I picked up Borderlands on a lark back when Steam was having a sale on it for insanely cheap with all the DLC included. It sparked a renewed interest in first-person shooters for me as I loved not only the setting, but the insanity it brought along with it and all the interesting things about the world that Gearbox had created. So while I waited not so patiently for this game to pop-up on Steam for pre-purchase, I kept plugging away at the original. Does the sequel bring enough new to the Borderlands plate to make it worth playing? I’d have to say a resounding yes to that question. Not only is Borderlands 2 offering you more guns, but it feels like the game has a much more frenetic pace and tighter story to go with it which makes the shooting end of it even more fun. Let’s take a look.
It’s been a few years since the end of the first game and things on Pandora have changed, not necessarily for the better if you’re not in charge or in league with who’s in charge. Hyperion seems to have brought in a ringer to not only find the Vault on Pandora, but he’s taken it a step further and is “Ëœhiring’ Vault Hunters to make sure no one else finds it either and is having them killed before they can actually do anything. He then dumps the bodies and evidence on an out of the way part of the planet that’s been frozen over. He goes by the name Handsome Jack and he’s very much like an evil version of Archer from the TV show if he was competent and had the actual backing of a major corporation at his disposal. Handsome Jack is a very easy person to hate especially when he realizes you’re alive and puts a huge bounty on your head.
A few characters from the first game make appearances again: Claptrap, of course; the original Vault Hunters as NPCs; Dr. Zed, who still doesn’t have a medical license; Marcus Kincaid; and a few others like Mad Moxxi, who is running a bar out of Sanctuary. Claptrap is once again our intro into the world as he ‘rescues’ you from certain death on the frozen wasteland and begins leading you back to Sanctuary, a place being run by one of the original Vault Hunters to make a stand against Handsome Jack. Borderlands 2 continues the style of storytelling through short cut-scenes, radio chatter, and some one-on-one NPC interaction you have to stick around to listen to. I actually think this game is much stronger in this department as it feels far more focused this time around and gives you one hell of an enemy to go after as he taunts you throughout the game.
Built off the Unreal 3 game engine, Borderlands 2 of course looks fantastic. Lighting effects look great, animations are well done, and the whole thing has this great Mad Max graphic novel feel to it that really sets it apart and makes it stand out. There’s more variety to the weaponry this time around, at least in looks, and you can customize your character quite a bit more with different heads and skins that you can unlock even more of as you play through the game. The same with your vehicle as well. It definitely adds a bit more variety when you are running co-op instead of single player. The differing environments right off the bat are a very welcome addition to the game. Still very desolate and unforgiving, but it feels more like a huge world now. My only complaint would be the loading time on textures, which is a problem with pretty much any game using this engine. I just wish it was a one time thing loading up the level or area as opposed every time you open up a new container. And no, this isn’t a graphics setting as my machine is well beyond the recommended specs for this, this is something that has been plaguing this game engine since it debuted 6 years ago. While I’ve seen other games minimize the effect quite a bit, it’s fairly prevalent throughout a single play session here.
Right off the bat you’re greeted with the soothing sounds of The Heavy’s “Short Change Hero”Â as the intro scrolls through setting the tone instantly for the rest of the game. The music is pretty decent beyond that but doesn’t stick out all that much too me. The dialogue you get from other characters you interact with, Handsome Jack’s continuous taunting, and more importantly the fairly varied monster and enemy taunts and callbacks to you as you lay into them don’t get too stale in one sitting. I don’t think I’ve heard quite the same insult thrown at me from a single group of enemies. You character has a number of phrases too to keep it going without you clutching your headset and wishing everyone would just shut up. Weapons and their effects as well as your abilities sound great which is helpful considering how much shooting you do.
The game works great whether you’re playing on a controller or on a keyboard and mouse. Personally I prefer a keyboard and mouse for first person shooters as I think the mouse gives far more control. I didn’t have any bad experiences when I hooked up and used the 360 controller for the game, but I like the old school setup for this instead. It’s your basic first-person shooter setup with the ability to jump and crouch, which are pretty much standard now, as well as your character’s main ability, plus grenades and a selection of weapons you carry, and a melee attack if you happen to like getting in close.
Gameplay wise this has a dash of RPG to it where your skill with a gun in a first person shooter combines with increasing your level, opening up new skills, and getting stronger gear and weapons. Loot follows the basic Diablo rules, lots of it. Guns and gear drop everywhere you can find it, but getting the good stuff is a lot more random and a lot harder to get. The stronger the enemies you’re taking down, the better the loot, so it does pay to go in with a group to take on stronger stuff. After level 5 and all the way up to level 50, which you probably won’t get to in one run, you get a skill point to slot into your ability trees. You can only really max one tree out at a time, just like the first game. Now, the first game had its level cap raised by the DLC that came after to be much higher, so I’m expecting that this go around as well. This will let you have a bit more flexibility as you move up, but for now plan on just one tree and if you always play with a group you might want to plan for that too as some abilities really capitalize on being in a group.
Co-op is just as seamless as it was in the first game. When you pop in your screen lists everyone that’s on your friends list who’s in Borderlands 2, if they’re set up and not offline anyway. It lets you know their level, class, and what quest they’re on so you know if you’re a good fit or not. You can change your settings on the fly so if you change your mind about playing well with others you can kill that option. The only thing I don’t like about co-op is when you get in with a greedy group, because loot is not assigned and it’s anyone’s grab. So if you’re not with a bunch of friends they go running for that chest almost before the boss is dead and you’ll be lucky if there’s anything left. The only saving grace is the limited amount of storage on each character even with upgrades so eventually they have to make room and you can sneak in a few grabs then.
Weapon Proficiency has been dropped for a new form of tracking, your Bad Ass Rank for which you get Bad Ass Tokens to spend to give yourself bonuses to make you even more badass instead of just ranking up in weapon abilities. You get a few choices each time you spend a token and can crank up hit points, shield recharge, damage, and so on. You do get diminishing returns on this up through 20 tokens spent with a max of 9.5% bonus in any given stat they offer. Eridium and Slag are also new. Eridium allows you to trade on the black market for various things like ammo storage, bank space and back pack slots. Slag gives you the ability to dish out additional damage to enemies.
Playing through the game unlocks you a new game plus mode called the True Vault Hunter Mode where you keep all your gear, levels, but start the game over again where all the enemies match your level and the number of harder badasses increases making this mode a lot more challenging than you r first run. There’s a decent number of trophies and on top of that unlocks for all your badass ranks to make you even stronger across all your characters. There’s a number of reasons built into replaying it again. Playing with friends to get through tougher enemies and better gear being a big one as well, but on your third playthrough everything on Pandora is scaled up to level 50, the current level cap which will make things even more interesting.
You get at least 30 hours of playthrough on one run with this game provided you do the side quests along with the main quests which is fantastic for a FPS and about average for a western RPG. This obviously doesn’t include if you backtrack to help a friend out in co-op or any extra playthroughs. The areas are fairly well balanced for what you’re doing, enemies scale well depending on how many people you have with you or if you’re alone, and it’s a blast for the cost. It was an easy choice to buy this game at launch price and well worth it.
Building off the first game, the plot is different, and although you get some NPCs coming back, the game feels less like a rehash and more like a revisit. They’ve added some new ways to get bonuses and shaken up the play a bit with new classes and a slightly revamped user interface, and they add to the lore of the Borderlands setting. Not to mention guns, lots and lots and lots of guns. I really do like the overhaul the character customizing got as well. Overall though, while they’ve changed it up a bit, they didn’t mess with the formula much at all which is a very good thing, don’t get me wrong, but it doesn’t lead to much in the realm of originality when you’re treading ground you paved once before.
Like the first Borderlands, I’m loving the hell out of Borderlands 2. It’s started quickly creeping up on my playtime tracker on Raptr and if it didn’t have to fight between an MMO I play regularly with my wife, a personal play challenge I made for Mass Effect, a few other things I’m reviewing, and Torchlight II, it’d be ever further along. I can easily drop two or three hours in this game in a sitting and not even blink. The only thing not making those sessions longer is human contact, the need to eat and sleep, and the fact Steam has a nice clock when I turn on the Community tracker. There’s always something to do and I love doing it.
As for appeal, this holds the record for 2K Game’s most pre-ordered title to date. Yes, it beat Grand Theft Auto in that lump as well. It’s an irreverent romp through a sci-fi wilderness that’s designed from the ground up to be this great hybrid and they delivered well on that promise again with this game. I haven’t had too many issues with this other than the loading textures and when I first loaded up Borderlands 2 I didn’t get my Gearbox weapons right away on my first character but got my relic and key which was weird, but after that it went through just fine.
Control and Gameplay: Classic
Replayability: Very Good
Appeal Factor: Great
FINAL SCORE: GREAT GAME
Short Attention Span Summary
If you liked or loved Borderlands, chances are you already own or are planning on owning Borderlands 2. If you aren’t or don’t, you should put this on a short list of games to buy. Borderlands 2 takes the formula of shooter and RPG hybrid with a taste of the insane and builds on that quite successfully. The world feels bigger, the stakes feel higher, the story is a lot more involved this time around giving players an arch-enemy at the start you really want to shoot in the face, and the new classes don’t feel like a rehash of the classes we had in the first game while still feeling familiar. Co-op still works the same way with an easier way to connect with your friends in game this go around listing who’s online right from the start. This is an easy recommendation for anyone who likes first-person shooters and a no-brainer for anyone who liked the first game.
What Video Game Release for January 2014 are you most excited for?
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