If you've ever dreamed of throwing your gun at an enemy, having it explode, and then a new gun appearing in your hand instead of reloading your gun, Borderlands 2 is the game of your dreams. Borderlands 2 is a first-person-role-playing-shooter, for lack of a better term, that has you collecting guns, completing quests, and exploding faces in either cooperative multiplayer (recommended) or single player (still fun.) Let me make this clear, however, early on: if you did not like Borderlands 1, you will probably not enjoy this game either. It is very much a sequel and it essentially improves on every aspect of the first game.
You will find thousands of guns in your first playthrough, earn multiple “Badass Ranks,” unlock dozens of customization skins, assign skill points, and kill countless enemies. You could do most of this in the first Borderlands – but the overall presentation and execution is so much more streamlined this time. But, you probably knew all of this stuff – you want to know how is this different than Borderlands 1, and most importantly, should you play it?
Borderlands 2 is, right off the bat, a much more engaging experience than the first game. The game follows four characters that are once again vault hunters. At the start, they are travelling into the wonderfully violent land of Pandora. As the four characters are traveling on a train, the ride is sabotaged by Handsome Jack – a man with cruel intentions to take advantage of Pandora and the resource, Eridium, which has sprung up rapidly since the end of the first game. The funny robot Claptrap rescues you, and you’re off on a mission to fight back.
Handsome Jack is probably the best single addition to the game. The first game lacked a focused narrative and instead had you chasing after a vague vault without a lot of motivation. Now, there is a clear antagonist, your character has personal motive, and Handsome Jack is absolutely hilarious. He constantly contacts you via your communicator to mock you, or let you know how awesome he is throughout the game.
Naturally, the game is also full of numerous side quests and periphery content that’s easy to overlook, but extremely entertaining to explore. While the mundane tasks like collecting fur from beasts, activating beacons, delivering messages, are all still here – the game shines in its personality. All of the characters are extremely colorful (in both their graphical representation, and dialogue.) Quest givers always have something to say that is both hilarious and useful, often over your communication device mid-mission.
The controls are responsive and feel natural, unchanged from the first game (this isn’t a bad thing.) The main additions/upgrades come in the field of character progression and presentation. When you level up, you still invest skill points into one of three trees, each class still has a unique ability, and you still search for new and more powerful guns every second of gameplay.
The skills are much more varied this time around, offering a decent amount of depth for levling up your character. The Commando is much like the Soldier from the first game – he focuses on frontal fire, taking cover, and deploying a turret to fight with him. The turret can be upgraded in various different ways and can now be picked back up before the timer runs out if you no longer need it, which also refunds some of the cool down time.
The Gunzerker is similar to the Berserker from the first game in both idea and initial character design. His ability allows him to dual wield any two weapons (yes that includes rocket launchers, sniper rifles, grenade launchers – anything.) Zero is the stealth based assassin of the game with the ability to create clones and even go invisible. Finally, the Siren named Maya utilizes phase abilities that allow her to suspend enemies in the air and immobilize them.
One of the great things about this game is the litany of customization options. Not only can you find a basically infinite amount of guns in the world, but you can unlock and use different skins for your character’s head and body. Also, as you play and complete challenges within the game, you unlock Badass Ranks that award tokens you can redeem for permanent increases on your account across all characters. Upgrades include increased Weapon Damage, Increased Health, etc. All of these additions and extrapolations contribute to the general theme of the game – bigger and better.
The art design Is very much like the first game, but much sharper and more varied. Environments seem to have different designs within them, as well as a slightly larger variety of enemy types. If you don’t like the cel-shaded art style, you won’t like the art style in this game, but I urge you give it a second chance.
Sound design gets the job done, but it’s not really a notable portion of the game. It’s mostly just atmospheric sounds without a whole lot else. With that being said, the sound effects for guns are fantastic (especially since most of them are purely fictitious) and the voice acting is superb. Claptrap and Handsome Jack both do exceptional jobs from start to finish.
The four character classes complement one another extremely well, and the variations within each class via the skill trees allows three people to play the same character, and have them turn out quite differently. This game is clearly designed to be played with others, so I encourage you to either force your friends to get the game and play with you (in either online or local multiplayer) or make new friends via the matchmaking system. Jumping in and out of friend’s games is extremely easy and works flawlessly. When you pause the game, it automatically tells you which friends are playing, what their level is, which mission they are on, and even how many players are in the game.
All of these great parts add up to an very enjoyable game, but it’s not perfect. The pacing is a bit of a problem as travel times can get very tedious. Fast travel locations are spread thin and your vehicles can’t go everywhere. Difficulty spikes in some areas are a bit silly, and missions can get overwhelming at times if you are playing solo. The world feels fairly empty if you're not in a town or hub of some sort. You can obviously tell which areas are enemy spawn points before you get to them, and the spaces between battles are fairly tedious.
These gripes do not take away much from the overall experience. From the moment you put in the disc, to the moment you exit the game, Pandora will take hold of you and not let go - if you like lots of loot. The characters are full of personality, the gameplay is deep and addictive, and it’s a really fun game to play with friends. You owe it to yourself to pick this game up on your platform of choice, especially if a lot of your friends are playing.
Borderlands 2 is available for Xbox 360, PlayStation 3 and PC. Let us know what you think of the game and of this review in the comment section below!
This review was based on a physical retail copy of the game for the PlayStation 3 provided by 2K.