Borderlands 2 - review

Tuesday, 18 September 2012 06:49 PM Written by 
A riddle-

What is like a lot of games, yet exactly like none of them?  What is a first-person shooter, but not the kind that you’re thinking of? Where does the word “Skag” make complete sense?

It’s “Borderlands 2.”

The developers at Gearbox figured out what worked in the first “Borderlands” – which was an awful lot – and improved upon their creation with “Borderlands 2.” The series draws inspiration from other FPS’s and combines it with the joy of looting that you get in an MMO, but somehow this mix creates something that you wouldn’t expect. “Borderlands” did its own thing.  “Borderlands 2” does it better.

Fans will feel right at home as they take their first step on Pandora. Movement and controls have been untouched, which is a good thing considering there was nothing wrong with them. The core of the game is essentially the same. It’s the world in front of you that got an upgrade.

Following the events of the first game, opening the vault triggered the arrival of a valuable substance known as Eridium. It’s rare and everybody wants it. A man known as Handsome Jack is the leader of the Hyperion Corporation. He makes it his sole duty to keep a stranglehold on the Eridium supply by hoarding large quantities and mining for more all across Pandora. Others who are in search of Eridium and a new vault are aptly called “vault hunters.” Naturally, Handsome Jack sees these vault hunters as a threat, and both parties race to find the entrance of a new vault.

Four new characters make up the vault hunters. Salvador the rugged dwarf handles the “Gunzerker” class, Maya is the new Siren class, Zero is a masked Assassin, and finally Axton fills in the Commando class.

Before delving into the class system, the story and writing need their due. The writing in the first game had its strengths, but struggled in storytelling. The dialog was strong, but after pumping dozens of hours into the game, it wrapped up with one of the most anti-climactic endings in recent memory. Calling it disappointing would be an understatement.

(Be one with your gun)

“Borderlands 2” features a new writer to the series, Anthony Burch, and it looks like it was a perfect hire. Everything from the story, to the quest dialog, to the battle chatter is quick, witty, and is a perfect fit for the cheeky “Borderlands” tone. And If you have some time on your hands, try to spot all of the subtle pop culture references.

The writing isn’t the only aspect of the game that focused on details. “Borderlands 2” has detail everywhere, which is even more impressive considering the sheer size of the game. One of the main selling points of the series is its unparalleled arsenal. There are guns everywhere and you’re not likely to see a duplicate. In the sequel, a clear focus was to make these guns look, feel and act differently from one another.

The same gun types return: pistol, SMG, shotgun, sniper rifle, and rocket launcher. And now each gun in these categories seems like one of kind thanks to a plethora of reload animations and plenty of other variables. For example, certain guns will act differently when aimed down sight. I found some that were semi-automatic, but shot in a three-round burst when scoped. Others grant a damage bonus when scoped.

Thanks to varied loot, the writing, quest structure, and the incessant journey to become stronger, there are plenty of factors that will keep you playing. MMO-style quests can get stale in a hurry, especially ones that are of the “collect X of Y” ilk, but “Borderlands 2” has plenty of quest variation that makes every mission feel like a new one. Gearbox deserves major kudos for avoiding this common RPG pitfall.

(Make your class your own)

How you play depends on your character and skill set. Salvador’s strength is in heavy weapons, while Zero hones stealth and sniper skills. Maya and Axton are best used as support classes. Each character has three very different skill trees that strengthen a specific facet of combat. Throughout the journey of gaining experience, that tree can be improved. For example, Zero, the assassin class, can dump skill points into strengthening the sniper rifle, or inversely into a strong melee skill. Both ways to play have their strengths and weaknesses, but the key is choice. You have the ability play your character the way you see fit.

Similarly to “Borderlands,” the sequel is best played with one or more friends. But fear not if you don’t have any, as “Borderlands 2” remains satisfying even when you’re playing alone. On the plus side, you won’t have to worry about fighting a teammate for a purple, the rarest of the rare loot drop.

(A level 50 fears no robot)

I mentioned the size of “Borderlands 2,” but the most impressive aspect of its size is how smoothly the game works from start to finish. Usually games with such an expansive scale have more than a couple bugs and glitches (*cough*Skyrim*cough*), but somehow my playthrough of this game was bug-free. Missions ran properly and NPCs acted as intended. This is the ultimate sign of a polished game.  Its combination of size and functionality is remarkable.

My first playthrough took 37 hours, which included a good number of side missions, but far from all of them. Once the game is completed, “True Vault Hunter” mode is unlocked. This restarts the game, but keeps you at your current level. Missions are the same, but yield more XP and the world features new enemies and better loot. This easily makes for a 100+ hour game and even more if you want to explore deeply into different characters. Save some room for future DLC too, which will arrive quickly.

Now for the obligatory gripe: the minimap. “Borderlands” has always been about exploration, and a key part of exploration is a user-friendly map. With large, sprawling areas with hills and mountains, it’s easy to get lost or turned around. I got stuck often when trying to follow my objective cursor because I couldn’t tell what was blocked by an obstruction and what wasn’t. It’s difficult to see where the roads lead, and that information is pretty important. Wasting time while being lost is a serious annoyance, and while the map isn’t a huge detractor of the game’s fun, it does rear its head at inopportune times. Especially during the new timed missions.

(Happy hunting)

There a lot to consider when judging “Borderlands 2” as a complete work. It doesn’t necessarily add anything earth-shattering to the series’ established gameplay, but rather builds and improves it to make a fun concept even more so. And that’s OK with me. Prepare for a new timesink. “Borderlands 2” is here.

9 out of 10


Pros:
Superb writing
Strong class balance
Details, details, details
Expansive world

Cons:
Poor minimap

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