Borderlands 2 Review
What do you get when you dump an RPG, a shooter, an open-world adventure game, and a gleefully immature sense of humor into a blender? Three years ago I might have guessed a complete mess, but the original Borderlands proved me well and wrong. Far from being the messy stew driven by a “I hope this crap works” philosophy I’d expected, Gearbox created a brilliant blend of a Fallout-esque post-apocalyptic setting, dangerously addictive loot hunting, and Heavy Metal-meets-Tim Schafer laughs. But despite its excellence there was room for improvement.
And improve it they have. Borderlands 2 is a great big beast of fun, explosions, and hilarious — hilarious — immaturity. I can’t emphasize this last point enough. I laughed more playing Borderlands 2 than in any game in recent memory. (Hehe… I’m kind of chuckling just thinking about it.) I honestly don’t know where to begin — the improved visuals? The wildly diversified settings? The great, entertaining story? The memorable characters? The simple and easy co-op? Borderlands 2 has improved upon its forebear in nearly every conceivable way.
Read on for the full Borderlands 2 review.
One of my biggest gripes with the original Borderlands were its settings. The cel-shaded visuals were beautiful, and the characters were a goofily designed, half-drunk rogues gallery. But its settings squandered its full visual potential, opting to turn Pandora into an arid desert of varying shades of brown. Only a few areas — cities and caves — broke up the visual mundanity. Borderlands 2 blows the lid off Pandora’s visual potential. Expect junkyards, frozen wastelands, poisonous swamps, watery tundras, futuristic cities, and — oh yes — deserts. Cities feel more vibrant and populated. Character design has been similarly invigorated, from new characters — the robotic gentleman Sir Hammerlock comes immediately to mind — to old — Mordecai’s badass level has been certainly re-upped.
The story of Borderlands 2 may be its biggest improvement. The story of the original Borderlands was rudimentary at best. You picked one of four characters, set out onto Pandora, and tried to die as little as possible hunting for the legendary “Vault.” Borderlands 2 gives you a face to truly hate: Handsome Jack. Pumping the brakes on his quest to gain a legendary power drives the plot, and, though simple, it’s quite good. Fetch quests and “go-here-kill-this” missions have been broken up with some very effective plot twists and action set-pieces. A certain one involving the city of Sanctuary comes immediately to mind, but I’d be a real jerk if I ruined that for you. Suffice it to say that stuff on Pandora is crazier than ever.
Aiding you in your quest are the four playable characters from the original Borderlands — Mordecai, Brick, Lilith, and Roland — each fleshed out with a distinct and entertaining personality. Other returning characters include Crazy Earl, Scooter, the always pleasant Marcus Kincaid, and Claptrap (who reaches a new level of hilarity — “Your ability to walk short distances without dying will surely be Handsome Jack’s downfall!”). New characters are equally entertaining, especially Tiny Tina, an infant, psychotic explosives expert. Oh, and the five new main characters are great, varied fun. The moment you finish the game — hell, maybe before — you’ll want to start it up again with a new class. They fit right in with Pandora’s insane citizenry.
The basics of the gameplay have changed little since the original Borderlands. You still go about fetching, killing, and looting, but there have been some fundamental changes. Borderlands 2 is much more challenging. I’m not sure everyone felt this way, but I died far more often than I did in the first installment. (Although part of that may be attributed to playing this one on PS3 and the original on PC.) If I have any complaint it would be that the core gameplay is a little samey. Running and gunning is a ton a fun, but when it’s just about the only thing there is to do in the game it gets a little tiresome. I stress that: a little. The addictive loot hunting is more than enough to keep me coming back. Vehicle action is, as before, a total blast and welcome change of pace.
Fortunately, if shooting does get a little tiresome, never fear. Gearbox has the solution: there are FAR more guns in Borderlands 2 — like, the number isn’t even comparable. “87 Bazillion” doesn’t feel far off. And there’s an insane amount of variety to them. Some fire bullets. Some fire lasers. Some fire grenades. Some fire bullets and grenades. Some far arcing electricity. Some fire explosive pellets. Some make barnyard noises. The arsenal feels endless; sorely pity the social life of the man who finds them all.
What has really changed are the side quests. They rarely feel repetitive, they’re always entertaining, and usual have an insular, individual plot. They’re also substantially long, each one taking about 15 minutes to more than an hour. None of the side quests feel wasted. Gearbox doesn’t view them as grind opportunities or loot bait, but excellent opportunities to entertain in their own right.
A discussion of Borderlands 2 would be incomplete without touching on the co-op. Jumping in and out of a friends game is easy as pie, and ravaging Pandora with a buddy is a lot of fun. Beating a boss by yourself is rewarding, but a few of you beating a boss together is great times. It does, unfortunately, get less fun if you hop into a game that’s far higher level. Sure, you level up quickly and the loot is great, but you’re dead weight to your companion and, if one of the beefed up creatures corners you, you don’t stand a chance. The good, however, far outweighs the bad.
+ Hilarious characters, killer writing, and a fun story
+ Dangerously addictive loot hunting
+ Great visuals, varied settings
+ Co-op is a blast
- Core action hasn’t changed much from Borderlands
My time on Pandora was well spent, and it’s far from over. There’s that New Game + feature, lower level players to help out through co-op, about 86 bazillion guns left to find, and the new Mechromancer to get used to. I recommend Borderlands 2 to anyone that likes their games, y’know, fun.