September 18, 2012
It's been too long since we last visited Pandora, foraging for guns and loot. Almost three years in fact, and in that time we've found little to fill the void left by Borderlands, which brought its own inimitable brand of shoot 'n' loot action with a bazillion guns and a slew of hostile wildlife and bloodthirsty bandits to hunt. For Borderlands 2, those bazillion guns have not only got 'a bazillionder' (words from the back of the box, not from us), but the world has been expanded massively with varied locations that go far beyond the previous game's post-apocalyptic Mad Max-style deserts and prairies.
Four new vault hunters embark upon the loot collecting, gun hoarding shenanigans this time around, with a mission that involves tracking down and overthrowing the cocky, egotistical and utterly unscrupulous Handsome Jack. Having Jack at the centre of Borderlands 2's story works wonders for the narrative, giving you a charismatic antagonist that you love to hate. Believe it or not, Gearbox has attempted to tell a proper story in Borderlands 2 and as you progress from pillar to post across the vast and sprawling world of Pandora, you'll find that things quickly escalate as you meet up with the old Borderlands vault hunters, assembling your forces as you encountering a motley cast of weird and wonderful characters along the way.
From Sir Hammerlock to Claptrap, Tiny Tina, the mysterious Slab King, Scooter, Ellie and the return of Mad Moxxi, Pandora is a world filled with colourful folks who all need your help in some way, shape or form. Or just need shooting right in the face. While at surface value, Borderlands 2 is more of the same for all intents and purposes - which is no bad thing - it's the colour, personality and humour that makes your return visit to Pandora such an unbridled pleasure.
That and all the guns, of course. Ah, the guns. The bajillions, gazillions and bazillions of guns. They too have more personality than they previously did in the first Borderlands, with all manner of quirks and attributes to consider as you choose your perfect loadout. With 12 slots initially available in your backpack, you'll be wanting some deck upgrades as soon possible to expand your inventory to the maximum 27 slots, so you don't have to mess around chucking perfectly good weapons away or flogging them at the first given opportunity. Trust us, you'll be agonising over which guns to keep and which to bin. You can store some away for use later though should you so desire.
As you'd expect with so many guns, there is some occasional overlap and you might find yourself picking up the same kind of weapon a number of times (usually with slightly different stats and colours), and in our experience it took a long time to come across any truly special guns. Invest the time though, and you're bound to find a set of shooters that fit you like a glove. Or a holster. Or something. Whatever the case, Borderlands 2 becomes more fun, the more you play it and level up, unlocking abilities for your chosen vault hunter. Like any dungeon crawler (it is, of sorts), the hook comes with the obsessive loot collecting, which if you're an insane completist like us will keep you compelled and playing for hours at a time. It also helps that the missions and side quests are interesting and varied, although a great deal boil down to straight up fetch quests, albeit ones with interesting items to fetch. Like for instance, Tiny Tina's strange tea party attendants and her guest of honour, 'Flesh Stick'.
Gearbox has done a fantastic job in dressing up what could have been simple, straightforward fetch questing in a humorous and inviting way when it could have easily been a boring grind. And the balance between Borderlands 2's RPG and shooter elements is perfectly pitched, with a hefty dose of headshots alongside the skill trees and character customisation gubbins. Each of the game's characters is also markedly different from one another, and there's even an incentive to play as multiple vault hunters across the same gamertag should the inclination strike you. Given the new team of protagonists, you'll more than likely want to experiment with each, and unlock all of the skins and interchangeable heads for customising your character.
Badass ranks are also now awarded for completing various in-game challenges, such as killing X number of Bullymongs, their scarier Eridium Blight dwelling counterparts, the Bedrock Bullymongs, Spiderants, Skags, Stalkers, Loader robots and so on, or dealing cumulative damage, accumulating a certain number of headshots, critical hits, elemental damage and so on. Each badass rank you attain grants a badass token that can then be spent on small, incremental bonuses to attributes like melee damage, health, shields, accuracy, recoil and more.
There are dozens of objectives to complete, each with five levels, meaning the number of badass tokens you can potentially gain is immense, and they carry across your entire Borderlands 2 account, meaning they apply to any of your characters. You can spend ages deciding how to assign your badass tokens, in the same way that you'll stroke your chin over which guns, grenades, shields and relics have the best spread of stats to suit your play style. The number of loadout combinations is pretty much limitless, and therein lies the RPG loveliness, though it's about as much an RPG as Borderlands 1 was.
Borderlands 2 is still a game best enjoyed in co-op with friends, while playing solo can sometimes be a joyless slog with you dying and respawning over and over. That said, thanks to the variety of enemies and locations on offer, it's certainly more bearable as a solo experience than its predecessor. Playing in co-op is also a better way to enjoy the surfeit of loot on offer, with the ability to swap items with one another via a shared menu, as long as both parties agree to a trade. It's a far more elegant a way to trade than throwing your items on the floor for someone else to collect, that's for sure. Duelling is also back again, so should any arguments break out pertaining to who gets what loot, there's still a way to settle those disputes.
There's no duelling required for the achievements however, which is an even more inventive and enjoyable list than the first game's. Borderlands' list was great fun to complete, but Borderlands 2's achievements edge it out with some clever and creative secret ones that have the capacity to surprise and raise a smirk. Wait until you meet Face McShooty for instance, and you'll know what we mean. It's a list that offers just the right amount of challenge without being too tough to complete, while being fairly light on grinding, beyond the obligatory 'reach level 50' achievement. That one will take a long, long time to grab. Kudos to Gearbox for creating such an enjoyable achievement list.
Borderlands is back with a vengeance then, and it'll coax you back into feverishly collecting every little piece of loot you can find, grabbing the best guns, comparing their stats and building your burgeoning vault hunter from the status of struggling whelp to badass killer. Like its predecessor, Borderlands 2 is a shooty looty triumph, with that same tongue-in-cheek spark and compulsive gameplay that made the first game such a joy, married to an even greater wealth of content and visual fidelity. It's simply impossible not love Borderlands 2, with the original game's charm intact and a much-needed dose of variety making it an absolute must buy.
Atmospheric acoustic guitar strings, electronic music and an orchestral score ensure that each of Borderlands 2's diverse environments has a suitable soundtrack. Voice work is superb too, with Handsome Jack's barbs and jibes at your expense raising a smirk. And we still love Claptrap. Obviously.
Some slight texture loading is the only issue that lets the side down in the visuals department. Otherwise, this is pretty stellar stuff with some lovely vistas and that signature cel-shaded comic book style providing the gorgeous eye candy. Characters, enemies and bosses are also inventive and colourful. Lovely.
Entirely playable as a solitary experience, Borderlands 2 nonetheless shines as a co-op game, just like its predecessor. Expect to dig in for a tough, but enjoyable time if playing alone, and expect plenty of laughs if you're playing with friends. A range of different enemies keep the shooting action fresh, while the array of challenges make BL2 even more compulsive than the first game.
Playing through the story strand alone will take tens of hours, so when you factor in the mountain of side quests, distractions and loot to be gathered, alongside the different regions to visit and explore, you have a game that is utterly vast. You'll want to experience every little bit of it too. It's better in co-op though, as we've said a thousand times already. You can still play it in split screen too.
A list that outstrips the achievements from Borderlands 1, with loads of simple progression-based story achievements rubbing shoulders with some more creative ones. There's a little bit of grinding to be done, but not nearly as much as there could have been.
Borderlands 2 is a fantastic sequel full to the brim with colour, verve and personality, excelling as an enjoyable shooter with involving RPG elements despite more fetch quests than several dogs will experience in a lifetime. It's all wonderfully well-executed and fun to play, making Borderlands 2 more than worth your loot. Catch a riiiiiide!