank class. He can wield two weapons at once and deal massive damage. The Siren (who I focused on in my play through) wields Phase Lock and can become a major healer. The Assassin is all about cloaking and landing surprise attacks from behind.
While each class is unique, they all share the same mentality, shooting. The game is truly a shooter at its core, and no matter which path you take, you will be pulling the trigger most of the time. The skill trees for each character do change up your style, though. Depending on which path you decide to take, you can upgrade your abilities, like the Siren’s Phase Lock, to deal out more health upon kills, or to hold enemies longer. There are so many options to choose from, and you will never be able to unlock them all. Gearbox knew players would want to experiment which is why you can respec at any customization station for a minimal fee.
Customization extends a little further in the sequel giving players a chance to tailor the way their character looks. Don’t get too excited though. Basically you can swap heads/hairstyles, choose a color scheme and rename them; that’s it. I really would have enjoyed a little more freedom in my customization, but considering you spend most of the game staring at their arms and gun, it doesn’t really matter. Funny enough, new skins are collected as rewards and loot. It feels like there was more planned that simply didn’t pan out in the end.
One of the biggest reasons the original game was so addictive was the constant promise of new loot. The game claims a “Bazillion” guns, but let’s be fair, the bulk of them are useless once you find one you like. This was probably my biggest issue with Borderlands 2. The loot aspect simply didn’t keep driving me forward. I found one or two guns I really liked, and would keep them for a better part of five hours at a time. This kind of eliminated the mentality of finding better loot. I always felt like those guns I was carrying were better than what I was picking up, and that is not good.
Maybe I was getting bad drops, or perhaps it was by design, but I never felt the need to complete extra quests to find new loot, instead I completed them to gain XP, because the story missions can be downright frustrating if you are not leveled up enough. The side quests in the game are definitely fun. You will run into hilarious spoofs and interesting locales by taking them on. I don’t want to spoil anything but if you get a chance to head to the sewers to take down four ninjas that eat pizza, I highly suggest doing that. Seriously, the game is well structured as far as quests go and none of them feel menial outside of a few that simply drag on too long.
Travel was also an issue in the first game, and it has been streamlined a little more for the sequel. Fast travel locations feel more abundant, but still not plentiful enough. I found myself doing plenty of backtracking after certain quests. I’m still not sure why they just didn’t implement the fast travel system from other titles where you can only warp to certain spots, but you can do it from anywhere on the map; it just seems to make more sense that way. I do love now that fast travel locations show all the quests in that area, plus the new sorting options really help keep track of what you have and haven’t done. Overall, it is an improvement, but I still wish they had eliminated a lot of the aimless walking.
The core game will run you around 30 hours or so depending on how much you invest into sidequests and loot mongering. Of course the real treat is hopping online with friends to take on the hordes of Pandora. Much like the first game, co-op is drop-in/drop-out giving you the ability to invite friends at anytime. In fact, by default, the game opens up connections for you to invite friends. This is obviously aimed at playing with others. Enemies are of course harder, but the loot is definitely better in co-op. This also gives you a reason to have multiple characters and try out several classes. The only downside to playing with friends? Only cash pickups are allocated to everyone. Guns, ammo and health are awarded to the player that grabs them, meaning you will spend more time fighting if you are playing with people who simply don’t know how to share.
The game looks great, with the stylized look of the world, characters and new enemies keeping things fresh. Frame rate can drop on both 360 and PS3 when the action gets tense, and the texture pop-up when entering a new area can be jarring, but there’s nothing that breaks the game flow. Voice acting is fantastic, sporting some of the best written, and performed dialogue you can find. The music within the game is pretty repetitive and forgettable, and the sound effects feel ripped from the first game, but sound fantastic on a 7.1 setup.
Borderlands 2 is the epitome of sequel-itis. Nothing about it screams revolution of the series, but at the same time, it remains a fairly fantastic experience. If looting and shooting for 30 hours sounds great to you, and you enjoy the shooting mechanics, it is a no-brainer. Playing with friends is a blast, and the humor is outstanding. This is a finely crafted sequel that will likely impress all fans of the original. If you even remotely enjoy the genre, you owe it to yourself to jump back onto Pandora and hunt down some vaults.
Review copy of game provided by publisher. Primary play on Xbox 360.