[Review] Borderlands 2

Three years ago Gearbox released a game that married elements of two genres in a way that had not been done before- combining the monster slaying lootfest that is the ARPG, with the perspective and weaponry of a first person shooter. This fusion of genres turned out to be incredibly popular, resulting in hundreds of hours of fun for many gamers. Borderlands 2 expands on this formula in spades, with many other improvements to behold. Not only does the sequel deliver all of the shooting and looting players expected, along with Pandora’s not-so-sane atmosphere and zany personalities, it also goes above nearly every aspect that was merely average or worse in the first game.

The opening scene cuts straight to the chase. Four vault hunters are riding a train on Pandora, only to suddenly get attacked by robots after seeing a sign declaring a certain Handsome Jack’s intention to send them to their doom. The scene also introduces each of the vault hunters (the different classes), fighting the robots with their special skills. A few moments later, a puppet with Jack’s likeness welcomes them to Pandora with a whole lot of explosives, and the train derails and crashes. This scene is worth mentioning because not only does it demonstrate how each class is badass in their own way, it more importantly sets the premise for the story- stopping Handsome Jack. This scene might have a better story than the whole of Borderlands 1.

Character classes will be familiar to those coming from the first game, which is by no means a bad thing. Classes are distinct in their traditional RPG archetypes, whether you want to be the mysterious, elusive Assassin, the brutish, heavy Gunzerker, or the manipulative, magical Siren. As one can expect, each class is differentiated the skills they have, consisting of an active skill and three skill trees. Active skills do a great job of portraying the “idea” of the character, and as the player will find, are great fun to use during the flow of battle. The Assassin can set up a decoy and stealth, giving him the perfect opportunity to sneak behind enemy lines and take out a target with massively increased damage. The Gunzerker can literally go in “GUNS blazing” by having the ability to dual wield anything. The Commando can set up a turret to zone out enemies, and the Siren can lock enemies down to set up a kill.

While the skill trees also reflect the class (Assassins will have skills that emphasize critical hit chance, Commandos can get more grenade capacity), most skills are merely passive bonuses which apply to your character. Reloading a bit faster or regenerating health are attributes which are useful in battle, but don’t necessarily make it more fun. A few skills are interesting as the player gets to the end of a skill tree, but the lack of a few more active abilities leaves more to be desired.

However, the gunplay does not disappoint. As you might have guessed, the basic premise of the gameplay is to destroy endless waves of enemies, pick up increasingly better guns, rise and repeat. Although repetitive, the game leverages it well by keeping the action fun and nonstop. A continuous stream of ammo is provided to you through endless chests, so you will never be caught unprepared for any action-packed fight. The player’s upgradable shields regenerate, allowing a skillful player to never be forced to avoid a fight. If the player loses all their health, they revert to a downed state, allowing them to revive when they kill an enemy. Although these aspects keep the action continuous, the player will be no stranger to dying- the game is still quite challenging.

Constant action would bore if there wasn’t any variety to it. Fortunately, the game covers that by providing the player with an overwhelming number of wacky guns (along with grenades) at their disposal, and giving each class the ability to wield any type of gun. Only in Borderlands 2 can you find an assault rifle that burst fires grenades, a shotgun which explodes on impact when thrown, or a pistol which fires two exploding rounds at once. The fact that the value of guns are based on effects instead of mere numbers (looking at you, Diablo) keep the combat interesting as players have so many options out of their many guns. It is immensely satisfying to find out the novel ways one can kill enemies.

Unfortunately, the downside is that since there are so many guns, one will see many repeats of the same attributes in their loot. The guns seem less interesting the further the player goes into the game. Attributes that would seem special earlier in the game would be worthy of the vending machine later in the game. It would have been nice to introduce new attributes as the player progresses, or simply have more attributes.

Variety in the combat is further expanded by the plethora of different monsters, which fans of Borderlands 1 will be delighted to know. This is one of the most welcome improvements over its predecessor, which seemed to only feature humanoid bullet sponges and tons of skags. The player will encounter not only bandits and skags, but also anything from threshers to “bonerfarts” to hulking nomads with midget-strapped shields. More importantly, monsters are unique not only in its look, but also its method of defeating it. Shielded enemies will have to be outflanked, cloaked enemies will have to be watched carefully, and goliaths will have to be targeted first or last. This ensures the combat is dynamic and not just a little more than target practice.

Quests provide a reason to go shooting and looting, and a good one at that. Quests have a lot more depth this time around, each one having a purpose and background which the quest-giver explains in voice acted lines, as opposed to a block of text. Most of them feel like the self-contained story they should be, instead of the game’s way of giving you an excuse to kill things. Simple ones such as “collect x number of item” or “Fetch 4 of this” still exist, but contain an interesting context presented in a more personal way to the player. Sometimes even something like a fetch quest will reward the player beyond merely a new weapon or a bunch of experience, such as revealing an quirky anecdote about a character.

Speaking of characters, you will meet numerous connections with wacky, exaggerated, sometimes endearing personalities. Every character seems to be clearly defined to an extreme, such as the diabolical but entertaining antagonist Handsome Jack, to the adorable and rotund Ellie. The excellent voice acting and superb dialogue not only makes characters interesting to quest for, but it also adds a lot of that trademark humor of Borderlands. The playable characters from the first game also make an appearance here as NPCs, which is a very nice touch.

Borderlands had been notable for its art style, and its sequel is no exception. Due to its cell-shaded style, one might have mistake a screenshot from this game as a page of a comic book. Nothing in the game looks generic, and the variety in the guns, characters, and monsters is reflected in the art. The landscape is especially impressive. Whether it’s through deserts or tundras or lush mountains or caves, landscapes are fantastic to traverse through in the open world of Borderlands, whether on foot or in a technical that tosses explosive barrels.

The music in the game reflects its rugged-but-modern aesthetic. Western, old-style themes will accompany your overland sections, but the game isn’t afraid to let out its electric guitar riffs or vibrating bass when in battle. The game’s variety (a word I have used too many times) is shown in its music, which if you listen carefully, clearly contain elements from country, electro, rock, even dubstep. The music effectively conveys the atmosphere and mood whether the player is in a bloody gunfight or walking around in Sanctuary turning in quests.

A few other quips. The handling of vehicles is terrible (at least on PC). Someone had the bright idea of using the mouse to steer and W and S to accelerate, which not only makes no sense on the PC but also makes driving annoying. In addition, with the large amount of quests to be done at any given time, it is strange that the player cannot track more than one quest. It’s not a the potential issue of quests somehow conflicting with each other; quests can be completed even if untracked. Multiple quests should be able to be displayed on the map in such a quest-centric game. Lastly, textures can have a delay in loading, which is a minor bug, but still seems like it should be fixed in a final release.

Borderlands 2 is all about excess and variety (last time I’ll use this word), from the endless cornucopia of weird and awesome weapons, the melting pot of monsters encountered, to the schizophrenic range of personalities the player will meet. The game isn’t without its depth- everything from the mission writing to the dialogue to the music presents a very high quality game. All this, along with the four distinct character classes, guarantees gamers a long experience to match the time it takes to enjoy all this game has to offer.

[+Original, rewarding quests] [+Action is nonstop] [+So many guns] [+Dynamic combat] [+Funny, interesting characters] [+Wide range of landscapes] [+Music and art style unique as ever] [-Skills could be more fun] [-Too few gun attributes] [-Vehicle handling on PC is crap] [-No multiple quest tracking]

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