With its cel-shaded aesthetic and unique approach to the FPS, Borderlands left a huge mark on the gaming industry when it was released in 2009. While other shooters were capping off their gameplay with huge confrontations and a massive emphasis on set-pieces, the brand-new IP from Gearbox focused on cooperative gameplay and a Diablo-esque infatuation with loot. While challenging the FPS monsters like Call of Duty was ambitious (some might say suicidal), Borderlands had enough gameplay creativity and style to become a commercial success. No better proof of Borderlands’ strong following was the anticipation for the sequel. Drop the bass, Vault Hunters: Borderlands 2 is more a refinement than a revolution, but once you’re up to your neck in loot, you’ll be having too much fun to worry about that.
Borderlands 2 takes you back to the massive world of Pandora. As a member of one of the four main classes, you get to explore the planet, which is now controlled by a smartass enterpriser named Handsome Jack. After the events of the first Borderlands, the legendary Vault has been discovered and a precious mineral called Eridium is harvested by Handsome Jack and his corporation called Hyperion. The player encounters past characters like the goofy Claptrap and the game progresses with the player being guided by the mysterious A.I. The Guardian Angel. The main goal is to find a new, bigger Vault and discover what lies within its hallowed walls. Though the game takes a number of familiar trappings from its predecessor, Borderlands 2 still has a captivating world to explore and many characters to love and hate. Handsome Jack in particular is a mouthy elitist jerk who will insult you constantly through radio, but you can’t help but laugh at his insults when they’re written so well. The world of Pandora is still extremely inviting and you’re bound to get caught up in the story when the characters all deliver such clever and well-composed lines.
If you’ve played the original Borderlands, diving into Borderlands 2 is incredibly easy. It plays like a first-person shooter, but the Borderlands series has always offered a significant amount of depth beneath the reflex-driven shooting. Collecting weapons, shields, skins, and other items is just as important as how itchy your trigger fingers are. Every combat item has a list of stats like damage, reload speed or capacity, and finding new items is a huge part of gaining an advantage in battle. In addition to the stats, modifiers like burn or corrosive damage can change the tide of battle in an instant. The quality of your arsenal is versatile and highly customizable; finding that perfect combination of weaponry, grenades and stat modifications is rewarding and will keep players going for hours on end.
The cooperative element is still a major part of Borderlands’ guts and the sequel is no slouch in delivering an engaging co-op experience. Players can choose their class, each with its own skills and specialties, and immediately drop in with friends. The simple and hassle-free online setup eliminates the annoying preferences that sprout when forming an online session, so tackling enemies with teammates is much easier than before. A tightly-knit team is recommended, as loot is shared (which can make the more intense gatherers take the best cuts), but when you have an ideal team of friends, exploring Pandora will prove to be even more fun.
Borderlands 2 is an open exploration game, one where players can take missions and complete them for rewards and experience. The variety in the mission design is remarkably large and the inclusion of optional objectives for many of the missions encourages revisiting and working towards perfection. The game capitalizes on distractions, where anything from an intricate side-mission to a simple scuffle with Bullymongs is bound to keep you interested. Borderlands 2 nimbly avoids the tedious RPG grind by keeping the objectives fresh and the gunplay focused. There isn’t a moment in Borderlands 2 where the game feels like a chore to play. That being said, Borderlands 2 doesn’t feel like much of a progression from its already heralded predecessor. The improvements like a more intuitive customization interface and better artificial intelligence are fantastic, but they feel like more like a subtle polish than a full-on restructuring. The gunplay is fast-paced and versatile, the customization elements are addictive and rewarding; however, the game feels too much like a “more-is-more” installment instead of a massive overhaul for the series. It’s a classic case of a sequel holding back the big guns.
Borderlands 2 isn’t built for a single playthrough. Tackling the many challenges in one of the four main classes opens doors for the remaining classes, including Badass Points that can be used to upgrade multiple classes. In addition to the fifth Mechromancer class, Gearbox promises plenty of downloadable content in the vein of the first Borderlands by summer of 2013. The huge amount of content on the disc alone is already a hefty quantity and the quality isn’t anything to scoff at either. Gearbox’s second go in Pandora may not have the biggest ambitions, but it takes everything that was great about Borderlands and brings it back full force.
The slick cel-shaded visual style that helped Borderlands stand out from the crowded FPS genre is alive and well in Borderlands 2. Stylistically designed character models, significantly more varied environments and intense action that runs at a fever clip all contribute to Borderlands 2’s great graphical finesse. However, the occasional glitches (like floating loot) and stagnant NPC animations during interactions make some dents in the presentation. Still, the overall image is rugged and intense. The stellar voice acting is the biggest draw in audio. The many, many voice actors deliver a convincing and captivating “wild west” story, one that will offer laughs and gasps alike. Complementing the voice acting are some solid stage themes and great weapon sound effects, both of which do a great job in delivering high-octane action. The rumble of the action theme rises up when confrontations occur, adding a tense, tribal vibe. Like the gameplay, the presentation in Borderlands 2 isn’t a huge step up from the original, but refreshing new characters with great voice acting performances contribute to overarching aura of a stellar world to visit.
Borderlands 2 never shakes off the looming feeling of familiarity toward its predecessor, but it still is an intense, varied and remarkably funny title that will keep Vault Hunters addicted for a good, long while. Its captivating story and hilarious writing broaden the universe of the series, while revisiting past characters and bringing in new ones. Beneath its awesome cel-shaded graphics and excellent voice performances lies gameplay that, while not the full-on groundbreaker that the first was, is still fun and unquestionably gripping. Games that let you broaden your arsenal and set up your own style of play are a tough nail to hammer, but Borderlands 2 is one of the best examples of an accessible gameplay model with depth bursting from the seams. With a huge amount of post-launch support in DLC, prepare for a lengthy amount of content long into 2013. If you don’t linger on its slightly reserved ambition, you’ll find one of the best shooters of 2012.
Inviting world offers plenty to see and do | Massive amount of gun and accessory customization | Stellar cooperative gameplay
Not much progression from the original | Occasional glitches
It began with a hand-me-down Sega Genesis from his cousin and since then, he's been fascinated with video games. He enjoys the blissful platforming of the 16-bit era and the rich adventures of the 64-bit era. Favorite games include Metroid Prime, Banjo-Tooie, and practically every 16-bit Sonic the Hedgehog title.
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