Borderlands 2

Borderlands 2
Borderlands 2 Cover
Platforms Xbox 360, PlayStation 3, Windows
Genre More of the best
MtAMinutes to Action 14
Keep Playing? Yes
Buy from Amazon

The original Borderlands was a breakout hit for Gearbox Software in 2009. The cel-shaded mission-driven FPS-meets-Diablo-style super-hyphenated lootfest was a quirky and endearing departure from more serious franchises like Halo, Call of Duty and Medal of Honor. Instead of pushing the same "OMG 40 modes of multiplayer!" angle that had gotten so popular, it chose to design around the concept of 4 player co-op gameplay. And it did so with relish.

With the success of Borderlands, Gearbox was able to move beyond porting other studios games and their now languishing Brothers in Arms property. Instead of working on others titles, they had a verifiable sales behemoth of their own making. But with great power comes great responsibility. Games like Borderlands often struggle because harried gamers don't give them a chance. In a retail sea awash with sequels and spinoffs, new IPs often struggle to gain traction. Because of this, those gamers who do latch onto a new piece of software, often feel entitled. Afterall, they took a chance on an unknown, thus contributing to its success. These types of fans are a double edged sword. They are often some of the most vocal in supporting a game and getting the word out. But they are also frequently among the hardest to please with sequels, as the developers try to thread the needle of offering new and interesting content, while staying true to the experience of earlier games.

This is the environment that Gearbox developed Borderlands in. How does one replicate the success of a game whose success was so driven by its quirky uniqueness? In other words, how does one make a game that is the same, but still unique? If I had the answer... if anyone had the answer, they would most likely be very rich. It's a moving target. The question is whether Gearbox is as accurate at hitting that target as some of the guns they designed for the game. And if they are, can they relay that fact to a gamer in the first 60 minutes? Let's take a look at Borderlands 2 and find out.

Minute by Minute

00 - Hit A to Continue. I choose New Game but I could also choose Matchmaking, Options, Extras and Downloadable Content. As soon as I hit the button for New Game, it jumps into a boldly inked intro; a cartoonish narrative. Much like the first game, we hear the voice of Marcus. It goes something like this:

First there was the vault, a thing thought to hold great treasure but that was actually an alien prison. When it was opened, people realized there was nothing of value afterall. They were wrong. The vaults opening triggered the growth of Iridium. It began to appear all over Pandora. Hyperion got wind of this and came to mine it and to bring order to the planet. In the course of their mining operations, Hyperion uncovered evidence of an even greater vault. Their leader vowed to find it.

His name was Handsome Jack.

But he wasn't the only one who wanted to find it. As word leaked of this new vault, even more people came; warriors, adventurers, fools, Vault Hunters.

03 - Cut to a large skag meandering on a desolate desert road in front of dilapidated sign showing a friendly picture of Handsome Hack. Vault hunters wanted, it says. Suddenly, a Bandit car hits the skag and drags it behind the bumper on a length of chain. We see a midget psycho on the car jumping around head butting people. He jumps on the hood of the car and beats it like a drum. Then, again suddenly, the car crashes into a train and the signature cool musical intro starts. We see a mag-lev train cruising away from the Pandoran desert into a snowy territory. This game is definitely feeling like the original as far as its wacky sense of style.

04 - Cut to inside the train. We see all four vault hunters on the train. Uh Oh, it's a Double Cross. The train is a death trap. The hunters combine forces and fight their way through mechs as we are introduced to them each in turn. Axton the Commando, who tosses a mechanized turret on the ceiling and begins firing. Maya the Siren whose hand reaches out creating a magical orb. Salvador the Gunzerker who dual wields and fires away. Zero "A Number" who goes invisible and chops some human/mech hybrids into sushi (does one even need to chop sushi?). They regroup and we see a Handsome Jack mannequin standing on a giant pile of dynamite. The train explodes.

06 - Menu screen. Choose your character. Each has a special ability. Axton has the Sabre Turret, Zero has Deception, Salvador has Gunzerking, and Maya has Phase Lock. I can change the name, color and head of each model. Special heads are unlocked since the game finds a savegame from Borderlands 1 on my machine. They are, in no particular order: Gunzerker gets Sledgehammer head (Major Boss from Borderlands 1), Maya gets Dr. Crazy (aka Tannis from Borderlands 1), Zero gets Arachnid (aka Spiderants from Borderlands 1), Axton gets a Crimson Lance helmet. I choose zero in all black, with the standard head shape. One of the stock options for Zero is a Snake Eyes head from old school GI Joe fame. He looks cool enough already so I stick with the standard.

07 - Wake up in the snow, looking at Claptrap digging a shallow grave for what he thought was a dead vault hunter. Get a heads up display (that "he totally didn't just grab off of a nearby corpse") and gain the designation of "minion".

08 - Follow the claptrap as he tells me that he can finally join the resistance in Sanctuary and pay for repairs so he doesn't have to always think out loud. "I wonder what it feels like to have a belly button?".

09 - First visit from the computer angel face that led us through the first game. Says I'm alive for a reason. She's here to help.

Borderlands 2 Siren Zero Classes Fire

10 - The claptrap takes me to his hideout. Warns me about Bullymongs.

11 - He goes down a tunnel and I get to open my first crate. Yay $1! We're in his "lair". Lots of crates and bodies.

12 - A giant apelike beast crashes through the ceiling, rips Claptraps eye out and flees.

13 - I get my first quest. Get a gun out of the cabinet. It's a puny repeater. Great. I'm supposed to bring down that ape with a junky repeater?

14 - Objective: Retrieve Claptraps Eye. The Claptrap leads me out into the snowy open. Lots of crates with ammo and money. Open with "X".

15 - Controls for movement and shooting are what you'd expect. The field of view seems tighter than Borderlands 1. Perhaps to account for more graphical fanciness.

Borderlands 2 Handsome Jack Striking Pose

16 - There are a large number of cool new crate opening animations. Neat but can take a while to open a lot of crates. As I'm opening crates a wave of Bullymongs, ape-like beasts with four arms attack. They take 3-4 shots to bring down, 2-3 if you can crit them which isn't hard.

17 - The angel appears and reminds me to get my butt to Sanctuary. I discover Frostbite Crevasse, which is full of Bullymongs of various size and threat level. They can jump like crazy and they throw ice chunks at you. I can already see better AI in this game. The Bullies work as a team, some hanging back at range and some advancing to melee.

18 - I break some rocks (the icy equivalent of skag piles) hoping to get some health and get lucky. Health when you need it. Nice.

19 - Message from Handsome Jack. He wants me dead. In fact, he would see it as a personal favor if I would "off myself".

20 - Boss Battle. KnuckleDragger: "This is gonna hurt". I get to see a nice stop shot that was made famous by the first game where the screen freezes and big text appears on screen. I love it every time.

21 - Spend a couple of minutes kiting Knuckledragger and about half a dozen smaller Bullymongs. If they surround you, they really pound you down. Gotta keep moving.

Borderlands 2 Siren Pandora Night Magic

22 - LEVEL UP! Do more damage. Get more health.

23 - Pick up the broken eye socket and follow claptrap. He wants to go to Liar's Burg where someone can fix him. A guy named Hammerlock. I follow him to a large door.

24 - In homage to the first game, the claptrap can't get the door open. The angel appears and helps us out.

25 - We go through the door and find a bunch of crates of ammo. I love opening these things. The sound effects are even good. A huge crate in the middle of the room holds a shotgun. Double Barrel. Nasty. We go through a door to Liar's Burg. Load Screen.

26 - Claptrap: "Keep your wits about you minion, this glacier is run by a bandit named Capt Flynt. The jerk kept me as his torture plaything for a few months. We played games like dodge the blowtorch and don't get dunked in a pool of acid. I was really good at the first one!".

27 - Handsome Jack comes on the radio: "A million dollars to whoever kills the vault hunter who just arrived in Liar's Burg....Oh and I'm still offering a reward for the capture of Roland the mass murdering leader of the crimson Raiders". Entering Liar's Burg feels much like entering Fyrestone in Borderlands 1. The gate opens and we're in the street shooting it out.

Borderlands 2 Gunzerker River Threshers

28 - Once we take out a few bandits, Sir Hammerlock approaches and offers us a mission to clean up the town and eliminate all of Flynts baddies. Hammerlock has a British Accent and looks like the Aussie Safari guide, Brian Fellows. Flynt: "What's WRONG with you people?! Just kill that slaglick so we can get our reward!"

29 - Claptrap: "Oh no, Bullymongs!" The citywide gunfight now includes giant ape beasts leaping on rooftops. Good stuff. Upon killing a bandit, he clutches his chest and exclaims in a surprised voice "Wha!? I had the bigger gun!".

30 - Turn in the mission to Hammerlock. He says he'll open the electric fence to let us in, and to send the claptrap first. The claptrap approaches the fence, still blind, talking about what good friends he and Hammerlock are. "We're like two peas in a pod, two bullets in a mag... two cannibal midgets in a fat guys ribcage!" So, of course Hammerlock allows claptrap to get electrocuted by the fence before opening it. Hammerlock: "My apologies but when I hear the claptrap speak, I can feel my brain cells committing suicide one by one."

31 - Hammerlock comes out and fixes Claptraps eye.

32 - Claptrap leads me across town, a wintery shantytown, to a bounty board. We find our first fast travel station.

33 - Hammerlock rewards me for the previous quest. I get a shield.

Borderlands 2 Siren First Person Cave Caverns Magic

34 - New Missions. "This town ain't big enough" and "Best Minion Ever". The first is labeled optional and the second is labeled story mission. Nice to know which are optional and which will advance the story. I choose the story mission.

35 - Flynt comes on the radio. " Here's what's gonna happen, My guy Boom Bewm is gonna kill ya. Jack's gonna pay us and I'm gonna play hopscotch in your chest cavity."

36 - Switching missions to kill the Bullymongs outside of town in the graveyard. It's optional but I think I need to level up before I go after Boom Bewm.

38 - Graveyard is cleared. I grab all the loot drops and acquire an explosive elemental pistol. They're different than in Borderlands 1. They fire explosive slow moving rounds. Splash damage!

39 - I discover that I have something called Badass Rank. I have several tokens to spend to increase stats like Accuracy, Gun Damage, Reload Speed, etc. This is a profile wide upgrade system and is based on the weapon proficiency system from Borderlands 1.

41 - There's another area of Bullymongs to clear to finish this mission.

Borderlands 2 Pandora Park Zero Monsters Awesome

42 - Turn it in with Hammerlock. Get a combat rifle. Nice. Hammerlock gives me a new quest, to go to a nearby Crimson Raider safehouse to get a better shield.

44 - So I follow the indicator and it leads me to a small bandit village outside of Liar's Burg. Claptrap gets ambushed. "Help me squire!". I proceed to kill all the bandits. Their AI is also noticeably improved. They dive and roll after getting shot so you can only hit them once before they engage.

46 - As I clear the camp, I locate an audio log belonging to Helena Pierce, the lady with the nasty facial scar who ran New Haven in Borderlands 1. It tells of her effort to get to sanctuary and you can hear something go wrong then it goes silent. Hammerlock wants me to find more audio logs. New mission.

47 - The mission indicator leads me to a larger bandit settlement on the ice of what looks like a frozen lake.

49 - To get the elevator to the safehouse working, I have to find a fuse, which is in yet another bandit camp. In the middle of the camp is a large electric barrier.

50 - These guys feel a bit tougher so I have to take it slow. LEVEL UP!

Borderlands 2 Thresher Battle Siren

52 - The town is mostly cleared. When I destroy the power supply for the electric fence, a wave of Bullymongs hit the camp. It was holding them back apparently. This feels very much like the end of the original FarCry where you were fighting human soldiers and monster mutants were jumping around. If you were careful, you could just avoid them both and let them kill each other. That strategy works here as well. However, unlike in FarCry, I want XP so I'm going to try to break up the fights and kill them both.

53 - I find my first actual treasure chest. It looks like a mini-fridge. A popup note explains the color coding of the weapons. White, Green, Blue, Purple, Orange. The usual. Opening the chest released another wave of bad guys. Doh! Look out! It's not nice to attack a vault hunter who is trying to sort out their loot!

55 - Bullymongs don't seem to like Combat Rifles with 45 round clips.

56 - Ok, finally, everything has stopped moving in the camp. I run around till I find the fuse for the elevator. Then I take it back to the other camp and ride the elevator to the top.

57 - Inside the safehouse is a Dr. Zed Medic Machine and a radio that is broadcasting safety information. You can change the station. Neat.

58 - Found my first grenade in one of the crates. I step outside and appreciate the wintery vista. Man this game is gorgeous. Well, I better head back to town and turn this in. By the time I run back through the map to turn in my mission, that should wrap up my first 60 minutes.

Borderlands 2 Hyperion City

First Hour Summary

Minutes to Action: Gain control at 8 and start shooting at 14.

What I liked: Well, there's a lot to like. Certainly if you liked the first game, this one should make you feel right at home. The intro cutscenes, tutorial layout, irreverent presentation and pacing are all nearly identical to the first game. The environments early on are different for all those who thought Borderlands 1 had too much brown. Graphics are punched up a notch and things that felt underdeveloped now feel fully fleshed out. The variety of crates you get to open is staggering. The shooting is rock solid which is hugely important. The shooting in Borderlands 1 was some of the best I've experienced. The guns all handled differently and really felt like they were unique. Many shooters have trouble offering more than a dozen guns that feel distinct. Borderlands offers hundreds. Not only are they all different in feel and usage. They have different strengths. You could literally play with 4 different pistols, each for their own purpose. And that's only one category in the first 60 minutes. This might be a downside to some, those who don't like to sit there and compare weapon stats, but for those people each weapon has a resale dollar amount that is loosely proportional to the power of the gun. If a person were to choose guns purely based on price, they'd do ok as far as getting competent weapons.

The audio is fantastic. I have a surround sound system on my gaming TV and this game really takes great advantage of it. I always felt like I knew where enemies behind me were, based on the direction of their gunfire sounds. And when in doubt, you have them showing up in red on the minimap. The music was good, but more understated than Borderlands 1. In that game, when you got into a fight, you would frequently hear what sounded like a conch making indiscreet love to a didgeridoo. Over and over and over. It worked for a while but became very grating around hour 100 or so. Yeah, I just said that. It wasn't a typo.

What I didn't like: I'm not a fan of texture pop in. This game has a lot of it, even on menus. Even after I installed the game on my xbox hard drive. I'm assuming it's because they are really taxing the now-aging Xbox hardware. If it means I get the beautiful vistas though (and this game has them in spades), I'll suffer through it each time a scene loads. But, the worst thing about the game so far, is the menus. Wow. Sure, they look super slick and would make a great example of how to design floating 3D vector animation, but trying to look at them in the middle of the game is jarring and almost headache inducing. They float and swirl onscreen and just bug my eyes for some reason. Maybe it's because I'm getting older. I don't know. They feel like someone was overpaid on the menu team and tried to justify their salary by making them overflow with eye candy but also ended up leaving them lacking in utility. (UPDATE: A couple of days after writing this review, I found a setting in the video options to turn off the floating motion of the menu screens.  The menus are still a bit clunky and unintuitive to navigate, but at least you don't get a headache looking at them anymore.)

My last complaint is one of class design. I played Borderlands 1 to completion with every class. Solo. The only class that I felt was somewhat weak for solo play was The Soldier. Many of Rolands coolest skills were only useful if you were part of a group. Things like being able to shoot allies to heal them are worthless when you're playing solo. If you wanted to get the most out of him, you needed to play co-op. But even that complaint was a small one. Many people claimed Borderlands 1 was only fun if you played with friends. While I had a blast playing with friends, I found the solo experience no less enjoyable. When I read through the skill tree for the new soldiery class, The Commando (both have turrets), I thought perhaps they had fixed this, as not too many of his skills are focused on co-op. However, I get the impression that this time it was the Siren class that was more heavily designed for co-op. Basically, the class has a lot of healer potential that isn't as useful when playing alone. I found it an interesting choice, both in Roland and in Maya.  Lastly, if you absolutely loved the special abilities from the previous classes, you're mostly out of luck. As only Rolands turret is making a return. Hopefully, as I get further in the game, the special abilities will start to show their usefulness. We'll just have to wait and see.

Gameplay: It's vintage Borderlands, for what that's worth. It's pretty much the same as the last game, which is to say excellent. Is it different enough to drive another 30-50 hours of gameplay (or in my case 200-300 hours)? That will be interesting to find out as I unlock my skill trees and really give this game a go.

Fun Factor: While a bit of the uniqueness is worn off to be sure, the new classes, environments, weapons, and story look to keep the experience fresh and fun. The attitude that comes pouring out through the writing is pitch perfect Borderlands. It could make an otherwise ho-hum shooter feel almost fun. Combine it with a very solid shooter with lots of great RPG elements and you are still well within the expiration date on this particular design.

Graphics and Sound: Like I said, this game looks great. Get rid of the Pop-In and it would be amazing. There is an awesome amount of attention to detail and maybe even a bit too much graphical animation of the world. They've really gone all the way with the weapon crates. Each one opens like a little cutscene. I wonder if I'll get tired of the elaborate crates this time.

Story: One of the big gripes last time was that the story was too sparse. Or that it was confusing. I never really had a problem myself, but I could understand the complaint. It looks like they've really tried to take steps to improve that aspect this time around. It's hard to gauge how successful their efforts are this early but I'm hopeful so far.

Would I Keep Playing? Absolutely. I rarely pay full price for games and this is only the third game I've ever pre-ordered in my entire life. There's no way I won't play this game to completion multiple times. The original is on my top games of all time list, probably in the top three.