Three years ago, Borderlands released to a skeptical audience. People were generally excited for it when it was first revealed, but it underwent a major overhaul about half way through it’s development. It’s semi-realistic graphics were replaced with the more stylized cel-shaded look, and it’s tone made the transition from semi-serious to comical. Many people were upset by these changes. In the end, Borderlands was well received by critics and sold over three-million copies in it’s first five months of release. However, it was criticized for it’s “weak ending” and sub-par controls. Has publisher Gearbox learned it’s lesson? Or are fan’s dreams of improvement left to rot in the borderlands.
Borderlands 2 kicks off with a bang, players step into the shoes of one of four different Vault Hunters (five if you count the recently released DLC). While aboard a futuristic passenger train on their way to the legendary treasure trove of Pandora, players are greeted by a snarky villain who goes by the name of “Handsome Jack”. After our villain gives the player some words of discouragement, the Vault Hunter(s) are knocked into unconsciousness from a explosion. Players wake up to a mission, to stop Handsome Jack from… Whatever he’s doing, once and for all.
The game plays like a dream, Gearbox tightened a few loose bolts and made Borderlands 2’s shooting mechanics comparable to that of some of the most high-profile FPS games on the market. My only complaint is that the vehicle controls have not been given the same treatment. In addition, there are even more guns! The most notable being a brand that instead of reloading, the player throws the weapon and it explodes like a grenade. There are also quite a few more grenade mods than in the last game. Also, this time around, players will have to experiment with each type of elemental ammo (Electricity, incendiary, ect) whereas in the original Borderlands players could more-or-less ignore elemental classifications all together. Some of the tougher enemies can become complete pushovers if you’re using the right ammo.
Much like with the shooting mechanics, the RPG side of Borderlands have been given a upgrade as well. With more skill tree choices than in it’s predecessor, and the addition of “Bad-*** points”. Bad-*** points are awarded for doing little challenges and ultimately going up in “Bad-*** rank”. These points can be used to upgrade characters in small ways that add up over time.
Using the Unreal 3 engine, Borderlands’ signature cel-shaded style looks better than ever. I personally played on PC, but having watched friends play on each console I can say they look nearly identical. Of course, on a high powered PC you can expect higher framerates and some sort of silly real time blood physics. While it looks great, you’ll still have to deal with the classic Unreal 3 texture pop-in every so often.
Borderlands 2 treats player’s ears to wonderful voice actors delivering both comical, and very serious lines throughout the game perfectly. The background music is always fitting, and goes great with the slaughtering of robots.
It’s strange, I’ve never felt I needed to talk about a game’s script as much as I do in the case of Borderlands 2. The game is full of references, and is easily the wittiest game I’ve ever played. However, it is also one of the most intense. A bulk of the script is dedicated to dialog for Handsome Jack. Jack’s character is written so well, I ended up liking, and hating him all at the same time more than I have liked or hated any other video game character. There were times where he had me laughing out loud, as well as times where I wanted nothing more but to end him. In addition, every character is written for just as well as Handsome Jack. And all quests have full spoken dialog, where in the original Borderlands it was majorly text.
Each quest feels like it received an equal amount of attention, each does something different from the last, and are often accompanied by the always hilarious writing. Tasks range from something as simple as grabbing rockets stuffed into big plush Bunnies to robbing a train full of money. There’s a lot of variety, the only real problem is there are a few story missions that drag on for far too long.
Borderlands 2 is one heck of a package. With so much variety and more DLC on the way, I cannot recommend it enough.