The almost surprising success of the first Borderlands prompted a sequel and moved the franchise from interesting new IP to the big leagues in the autumn release schedule. The original was a great time sink and one of the best meldings of fps, rpg and co-op I’ve played. The charm of the cel-shaded art style, the eye-rolling comedy and the endless replayability meant players were much more forgiving to some of the sketchier design aspects. But with a longer deadline, a larger dev team and a big triple-A budget, fans were expecting big things from Gearbox this time around. They were successful. Without a doubt, Borderlands 2 is superior to the first game.
While the game will be undeniably familiar to Pandora veterans, some simple evolutionary measures from Borderlands have refined the overall experience such as shorter loading screens, the ability to move in last stand (rather than falling in battle behind cover with no clear way to get a kill to revive) and much, much more varied NPC chatter. The story and dialogue is more of a driver than the original, which lacked a definitive plot and ending, when coupled with plenty of easter eggs, hidden recordings and sufficiently more groan-worthy pop culture references the overall feel of the game is far more characteristic. The advancement continues as the landscape seems to have gained a few more colours in its palette and while there are nods to the previous adventure and a few old enemies remain, new ones are added to the roster. While the addition of the badass rank has been brought in at the expense of the gun proficiencies, this new grinding system gives the ability to theoretically level up forever.
There are hundred of missions and although many revolve around standard fetch quests, story missions are almost exclusively filled with fast-paced action. Co-op play can be manic but it is mania with a purpose, as teamwork with a group of equally-levelled vault hunters will see the entire group flying up the experience ranks. You can play Co-op with any combination of player types and with four very different characters, each with three skill trees means lots of experimenting and actual thought into how you want to play. Soloist will shun all team-based buffs, and besties may choose their perks by consensus – this flexibility is a real breath of fresh air from the majority of linear first person shooters of late.
It is really hard to pick faults with Borderlands 2, but those that are present are unfortunately remnants of the predecessor. Gun fights can be quashed in a flash, or leave you respawning over and over again. No matter how a battle went down, the ending will always be the same – scavenging for loot! Get used to unlocking containers as you’ll be spending a whole chunk of your time opening boxes, checking stats and managing inventory. Buying or selling equipment is once again a moot point as the gear in vending machines is normally underpowered overexpensive or you simply don’t have space to bring it onboard. Leaving early quests until a later time to complete will stuff your inventory with cheap and fairly useless gear which is unusable at your higher rank and only good for dropping or selling at the earliest convenience.
The recurrent respawning of enemies, triggered by leaving and re-entering an area can be a grind on time and an expense on ammo, particularly at higher levels. A good tactic for levelling up is farming the rare or boss enemies, but when these are positioned between you and a goal, the battles can be a chore.
The ‘Bazzillions of guns’ moniker again was wheeled out, and again it is a true but misleading statement. All guns fall into a type and an elemental effect, only separated by moderate differences in stats. Once your backpack is full, 99% of the loot you find will not be picked up as it will be no better than the lowest value piece of kit you already have and once you have a really brilliant gun, you may end up keeping it for almost ten levels. Rare and epic pick-ups seem few and far between, although it may give this impression due to the much more expansive playing world.
Talking of the game world, when fast travel is not available – which is quite often in some subsections – the Catch-a-Ride is your friend to digitize a vehicle for your leisure. While there is still not much variety in the available vehicles, they are again all over-powered. Onboard turrets and ordinance make short work of all enemies, whilst you remain fairly invulnerable while on the move. This lack of choice in what is an integral part of the game was addressed in the first game during the General Knox DLC, so hopefully the roster in the sequel will be added to in a future add-on.
The above grievances are really nit picking, and all are a mild annoyance rather than a game-breaking aspect, and like a lvl 1 pistol, are quickly discarded and forgotten. All that has not been mentioned as a grievance has been improved, and all cons are hugely outweighed by the endless pros. Even with the swollen Q4 release schedule, it is a safe bet that it will definitely be one of the top ten releases of the year.
Lively characters, a beautiful cel-shaded stylishness (is stylishness a word? -ed.), oodles of content already on the disc with promised DLC and a fifth character coming for free to all those who pre-ordered, and after all future add-ons are available, I predict a good year’s on-and-off gaming from this title. That is significant, as you’ll need to put in the time to get back the rewards from this game, which while brazenly promoting its comedy and ultra-violence, it is strictly not a casual game. Be warned, by choosing to play Borderlands 2, you are effectively choosing to not play anything else for a good chunk of time. It is addictive, immersive, exacting but most importantly- exceptionally good fun!