Oct 5, 2012

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Borderlands 2 Review

Borderlands 2 Review

Back in 2009, a title came out that would do so much better than critics expected from one going against some big names. That game, Borderlands, was a smash hit, with its cel-shaded graphics and impressive first-person shooter gameplay. This year, we were presented with Gearbox’s sequel, Borderlands 2 ,which promised to outdo its predecessor in every way possible. With so many sequels making the same promise and not always fulfilling them, it’s understandable to question if this will be the case with Borderlands 2.

The original Borderlands offered the tale of four Vault hunters who set out on a journey to uncover massive amounts of loot. The story was good, but not the best. Luckily, the sequel improves on the story without watering down any of your favorite characters from the first one. In Borderlands 2, you play as one of four new characters (or classes) as they go against Handsome Jack. To aid in your mission to defeat the villainous man, you will meet up with the original four Vault hunters as well as other NPCs.

As stated above, the story from the first Borderlands was a bit hectic and all over the place. Borderlands 2 presents a story that makes a bit more sense and delivers on the zany dialogue while also answering some questions we all had at the end of the first one. Nearly all of your favorite characters from the first show up with some new and equally likable characters. One such new character that I’ve come to love is Tiny Tina. This young eccentric girl’s remarks had me laughing. But it’s not just the important characters that get witty one-liners. Wandering NPCs to even the many bandits you dispose of can say just about anything. I feel as if the writers had put forth 120% more effort into the script. In fact, the writers presented a few twists within the game that came out of nowhere, but don’t really feel like they were just added for the hell of it.

The story progresses through a series of missions given out by key characters. There are also plenty of optional missions to keep you occupied. Gearbox gives players a nice variety of missions, including timed ones. The difficulty varies among them, with some being as simple as gathering guests for a party to killing off the strongest enemy in the game. It is possible to fail the timed missions. There were few (outside of the “You. Will. Die.”  (Seriously.) mission) ones that gave me a bit of trouble.

While the story is better than the first, majority of fans will admit that it’s not the main reason that keeps us coming back for more. Borderlands holds the record for most guns in a video game (coming in at 17 million) and the sequel promises to offer a hell of a lot more. With such an enormous offering as this, there is a gun (or two or three…) out there for everyone, and very possible that each one will be unique. Gun properties vary due to manufacturer and rarity. There are also special ones given out by key NPCs or dropped by enemies. One such example would be the guns you can receive from Moxxi for tipping her.

The gameplay in Borderlands 2 is fast and definitely a step-up from the original’s while still retaining what made the 2009 title a critically acclaimed hit. The AI has become smarter with their tactics. However, I felt that sometimes they were just too smart in the sense that they gang up on you and kill you just to scatter away as you try to gain that much-needed Second Wind. During a short time period, you can gain a second wind by killing a nearby enemy. This can be difficult as some of the enemies will take to retreating from your area of fire. Another thing to note is how unpredictable the draining speed of the bar is. There were times that I had a good five to six seconds to take out an enemy, and other times it drained within two to three seconds.

A feature added to the title is the ability to trade items and cash between players. It’s easy to access, as you just have to be near a player and hold a button to bring up a menu. It is also within this menu that you can challenge one another to a duel. This menu, along with all the menus within the game, is easy to navigate. In the previous entry, you would have to drop the loot on the ground for others to pick up and it was not possible to give another player any of the cash you carried.

While most of your time will be spent in the midst of bullets or trekking from one location to another, you will have to visit the menu screen to set up skill points or look over the latest gun you looted. It’s easy to compare guns and shields to find the best one for your level. If you wanted more than just skills to boost your characters  you will be pleased to find the large list of Badass Challenges. Completing these earns you tokens that can be redeemed on stat boosts such as gun damage and maximum health. The best part for this is the fact that the boosts apply to each and every character you use.

If you loved the cel-shaded graphics from the first one, you’ll be happy to know that Borderlands 2 follows in its predecessor’s footsteps and uses the same style. Given the nature of this FPS-RPG hybrid’s story, the cel-shading is a perfect fit. Colors pop out and the the explosions are fantastic.

Borderlands 2 starts out with a great intro song. “Short Change Hero” by the British rock band The Heavy sets the tone for the game. However, it lacks the gusto that Cage the Elephant’s “Ain’t No Rest for the Wicked” has. This isn’t a bad thing, as “Short Change Hero” lyrics fit well. The voice actors for the Borderlands 2 cast are perfect picks. Handsome Jack sounds like a real jerk and makes it that much easier to hate his guts. One of my favorite characters, as  mentioned above, is Tiny Tina. This 13-year-old girl is borderline crazy, but it’s done in a cute way and Ashly Burch pulls it off splendidly.

Given the many possible builds you can create from three skill trees among the four characters (and with the upcoming Mechromancer) as well as randomization of loot dropped, players can expect to put away a lot of hours. Your first playthrough can average anywhere from 30 hours to 50+. Once you complete the first playthrough, you can start over with your current character with the True Vault Hunter mode. This mode ups the ante with tougher enemies, higher chances of Badass enemies spawning, and better loot.

Borderlands 2 is fun when you play alone. However, it’s more fun and somewhat easier to play local co-op or online. Joining in someone else’s game is as simple as highlighting the person’s name and clicking to join. If none of your friends are playing, you can join in a random person’s game. The more players in a game, the stronger the enemies and better the loot you’ll come across. The local co-op mode is great for those who like to sit side-by-side on the couch as they play. My only complaint is how distracting it can be to focus on the top or the bottom half of the TV screen. This isn’t a flaw within the game but rather a personal thing.

Overall, you cannot go wrong with Borderlands 2. Fans of the first will enjoy continuing on the story and seeing what happened to the many NPCs within the Borderlands universe. If you are worried that you won’t be able to follow Borderlands 2‘s story if you never played the first one, then you shouldn’t worry. Though I recommend you pick up the first one (it’s easy to find and cheap to boot!) and play it so that you can understand some of the nods towards deceased NPCs or events from the first.

Borderlands 2
Platform: PC, PlayStation 3 (reviewed), Xbox 360
Genre: FPS, Action RPG
Release Date: September 18, 2012
Developer: Gearbox Software
Publisher: 2K Games
ESRB Rating: M
MSRP: $59.99