One of this fall’s biggest titles that came out 3 weeks ago is just being reviewed now? Yes, yes it is. This review will have optional spoilers, but you will be warned in advance when they are coming and you will be informed where to skip to to avoid them because we’re thoughtful like that.
If you played the first Borderlands, you’ll know that the game is a very large FPS game with a ton of RPG elements and randomized loot drops. It also has a very unique sense of humour that goes from subtle nods to pop culture, to much more blatant parodies, a fair amount of sexual innuendo, over-the-top characters, and more quotable lines than I’m even willing to try to count up. The second entry in this franchise continues this pattern, bringing back a ton of familiar faces from the first game, a familiar environment or two as well as a large quantity of new ones, a ludicrous number of guns, a new style of vehicle to drive around, a lot more sidequests, the same signature style of humour and artwork, the inclusion of a second, tougher playthrough after you complete the game, and unfortunately, more variations on the Underdome concept.
For those of you unaware, when you start up Borderlands 2, you’re given the choice of 4 very unique character classes (now 5 including the recently released Mechromancer). Axton is a commando who happens to very similar to Roland the soldier from the previous game. Like Roland, Axton has a turret he can throw out, although with slight changes. There’s no shield or choice to regenerate ammo and health, but you can get a second turret, have it shoot rockets, and increase your own maximum health and shield capacity through some of the upgrade options. Maya is a siren just like Lilith was, and utilizes Phaselock rather than Phasewalk. What’s the difference? Maya can temporarily immobilize an enemy and have them floating above the battlefield. It might seem like an inconsequential ability, but considering it allows you to take a hefty enemy out of the fight for a little while, it can mean the difference between dying and being able to save face a little while longer.
We then have Salvador the gunzerker, Zer0 the assassin, and now Gaige the mechromancer. Gaige is completely new, but Salvador and Zer0 are the successors to Brick and Mordecai respectively. Salvador is able to dual-wield two of the weapons he has in his four equipped slots although they’re chosen somewhat at random. The first weapon is one from the first and second slot, while the second weapon comes from the third and fourth slots. It allows for some truly interesting combinations such as a flame-spewing rocket launcher and a corrosive assault rifle, and the only way to find your favourite is to constantly mix it up. Zer0 is an interesting character because his special ability produces a hologram of himself as he becomes invisible and can deal bonus damage whenever he attacks an enemy. The hologram can be powered up to have special powers, but be warned, Zer0 can still take damage while using this ability. Lastly, Gaige’s special ability is fairly similar to the commando’s but instead of a stantionary turret, she has a floating robot that can move around and hunt down enemies. For those of you who wish the turret could move and see the enemy hiding behind a crate, you’ll love Gaige. You may not wish to play the commando after playing as the mechromancer. You’ve been warned.
There were a number of games who were disappointed by the lack of prominence or importance placed upon the plot of the first Borderlands game. These people will be happy to learn that Borderlands 2 addresses this and the plot is far more prominent and plays a large part in just about everything you do within the game. There are parts of the plot and story within this game which explain some of the events in the first, and it’s nice to see Gearbox tying together the two games so smoothly. The plot pieces they use seem very natural and don’t give you the impression they made something up just to intertwine the two. Once you see and hear how they’ve worked the stories together, you’re actually satisfied by how it was done.
As in the first game, the mechanics of this game are incredibly tight, and the controls remain the same. The jump-in/jump-out co-op remains, and just as in the previous game, the more players you have, the more difficult the game gets and the better the loot is. That’s not to say that you’ll start finding orange (incredibly rare) loot instantly, but you will tend to find a higher caliber of gear. Of course you’ll have to beat your friends to the loot if you want it unless you’re all willing to share and play nice. But really, who does that? The quality of the audio is just as high as the first, and the voice acting is still absolutely superb. While there are a large number of NPCs which simply fill the city of Sanctuary and don’t say much, the characters who actually have names (and even generic enemies) have some fantastic voices and spout out some hilarious lines. Whether it’s Moxxi’s natural accent making a temporary appearance, a Hyperion soldier saying he’s going to get a promotion after you’ve killed another soldier, or any of the countless ECHO files scattered throughout the game, you’ll be glad that Gearbox invested in some quality audio and you’ll likely be calling the writers geniuses.
Borderlands 2 also introduced Badass Challenges which are a large number of optional challenges for you to complete as you play the game if you so desire. What will completing these challenges get you? Badass Points which then in turn give you tokens you can redeem to marginally increase stats across all over your characters. These challenges will consist of anything from finding the hidden Vault symbols throughout each area, to killing a certain number of enemies with a certain weapon, to saving up a certain amount of money. Most of the challenges also have different tiers, and while the higher tiers require more of whatever you have to accrue to complete it, the reward is also higher. You will also occasionally receive a customization item for completing certain tiers. If you don’t want to receive these stat upgrades across all of your characters, you can turn that function off and any other characters you create will not receive those bonuses. To give you an idea, some of the stats you can upgrade are gun damage, melee damage, elemental effect chance, critical hit damage, maximum health, and shield recharge rate. The first increase to any given category will be 1%, but will then drop to 0.7%, 0.6%, 0.5%, and then 0.4%. It may seem like minimal amounts, but they definitely add up over time.
I mentioned customization items, and that’s one of the interesting features of Borderlands 2. Unlike the first game where you were given a static character, Borderlands 2 gives you the ability to change the head, colour scheme, and even name of your characters as well as the colour of your vehicles. This gives the game more of that RPG feel to it which I’m sure a large number of gamers will appreciate. It’s nothing huge, but when it comes to gaming, I’m sure a lot of us can agree that the small touches can make huge differences to a game’s feel.
Now, the game isn’t perfect, there are a couple of issues I had with the game. The biggest issue I had is that while exploring areas of the world, if you saw a darkened section of the map that you wished to explore, there were a couple of times that you couldn’t actually reach the area until you completed a specific sidequest or the path you had to follow in order to reach the area was incredibly unclear. This led to some instances of frustration because there was nothing telling you that you would only be able to access the location upon completing a quest, but there was simply a large dark spot on the map taunting you. The other issue I had with the game was the increased number of areas similar to Mad Moxxi’s Underdome Riot DLC. I’m not a huge fan of the Horde-style of gameplay, so this issue comes down to personal preference, but I feel like the game would not have suffered if one of the three different Underdome-esque areas were removed.
Be warned! Spoilers ahead! If you wish to skip them, scroll down to the next picture!
If there is one sidequest you have to complete, it’s one you receive early on from Sir Hammerlock where he asks you to study the Bullymongs so he can write a book about them. He wants to change the name of the creatures and he gets so frustrated with being stonewalled with every proposed change that he simply gives up and decides to call them “Bonerfarts.” He then proceeds to rant about Bonerfarts for about a minute and it’s absolutely hysterical.
I previously mentioned familiar faces making a return in Borderlands 2, and you’ll be pleased to know that the four protagonists all make appearances and all play a pivotal role in the main plot to stop Handsome Jack from using a Vault Key and the “Warrior” for his own devious intentions. The entire time Jack talks to you, not only does he spew insults at you, he also refers to himself as the hero of the story and insists that you’re in fact the villain. As you progress through the story, his ECHO communications with you get increasingly humourous as he begins to lose his cool.
You may also be happy to know that the final boss in Borderlands 2 is significantly more satisfying than the Vault Monster from Borderlands. The Warrior is a dragon-like creature made out of lava and rock while you stand on a circular platform surrounded by hot lava on every side. The Warrior takes longer to kill, can deal more damage, and it’s not quite as painfully obvious as to where you should shoot to deal critical damage. Once you figure out what to do, the fight is fairly straightforward, but it’s still satisfying to watch as it falls down into the lava in defeat. This time around though, Gearbox isn’t making us wait before we can fight a boss similar to Crawmerax. Once you complete the game, a sidequest opens up back in Sanctuary where you’re sent to go fight a large boss that stands at a whopping level 53. That’s 3 levels higher than the current level cap, so in order to take this monster down you will definitely need some solid co-op partners, or at least some patience until the first DLC pack is released which will likely increase the level cap.
More of the same humour, gameplay, and looting from the first game
Brilliant writing and audio work
Strong plot presence
Trying to explore dark spots on the map can be confusing and misleading
More sidequests in the style of Mad Moxxi’s Underdome Riot
Voices of your co-op companions can lead to missing dialogue
If you enjoyed the first Borderlands, you’ll love Borderlands 2. If you like games where you run, gun, and loot, you’ll love Borderlands 2. If you love being able to explore vast video game environments, specialize your character’s talents to fit your style of play, and laughing almost constantly, you’ll love Borderlands 2. The only reason you wouldn’t love Borderlands 2 is if you’re lacking a television or a console to play on and even then, you’d only be mad that you couldn’t play it.
Eric is an editor for Analog Addiction where you can find all the latest gaming news, previews, reviews, and everything else that rhymes with those words. ‘Like’ Analog Addiction on Facebook to receive all of the updates as they’re posted.