Holy crap, Borderlands 2. Yes, it’s amazing. Just how amazing is it? That’s what I’m here to tell you today. Or you could just skip the rest of the review as soon as I say that Borderlands 2 is everything the original was, only all of those little things that could have been improved upon if only they’d had a bigger budget have been fixed with the giant pile of money that the first game made. Did you follow that? Good. Go get it.
GAME NAME: Borderlands 2
DEVELOPER(S): Gearbox Studios
PUBLISHER(S): 2K Games
PLATFORM(S): PlayStation 3, Xbox 360, PC
GENRE(S): First Person Shooter, Action RPG
RELEASE DATE(S): September 18, 2012
If you really want specifics, fine. I love developers who take a good thing and instead of trying to tack on some Call of Duty-esque multiplayer mode or make a big dramatic story nobody likes or pour it all into attempting photorealistic graphics that still aren’t quite out of the uncanny valley, they listen to the voices of their fans and just put out more of the same with all of those little flaws fixed right up. This combined with some of the most excellent and hilarious writing I have ever had the honor of experiencing in a video game makes me want to marry Gearbox and have a bunch of little Indie developer children.
But enough ridiculous fangirl ranting. Borderlands 2 presents to Pandora four new playable characters with four neat new abilities. You are once again there as vault hunters hunting for a new super secret bigger vault, but a certain head of the Hyperion Corporation doesn’t want you there and tries to kill you. After that, it’s on. You’re quickly introduced to Claptrap and Angel the no-personality computer chick and taken to Sanctuary, where a rebel force resides to resist Hyperion and the hilariously evil Handsome Jack.
The writing and voice acting together make this game. This is the first time in my twenty-year gaming career that the main reason I was compelled to continue playing a video game was because I wanted to hear the characters talk. I wanted to know what the next knee-slappingly wry threat on my life was going to be made by Handsome Jack. While my friends are busy buying new equipment in town, I run around talking to NPCs (who have quite a bit more dialogue options now) or following Claptrap to hear him beatbox. Sorry, “beatbox.” Though the plot in itself is not exactly inspiring, the constant delivery of clever lines with the impeccable timing of the actors produces a work of comedy art the equal of The Big Lebowski or Spaceballs. When you can make me tear up from laughter, you don’t need to make me tear up from sadness.
Yes, Borderlands 2 did make the skill trees more expansive. The new characters are have essentially the same roles, but due to the amount of different skills you can you’re your points into, each character can become two different people. Zero, the assassin (hunter), can be customized into an in-your-face melee ninja, or a long-range sniper. Personally, I took this opportunity to get back in touch with my inner sniper and loved every critical hit of it. The skill customization options can make for some serious teammate opportunities. With the help of a sniper rifle equipped with the new “Slag” elemental, which makes enemies more vulnerable to all types of damage, I and my partner (playing the world’s tiniest tank character) wrecked some serious havoc. I hang back and slag everything in sight in a matter of seconds, and he goes blazing in with his duel wield ability. It did not get old.
Gearbox has made the world of Pandora bigger and more alive. There’s almost constant chatter from characters – so much so that they occasionally interrupt each other, which is distressing. I feel like I could explore Pandora for months and still find new things, and yet never feel alone. The only complaint I have, being an impatient person, is the scarcity of fast travel stations. However, I hesitate to count that against the game. With too many, Pandora would cease to feel big and missions wouldn’t be nearly as epic.
Borderlands 2 is all-around more convenient. You can mark guns as junk for quicker selling, ammo and money are picked up automatically when dropped by enemies, and it’s much easier to organize and keep track of the many side missions. There’s also a neat new bonus feature wherein completing “challenges” such as killing a certain amount of enemies with fire or looting a certain amount of blue items earns you a badass rank and gives you tokens. These are spent on attribute bonuses, like a 1% increase in melee damage. The individual increases are small, but Gearbox went a little crazy with the number of challenges, so you’ll get a lot of tokens.
Graphics are better, though still with that classic style. Performance is better, though I still encounter the occasional bug or terrain difficulty. In other words, I get stuck on things a lot. Hard to avoid with such a big world. AI has obviously improved, with enemies that work together and take cover when shot. Though the delightful psychos still run directly toward the muzzle of your gun. Speaking of baddies, there are a couple new varieties. My favorite is the Goliath, who will become very angry when you shoot off his helmet and reveal his weird tiny head. What’s so fun about this is that he will then attack the first person in sight, whether that be you or a fellow bandit. I hate the stalkers, though. Who came up with teleporting enemies? Not cool.
Another interesting bit is the fact that the vast majority of enemies emerge from buildings and hidey holes when you enter an area, so you can’t stand back and snipe everything. At first that made me sad, but I realized later that this is a smart move. I could and would snipe enemies from afar all day long if the game let me, but it wouldn’t be nearly as fun as being in the fray, surrounded by a hoard of enemies who either want to shoot me from cover or smack me in the face. The barely-controlled chaos is what makes Borderlands 2 so intensely fun.
What else good can I say about this game? The old playable characters appear as supporting cast to help you bring down Handsome Jack. There’s a 13-year-old girl who makes bombs, and throws tea parties in which she tortures bandits to death in her spare time. Oh, and the loot. So much loot. So many beautiful guns. There’s so many loot containers to find around each area that sometimes even I am willing to skip some and move on, though it pains me.
I once found a sniper rifle that fired like a semi-automatic. The joy.
The only complaints I have about Borderlands 2 are piddling annoyances, like the fact that the game has to save on both my and my partner’s screens before it will let us travel. Again, impatient. But for the most part, Borderlands 2 is a constant adrenaline pleasure cycle. Creeping into an area that is yet quiet but obviously about to be occupied by baddies builds the tension, and then when they pop out, the chaotic battles can go on until your best guns are depleted. This is the point when strategy breaks down, your teammates abandon you, and you cuss each other out while trying to take down the last raging Goliath. Once it’s dead, all accusations of cowardice and incompetence are forgotten among the scrabbling for the mountains of loot and equipment comparing. Then, happy with your new gun, shield, grenade mod, or heavier wallet, you move on to the next battle.
What I’m trying to say is that this game is like crack with no come down and only minor withdrawal symptoms. Buy it already.