If you are a fan of the first Borderlands game, this review can be summed up incredibly simply – Borderlands 2 is bigger and better and more badass in every way. If your trigger fingers have been itching for more of the Borderlands open-world, over-the-top, looting and shooting action, then picking up Borderlands 2 is a no-brainer.
For the uninitiated, Borderlands is billed as a space-western themed FPS game with elements of borrowed from hack n’ slash RPGs, such as looting everything in sight in search of better gear, and a character skill progression tree.
The first Borderlands was a hit with gamers looking for something different, and that has been retained in Borderlands 2. The rough edges are polished, and broadly speaking, players can look forward to an improved procedurally-generated weapon drop system, more variety in enemies with better AI, and well-designed levels across a much more colourful and expansive game world that begs to be explored.
The narrative driving the adventure has also been improved, with the omnipresent, orbital space-station bound, and charismatic antagonist Handsome Jack constantly assaulting the player with a combination of psychopathic humour, terrible puns, and gameplay altering robot-drop-pod and missile attacks.
Handsome Jack is CEO of the Hyperion corporation and has declared himself Dictator of Pandora. He also stole the credit for finding the Vault and defeating the Destroyer (a feat which players accomplished in Borderlands 1). Jack lurks in his H-shaped space-station, which hangs in orbit between the Borderlands planet of Pandora, and Pandora’s moon. Despite being a rather charming bad guy, ultimately Handsome Jack must suffer the fate of any Borderlands foe.
Throughout the adventure, there is a motley cast of entertaining supporting characters to provide quests, and add context to the game world. Within the framework of “go there and shoot stuff until it dies”, there is a good diversity of missions to keep the never-ending slog for greater loot an entertaining prospect.
Speaking of loot, the randomly-generated weapon drops have been improved. There is a greater variety in weapon designs – it’s quite impressive just how many varieties of each category there are – beyond the rubbish low-level weapons, I don’t recall noticing a recurrent overall design. Weapon function has also been improved, and coupled with the unique visual elements, no two weapons appear to be the same.
Elemental damage weapons are more common, and play a strategic importance in battles, as you will have to swap out your load-out to counter particular enemy types more effectively. Weapons also carry different ammo effects, be it explosive, multi-shot, or instead of merely reloading, being thrown out as a grenade, with a new loaded gun spawning in hand.
All this means you will need plenty of room in your backpack to carry all the cool stuff you find. Where in Borderlands 1, I came to rely on a few core weapons, rarely finding anything new and exciting, but in Borderlands 2, I rarely get through a segment without finding a new weapon that somehow bolsters my available arsenal, frequently requiring a tough decision on which gun to ditch in favour of the new.
The difficulty progression seems just right, but with there being no difficulty adjustment options, newcomers to FPS games may find themselves struggling to come to grips with the nuances of firing different weapons while being assaulted by all manner of Borderlands baddies.
There are a number of elements that work in concert to keep the game fresh throughout, such as a lively and diverse soundtrack, gorgeous cel-shaded visuals providing spectacular vistas, and customisable character appearances to help you stand out in multiplayer games.
Nit-picks include UI clumsiness (managing inventory is tiresome, and to be frank, the PC version suffers from consolitis in this area); setting map waypoints would have been a useful feature considering the expansive areas; and quest markers have a knack for changing around when taking new quests, especially when playing in a group. Ultimately, these are very minor annoyances and easily forgiven because the game is simply too much fun for it to be a problem.
Multiplayer is where the game shines though, as difficulty scales, and battles become more chaotic and challenging. Teamwork will be important, as players are likely to go down often and need reviving by their teamies. Hopping into the game with a few friends is a great laugh and there are hours of enjoyment to be had. The single player experience is good as well, but I found myself skipping a gameplay session if none of my friends were online.
As for longevity, you can’t do much better than Borderlands 2. The game is crammed full of expansive and varied areas to explore, with the promise of ever better weaponry-loot to drive you onwards. The frantic pace of gameplay, especially in multiplayer sessions, means that subtle touches of detail can be overlooked on the first few play-throughs, leaving more to be discovered as one tries out the different characters.
Because Borderlands 2 is such an epic game, Tarryn wanted to give readers a taste of the experience:
I had this… this moment playing Borderlands 2. One of those moments, you know, that don’t happen very often, so when they do, they’re that much more special for it. The sort of moment you’ll never forget, like your first day at school or your first kiss or the first time you saw an actual PC screenshot of Unreal.
So, anyway, there was this moment. It was like everything was suddenly dialled-down into super slow-motion, and – for just that single moment – I had this startling revelation of total clarity and perception, like one of those profound epiphanies you read about on blogs.
Imagine this, then. I’m up on a crate in the middle of some crazy bandit fight club arena, hammered together with bits of girders and concrete and corrugated metal.
Rotorcraft are droning overhead and rockets tilting past on every side, as a multitude of grenades explodes off the battered floor just in front of me.
There’s disco music.
And that’s when a ululating, axe-wielding midget rushes at me through the smoke and fire and shrapnel with murder in his wee little midget eyes.
And I think to myself, “This is the most fun I’ve ever had. Like, ever. Or at least since the first Borderlands.”
In a genre catalogue preponderated by super serious War on Terror simulators in various shades of grey and brown and greyish brown, the Borderlands series is a breath of fresh, murderous midget-infused air with bonus Mardis Gras lighting, midgets, slide guitars, and midgets riding piggyback on midgets. Did I mention the midgets? Borderlands 2 features a lot of midgets. And one butt stallion.