|Platforms||Windows, Xbox 360, PlayStation 3|
|Genre||Shooting bullets, transcended|
|Buy from Amazon|
As the release date for Borderlands 2 grew closer, I was surprised at how excited I was for the game. I loved the first Borderlands, its challenge, skill progression, and charm had obviously stuck with me, so the sequel was an obvious buy. But I decided to push purchasing it to the first major Steam sale, that couldn’t be too far off, right? Well, thanks to 2K Games coming through and sending me a review copy, I was back in Pandora much sooner than I thought.
Borderlands 2 was released last month on Windows, Xbox 360, and PlayStation 3. I played the original Borderlands on my Xbox 360, but since then I’ve built a gaming computer and my Xbox Live has expired, it was an easy decision to switch over to the PC. I’ve honestly enjoyed the experience even more on my PC, essentially no loading times certainly help, and the superior graphics don’t hurt either.
I wish I could have gotten this review done sooner, but I just finished the game for the first time and Steam reports I played for 50 hours! I completed every side quest I could find and helped a friend level up a few times, but this is a big game that is worth exploring. 50 hours of one game in a month though for me is pretty crazy. Here’s my review of Borderlands 2.
Alright, I’m back after spending two hours making my first Mechromancer character and bringing her up to level 9. I swore I wouldn’t go back to the game until I at least finished this review, but that didn’t take long at all, Borderlands 2 is fun and addicting in ways many games can just dream about. From chasing loot to leveling up to finishing more quests, there’s an endless stream of hooks, lines, and sinkers to be drawn in by.
Borderlands 2 is at heart a fast-paced first person shooter. There are no predefined guns in the game, they’re all generated and randomized to create a unique arsenal for everyone, and range from a pistol that shoots out fire bullets to an assault rifle that launches exploding shells that bounce along the ground. You gain experience by killing enemies and finishing quests, and while leveling up you can put points into three different talent trees that unlock abilities or boost your stats. It’s Diablo mixed with Doom mixed with Final Fantasy and topped off with some beautiful cel-shading giving it an industry unique look.
Borderlands 1 was a huge (and surprise) success that caught gamers off guard with its big world, multiple classes, humorous characters, and a story that could be replayed at least twice for even greater challenges. I’ll be honest and say that not a lot has changed, and that isn’t a bad thing. Gearbox found great success last time and they didn’t mess with the formula more than it needed. Let’s talk a bit about what has changed.
The character classes have evolved nicely since the first game, with the berzerker being upgraded to a gunzerker (his talent goes from madly punching people to dual-wielding and madly shooting people, makes so much more sense in the context of the game) and the hunter was converted into an assassin (who specializes in melee attacks, doesn’t make as much sense in the context of the game, but sounds fun). The soldier still has his turret and the siren’s talent has changed to freezing enemies mid-air. And at least from the characters I’ve played, the talent trees seem much more refined than last time around.
Borderlands’ storyline was its biggest problem, there was little urgency and the characters felt like nothing more than quest-givers. Borderlands 2 manages to fix these issues enough in my eyes by integrating you a bit more tightly into the story and fleshing out the heroes from our last go around. If you felt like the main characters were cardboard cutouts with guns last time, at least in Borderlands 2 they’re back but they’re colorful cardboard cutouts with guns. Like I said, it’s enough of a change to satisfy me. Well, except that it’s sort of hard for me to accept that a bunch of vault hunters would give up wanting to loot treasure and instead help a ragtag group of resistance fighters in their rebellion. At least in the first game the entire main goal from start to finish was to reach the Vault before anyone else. You know, treasure hunting.
The guns, all 87 bazillion of them, feature much more variety in Borderlands 2. Depending on the manufacturer, some are tossed upon reloading and explode like a grenade, while others can be shot as fast as you can click. There’s a new elemental power called slag which makes your enemies more vulnerable to damage, and the legendary weapons can completely change a game upon dropping. The reloading animations are excellent, too, with a huge variety of base animations that the game randomly builds off of.
But I’m even more impressed with the changes to grenades and shields. Grenades can now implode and suck bad guys into their center or home in on an enemy across the battlefield. The child grenades feel much more explosive this round too, and speaking of explosive, some shields will even explode upon extinguishing, causing a ton more pain for anyone in the vicinity. One shield I used a long time also exploded upon me losing all my health, which often meant a quick resurrection from the game’s Second Wind feature.
It’s hard for me to tell how much the graphics were updated between the two games, as I jumped from the Xbox 360 to an overpowered PC, but I had everything maxed and was constantly blown away by not only the fluidity of the game during heavy firefights, but the dynamic range of art styles. There are more types of bad guys with many variations, and the levels feel much more distinct. And maybe it was just me, but the levels feel a bit smaller, but in a good way. There’s already enough running around in Borderlands 2 that any more may have been too much. And while there are certainly some large areas, you can usually hop in a car to get around.
Along with the game’s unique art style and cel-shaded look, Borderlands 2’s music and sound design is also top notch. At times the soundtrack seems to sound like Bastion and then during big battles there’s a dubstep touch to it. There’s a constant chatter from bad guys, and even some guns talk back to you: “there you go, wasting precious ammo again!” The guns feel like they pack a punch because the sound effects from shooting them sounds so real, and there’s a lot more direct communication from the game’s wide array of characters.
And I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention the new main baddie: Handsome Jack. While I wasn’t enamored with him as some fans and reviewers were, I can still appreciate the writing effort that went into his character. He’s there in the background from the start to finish, mocking you, calling you out, and cursing your name. This is a huge improvement over Borderlands 1 which simply featured an endless conveyor belt of named but faceless enemies standing in your way, including one that was killed off by the final boss in a cutscene. So yes, Handsome Jack is a much finer effort.
Borderlands 1 was a great game, Borderlands 2 is a greater game. Gearbox fixed many of the irks and pains of the first game and managed to put out the best first person shooter I’ve played in years. There’s still room for improvement but this is still one of the most enjoyable games I’ve played all of 2012. Give it few hours, or days, of your life, you won’t regret it.
I'll have DLC reviews in the near future, starting with the Mechromancer.