Borderlands 2 is a first-person shooter and role-playing hybrid game for the PS3, Xbox 360 and PC. The game supports up to four-player co-op during the story mode. It is a sequel to the 2009 game, Borderlands for the PS3, Xbox 360 and PC. Gearbox Software developed the game with 2K Games publishing it. The game set a huge pre-order record with 1.25 million pre-orders making it the biggest pre-order game for the publisher, 2K Games. Needless to say, that with the good reception the first game received, the anticipation and expectations for the sequel were high. After several delays and several years since the first game, was Borderlands 2 worth the wait?
The events of Borderlands 2 takes place five years after the initial Vault Hunters (Roland, Lilith, Mordecai and Brick) found out the secrets behind the Vault of Pandora. Having opened up the Vault and learning its secrets, the landscape of Pandora has been change profoundly. Now the world is rich a new mineral, “Eridium” and as these things tend to go, the prospect of profit attracted the scariest thing ever, a giant corporation. Pandora is now under the rule of a psychotic capitalist, Handsome Jack and his Hyperion Corporation. While Handsome Jack secures the “Eridium” and plans to strip mine Pandora; rumor of another Vault on Pandora leaks out. Now Handsome Jack has a new plan to open that Vault for himself, but knowing the rumor will lure in new Vault Hunters; he takes advantage of this as a way to destroy the competition.
The game opens up with the four new Vault Hunters: Axton, Salvador, Maya and Zero, riding a train to Pandora at the invitation of Handsome Jack. Eventually things go wrong and the Vault Hunters learn something is up. It turns out Handsome Jack rigged the train to explode, but being bad ass Vault Hunters, the crew makes it out alive. Now they have another reason to be on Pandora besides looking for that new Vault. What is better than making tons of cash by finding a new alien cache full of riches? Revenge, Handsome Jack done messed up and now he has four pissed off and dangerous Vault Hunters out to dish out some lethal brutality on his profiteering ass. Handsome Jack becoming a dictator and controlling Pandora is not the only change. In the face of totalitarianism and evil men, there always rises a rebellion force desirous to overthrow it. This resistance comes in the form of the Crimson Lance under the command of Roland from the first Borderlands. On the quest for the Vault and Handsome Jack, the new Vault Hunters will run into familiar faces from the first Borderlands.
Anthony Burch, creator of the web-series Hey Ash, Whatcha Playin’?, and Mikey Neumann, director of the game, handle the writing duties for the game. In Borderlands 2, the facetious and schizophrenic sense of humor and tone, as well as the sci-fi meets western atmosphere from the first game is present. That tone and atmosphere is more potent and focused in the sequel with a huge joke-per-minute rate and the majority of those jokes hitting more than they missed. The Claptraps from the first game were humorous at first, but soon grated after a while. However, focusing on a singular Claptrap unit in the beginning of the game helps to develop a personality and better relationship with the little psychotic, motor-mouthed robot. Even the NPCs in Borderlands 2 have a more distinct personality and humor than the first. In addition to adding much more humor, the plot is more focused and tighter than the first Borderlands. At times in Borderlands, the main plot was easily lost in the middle of taking on side missions and grinding out in search of loot. The elements making up the main plot seem tauter than simply fetching different parts of keys or traveling back and forth to various people hoping they will be able to help in finding the Vault. By pitting a resistance force against an evil corporation headed by a charming sociopath makes for an exciting story to explore.
Gearbox Software has not skimped on refining the core gameplay of the first game in Borderlands 2, as well as adding some much needed changes and additions. At the heart of Borderlands 2’s gameplay it functions like a first-person shooter with players aiming a reticle at enemies and zooming by pressing a secondary button for more accuracy. In addition to their main arsenal of guns, the player has an inventory of grenades to throw at groups of enemies. As well, the player can use melee attacks to do some damage to enemies that get up close. Headshots and weak spots have the chance of doing higher critical damage. Essentially shoot enemies until they stop breathing, running or explode in a glory of entrails and viscous fluids.
Unlike first-person shooters, weapon damage is variable on a number of factors. This is where the role-playing elements come into play. Each player’s character will level up as they progress through the game and they will get stronger as they reach higher levels dealing higher damage. In addition to higher levels, class mods, skills earned by using skill points and “Badass tokens”, all can augment the damage of guns outside of finding stronger and better guns. Not only can damage be augmented by using skill points, “Badass Tokens” or class mods, but accuracy, health, shields (recharge, delay and capacity), grenade damage, etc. can all be improved going off the base stats of equipped weapons.
Much of the gameplay mechanics from the first game remain intact, but have been given a bit of a facelift to accommodate the changes to the classes and to improve upon some of the weak spots from the first game. There have been plenty of changes implemented in Borderlands 2 that improve upon the formula of the first game. The HUD and UI displays have both been overhauled to good results. One major gripe with the first game was the lack of a mini-map on the screen, which made navigating Pandora in that game a bit frustrating at times. This time a mini-map has been included this time and the HUD looks less busy at the bottom due to the lack of a compass (also, the look of HUD information is smoother and slicker looking). Now enemy locations appear on the mini-map and current mission objects way points giving the player a better sense of their location in relation to these things. In addition, now the player can create custom way points on the map if they want to freestyle explore Pandora. Aiding in the exploration of Pandora is the fact that players now have access to addition vehicles, so they do not have to choose simply the same two from the first game.
As mentioned previously, now players have a secondary manner of enhancing their characters outside of skill points. Players can upgrade various character traits by using the “Badass tokens”; players earn these tokens throughout the game by doing various challenges around Pandora. The higher the Badass rank, the more tokens the player has to upgrade things like gun accuracy or maximum health. One hugely useful addition is that players can use a “Safe” for storing items of interest, but they do not feel like carrying around until they can use them or do not want to sell them. It makes for a good way of hording good loot that may not be useful for a current mission. Another change is that instead of upgrading ammo capacity with cash, now players use purple bars of “Eridium” collected around Pandora at the black market in Sanctuary to upgrade ammo and backpack capacity.
One other change is to the elemental damage system. Incendiary, explosive, shock and corrosive damage remains intact with similar functions to the first game. Incendiary is good for taking out flesh enemies as it causes high burn damage over time if enemies are ignited. Explosive can do blast damage hurting multiple enemies or dealing heavy damage to a singular enemy. Shock is perfect for getting around enemies’ pesky shields. With the addition of specifically marked armored units, corrosive damage is even more effective as it wears them down greatly. Thrown into this mixed is the new Slag damage, which covers enemies in purple goo of eridium. This damage makes other weapon types much more effective, so once an enemy is covered in slag, switch over to another weapon and take out those skags, psychos and bullymongs.
Graphics and Sound
Borderlands 2 takes the vibrant and beautiful cel-shaded graphics present in the first game and ramps up the detail and color making the game hugely impressive visually and more often than not strikingly beautiful. For the most part, Borderlands had a drab color pallet, often using muted colors with grays and browns. That is not the case in this game; it embraces color with the first area, icy tundra full of stark whites and blues. While grays and browns end up in the mix eventually because that is the nature of terrain, there are nice splashes of color throughout to keep it from looking too uniform and boring. The enemy models have been revamped and old enemies have been given new character models and added detail, while newer enemy types have been thrown in to give the game a nice mix of mobs for the player to smash their brains in for sweet loot. Whereas in the first game, after a while it was fighting bandits, skags and raks with the occasional boss fight and other mob to break it up, Borderlands 2 has beefed up and varied the enemies the player will fight. Even the NPCs have been varied up more instead of being all punk rockers or construction workers with neck braces. The art style in the game for character introductions is channeling a bit of the exploitation movie motif with freeze frames, character names boldly stamped on and a cheeky description of them. With the style of writing and humor, this art style helps to reinforce the exaggerated characters the player meets and interacts with throughout the game.
Once again, the game has a distinct and memorable theme song in the form of The Heavy’s “Short Change Hero” (Even if the song has been used in many other shows, movies and trailers). It is a hypnotic and somber tune perfectly sets the atmosphere for the game’s excellent intro. The voice acting in the game is full of charm and personality delivering the game’s high joke quotient to great effect. Much like the first game, the bandits and other enemies end up deliver one-liners or threats as the player mows through fleets of them at a time. Unlike the first game where there are long stretches with mainly ambient noise, Borderlands 2 throws music into the mix more often and it is a welcome change of pace.
OverallDoes Borderlands 2 live up to all the hype and anticipation? Probably not because few if any games ever live up to unrealistic expectations heaped upon it by people’s collective desires and imaginings. What it does do is take the formula from the first Borderlands that worked so well and builds upon that then refines it and expands it. For anyone that did not like the first game, this likely will not change his/her mind. Yet for fans of the original, there is plenty to love here and the game will hit fans like a hollow point bullet bursting through a zip lock bag full of KY Jelly, rancid mayonnaise and skag vomit. However, much like the first game, Borderlands 2 really sings and is best when playing co-operatively, mainly with a couple friends. That is not to say that going it single-player is not satisfying, but it can get frustrating at times when going it solo. All told though, the game is extremely well made, funny and addictive. Is Borderlands 2 worth gamers’ hard-earned cash? Yes, it is a huge game with all the side missions thrown in, so it will provide plenty of gameplay hours. In addition, those with a few friends who have copies will have some great replay going through the game in co-op. Besides, where else does a crazy robot sidekick give players his latest dubstep rendition?