Borderlands 2 review
Hey badass! Yes – YOU, it’s time to return to Pandora and kick some ass – Handsome Jack and his vile minions won’t defeat themselves!
Gearbox Software once again crash lands you in the role of ultimate badass, and engulfs you in an avalanche of shiny lootables and epic humor with Borderlands 2. It’s still the first-person, role-playing shoot and loot fest we know and love, only there’s so much more of it! There’s more guns, more enemies, more quests, more loot, more guns, grenades, more skills, more environments, more guns, more giggles, and… did I mention that there are even more guns? Oh yeah, and thankfully, less sand.
Butt Stallion says “Hello”…
So let’s cut right to the chase here, the base storyline in the original Borderlands was almost as dry as the arid wasteland you were questing in, and Borderlands 2 takes it up a few notches but it’s still rather simple. However, the exceptional writing pertaining to the delivery of this simple story, is one of many things that makes the sequel bigger and better than its predecessor.
You come to Pandora as a vault hunter, intending to hunt vaults… and almost anything that moves on your way to said vaults whilst loading your pants to bursting with endless amounts of treasure. But, after a rather explosive arrival, you realize that all is not as peachy as it seemed and it’s up to you to save the world of Pandora from Handsome Jack and his minions. To assist you in this perilous task, you’ll see the return of many beloved characters from the original in conjunction with some welcome new additions, none of which would look out of place at the Mad Hatter’s tea party.
The voice acting and scripts for all of these characters are superb. Even when the side quests become low level, which they undoubtedly will given the copious amounts of them, it’s still worth doing them just to see what kind of craziness these oddball characters will have you participating in next. Whatever it is, it’s sure to be entertaining and more often than not, littered with tons of fantastically nerdy references. An example of which being a tip of the hat to the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, where you are tasked with killing 4 mutants whom happen to live in the sewers and eat pizza. To infiltrate their home (Rat’s Nest) you must disguise yourself as a pizza man, deliver pizza and proceed to murder each color co-ordinated, shell bearing mutant over dinner.
End… quotes… death… gurgle…
Although, it’s not only the main characters that hoard all of the witty comments, townsfolk and enemies can deliver some cracking one-liners too. Like a psycho screaming “Never gonna give you up” just before they die, or a civilian making the passing remark “I used to be a vault hunter like you, until I took a bullet to the knee” in tribute to Skyrims afflicted guards. Surprisingly even amidst the boat loads of humor, the game successfully manages to create some fairly emotional moments when it wants to.
With all the high standard of writing, it’s a bit of a shame that dialogue can sometimes be interrupted by incoming messages. It’s not something thats a prominent problem, but a shame to potentially miss out on such quality witticism – even if it’s just the main antagonist calling you up on the radio to criticize your ability to defend an object or maybe just to insult you a bit.
Another gargantuan slice of Borderlands’ winning formula is loot. Shiny, captivating, colorful loot. It doesn’t matter if it originates from a crispy psycho-midgets behind, or you just found it pinned to the door inside a dirty toilet shack – it’s positively scrumptious. Every possibility for a brand spanking new item will have you on the edge of your seat, intensely excited to see what kind of crazy combination you’ll be getting your mitts on this time.
The reason? Well, apart from the kaleidoscopic, eye catching colors and many distinctive appearances for the weapons, the sheer diversity and lunacy produced by the games’ randomization engine means that there are almost endless possibilities. It also means you have no idea as to what kind of delectable loot you are going to be treated to until you rush over to take a look. This constantly keeps you ferreting through your surroundings for “just one more box” in the hopes of discovering some new and tantalizing method of destruction. Be it in terms of weapons, grenade mods, shields, relics or class mods – it all offers countless ways of making yourself that little bit more awesome.
Looting has been made even easier with the addition of an area loot mechanic, which effectively turns you into a veritable loot hoover, sucking up nearby treasure by holding down the action button. Furthermore, your character can automatically pick up money or health items just by standing on them, but it doesn’t work all the time. Regardless, it still means you spend less time inspecting the ground and more time eradicating enemies. They’ve also added a “junk” option in the inventory menu to help you sift out the chaff, along with a “sell all junk” option at the shops. Might have been nice to have the option to mark something as junk when you pick it up, but it’s definitely a vast improvement.
There is something strangely satisfying about seeing a rainbow colored fountain spurt from foes upon their (hopefully) agonizing death, like candy bursting from a piñata. It’s a visual spectacle that just wouldn’t feel the same if they had taken the popular graphical path of trying to incorporate the most realistic visuals, which the majority of games nowadays tend to strive towards. Borderlands 2 continues to take pride in the signature comic book style visuals it riskily started out with in the original. It manages to give a special twist to the game, and helps it stand out in an already overly crowded pack.
Pop! Goes the bandit…
Putting the party hats aside for a moment, Borderlands 2 is very solid gameplay wise. I wouldn’t be surprised if the developers started out with brainstorming the word “badass” to see what they could come up with, as this game does everything in its power to make you feel like a total badass. Combat is exceptionally satisfying and rewarding, and feels like a twist on the classic kids party game “Pin the tail on the donkey” – only it’s more like “Pin the bullets in the flaming-psycho-piñata-midget”. Though it can also be fun to sit back and watch a raging goliath, with his minuscule head, tear through his chums.
For all that, I’m not saying the game is easy. I’ve definitely had a fair share of frustrations (particularly in the beginning), and I ended up finding it was best to try to stay a level or two ahead of whatever quest I’m doing, just in case. Fortunately, if you do happen to be killed, you’ll be popped back at the most recent checkpoint (of which there are many), charged a minor fee, and treated to a feel-good quote to send you on your way.
The game is also host to some spectacular combat music. It’s the kind of combat music that really gets the adrenaline pumping, and could easily make watching paint dry look and feel badass. Environmental music, on the other hand, takes the more subtle, ambient approach. But it’s spot on for creating the overall general atmosphere that each of the many environments call for. You’ll find yourself adventuring through plenty of different settings, as they’ve expanded massively on locales for the sequel, meaning there’s a lot more to Pandora this time around.
In the beginning it does feel as though they’ve replaced dusty wasteland with icy expanse, but progression through the game reveals wildly varying environments to slaughter your way through. These can range from lush-green highlands, to oozing, irradiated caverns. And although the dusty wasteland does make a return, it doesn’t outstay it’s welcome and before you know it you’re moving on the next area with a different theme.
PROTECT ME SQUIRE!
The scenery isn’t the only aspect of the game that’s had a visit from the diversity fairy, the types of enemies succumbing to the business end of your gun have undergone a much needed revitalization. You’ll be annihilating a wide variety of contrasting enemy types, not just the usual bandits. Though in all honesty, Pandora wouldn’t be Pandora without the crazy bandit fodder and their hilarious dying remarks.
Class skill trees have also been expanded greatly, and though each class starts off with their own single unavoidable starting ability, there is still a reasonable difference between the skill trees for each class. The 4 main classes are Assassin, Siren, Commando and Gunzerker (5, if you count the recent DLC Mechromancer class). Each of these have 3 notably differing skill trees, which you can customize to fit your own play style. If you aren’t happy with what you build, or you just want to try out the other skill sets, there are multiple change stations throughout the planet allowing you to switch up your skills on a whim for a meager sum.
There is also the new addition of Badass ranks, which are unlimited and come in the form of in-game challenges covering almost everything you can do in the game. You earn various permanent rewards through completing tiers in each challenge, and your Badass rank carries over to other characters you might make. However, if you find it makes the game a little too easy, they can be turned off.
On the flip side, what doesn’t feel so diverse are the options relating to the characters’ visual customizations. You only have the option to blanket your characters in preset color pallet skins or switch out heads, which you can unlock more of as you make your way through the game. It’s a good step forward from the games predecessor, but in the end it isn’t really satisfying enough to quench an RPG’ers thirst.
Another missed opportunity are the vehicles. They continue to be little more than a glorified means of transportation, just as they were in the original. It’s a real shame, as they feel and handle quite well. A dash of variation has been added in terms of vehicle types and customizations (more blanket colour skins), but they’re rarely put to good use beyond traveling faster around the maps and the occasional satisfyingly squelchy roadkill.
This tea-party needs guests
The other obvious advantage for the vehicles would be using them to taxi you and your friends around, as you can have up to 4 players together cooperatively online. When joining up with others, the game tries to scales the difficulty level to match all players but its best if you’re all around the same level mark. A nice little addition is that if you complete a quest in another person’s game, when you get back to your game you’ll have the option to skip the quest rather than being forced to replay it. Another decent incentive to play with others is that there are harder foes, better loot and a largely improved trading mechanic.
There are hundreds of hours of content to keep you going, and although the story isn’t something you’d replay the game for, there are still many easter eggs to be found after completing the game. Not to mention the endless amounts of Badass rank challenges and increasingly superior loot. Also, if you choose to continue after completing the game, the monsters will also scale up to your level to provide a little more of a challenge. So I’d say that there is a fair amount of replayability here and undoubtedly an incoming tsunami of DLC.
The original Borderlands was an excellent game and Gearbox Software could have easily dropped the ball with the sequel. But they have succeeded where countless others have failed on their promises – Borderlands 2 is easily bigger and better on most fronts than its predecessor. With the exception of some minor issues, this game impresses on all levels, especially considering its size.
Though size isn’t always everything, as the first game proved. Being wholly set in a bleak, dusty wasteland, it ended up feeling too big, especially when there was only sand and rock for all the eye could see. Pandora has definitely livened up by adding more kooky characters, voices to the townsfolk, and terrain variation. It feels much more like a place that you want to spend time in, both with and without friends.
At its heart, Borderlands 2 is a quest/shoot/loot/level/repeat type of game, but the sheer quality of writing and high standard of gameplay means that you’re steadily entertained. It’s also fair to say that the game is humongous, and will only get bigger as there is already a vast amount of DLC planned to expand the game even further, just as they did with the original. But even as it stands, this game without a doubt provides enough literal bang for your buck with abundant shootin’ and lootin’, for a rootin’-tootin’ good time! So get going, you BADASS!
Miss; Vehicular excursions could have been so much more, they’re still a glorified means of transportation as they were in the previous game.
Need; Fully embrace the RPG within and have a more expansive character customization and allow tracking of more than one quest!