- Format: 360 (version reviewed), PS3, PC
- Unleashed: Out Now
- Publisher: 2K Games
- Developer: Gearbox Software
- Players: 1-4
- Site: http://www.borderlands2.com/
Borderlands was a 2009 release which sought to exploit the MMO-style desire of latent OCD suffering gamers across the world to collect bigger and better loot. It saw great success thanks to this feature and a solid co-operative system, despite never really trying particularly hard with plot. Skip ahead to today and Borderlands 2 sets out to build on the success of the previous game while addressing the original shortcomings.
Set a few years after the first game, an ancient vault on the planet Pandora has been opened and a new element called Eridium has begun appearing across the landscape, morphing it as it goes. The Hyperion corporation (one of the gun makes also featured in the first game) led by Handsome Jack have descended on Pandora to rid it of its bandit population and find what other secrets might be hidden there. You play as one of four new Vault Hunters tricked by the promise of challenge and reward, brought to Pandora only to be promptly back-stabbed by Jack and left for dead in the snow.
What is immediately obvious and consistent throughout the whole game is that Gearbox has made a far bigger effort to break up the inevitable monotony of kill quests, fetch quests and finding slightly better guns by breathing far more life in Pandora and its denizens. Rather than spatter tiny bits of humour here and there ,it instead intertwines consistently good humour in with plots (both main and side) that try hard to keep things entertaining. Yes, this might be a generic kill quest you’ve just been sent on, but it’s to deliver pizza to and kill four mutants parodying Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles.
Granted that pop-culture references aren’t for everyone, it’s worth pointing out that the humour is of a high enough standard to not rely only on those. What especially helps is how good an antagonist Handsome Jack is. Right from the off you will be harassed by him and this will carry on throughout the game. It is a testament to excellent character writing that you will love, hate and be annoyed by Jack at the same time. He is genuinely funny, while also being horrifically evil. His speeches bob and weave between silly and sinister expertly – such as one occasion where, while laughing, he tries to recount the time to you that someone tried to kill him with a spoon, only to let slip at the end that he murdered them in front of their wife and children by gouging out their eyes.
What can’t be ignored is that at its core Borderlands 2 remains about the loot. You will want to find bigger and better loot. Each big chest is just waiting to potentially contain something shiny depending on how the game randomly ‘rolls’. It’s intoxicating to find a new gun, even if it’s only slightly better than one you are currently using. Far more life has been given to the guns too thanks to more unique characteristics between different manufacturers and a new element (called slag) and a new weapon type called E-Tech (Eridium infused guns that make them act very, very uniquely).
We were able to play through the whole game and most of True Vault Hunter Mode (New Game+) without ever feeling that the game got too monotonous – which is a step up from our experience with the first game. What helped was playing the game co-operatively, and once again we would strongly advocate that if you plan to play a Borderlands game never, ever play it alone as the monotony would be far more likely to set in regardless of how good the plot is. Up to four people can play one game and even play the same class if they want.
Were we to pick faults with the game, it would be in the characters you play as. They have been given a bit more life than the cast of the first game (who, ironically, are given even more life this time thanks to heavy inclusion in the plot) but that doesn’t excuse the fact they lack progressive depth. The cast this time around are essentially just copies of the original classes with very little changes.
Having only one active ability which you gain at Lv5 also feels a bit weak. Yes, each class has three skill tress to spend points in that you earn with each level after that, but these are all largely passive buffs or upgrades meaning from Lv5 onwards your ability will never really change. It doesn’t seem too ridiculous to want to have more than that, especially when it seems like so much care has been put into every other aspect.
You can of course play as every class to mix things up a bit and the game tries to encourage this by a new system called ‘Badass Ranks’. These ranks give you permanent, relatively small buffs (for example 0.6% more shield capacity which can be increased by 0.4% per time you pick it) across all characters and the ranks can be earned on each character you make. Say one character you have might have gotten all Badass Ranks possible for using sniper rifles – if you make another one they can earn them over again and add to the growing pot of ranks to spend.
On the assumption that you enjoy collecting loot and have at least one other person to play the game through with and don’t mind that the game has a Season Pass for four DLC packs, it’s hard not to recommend Borderlands 2. It’s almost worth it just for the experience of meeting Handsome Jack alone, who will probably find his way into internet lists alongside names like GlaDos and The Joker.